Friday, November 27, 2015

Beautifully Grateful

Society looks at weakness as something tragic and hopeless. Weaknesses are problems for losers. However, every person in every age, race, and social class struggles with some weakness. The beauty of the Christian’s story is that God crafts these weaknesses into powerful tools to accomplish God’s design and purpose for our lives!


I brought a drinking glass today. If you look at the contents, it will remind you of the debate: “Is this glass half empty or half full?” The optimist says, "The glass is half-full." The pessimist says, "The glass is half-empty." And while they are arguing, the pragmatist takes the glass and drinks it. Is the glass half full or half empty?


The Plumber says, “You've got a leak.”


The IT support person asks if you've tried emptying the glass and then refilling it.


The boss expects the half-empty glass to be filled in half the time it took to fill half the glass, at half the going rate.


The drill sergeant says, “Make the glass do push-ups until it sweats itself full!”


The auditor designs the audit procedures to obtain sufficient evidence to conclude that the glass is indeed empty.


The nurse says, “We are monitoring your fluids, so you should drink all of that.”


The Insomniac will be up all night wrestling with the question.


As we celebrate Thanksgiving, you may be expecting a sermon on the importance of viewing our lives like a glass half full instead of a glass half empty. However, I am not going to do that today.


Even so, some will think of people in our lives who will view this glass as half empty. Usually, these people have experienced an acute awareness of their weaknesses and struggles. Perhaps you think of this glass as half empty. You feel your emptiness and lack in your life right now. Your marriage, relationships, finances, or job may be in trouble. You just wish that God would pour more good things into your life right now.


Today, I want to challenge you to look at life differently. Don’t worry about the contents so much. When times are great, it is tempting to evaluate the contents of your life and be grateful. When things are not going so well, you are not so grateful.  If you could think less about the contents and think more about the glass, you would be much better off! How could this be true?


Think about the glass. Jesus holds our lives together.


Jesus is the container and sustainer of our lives. 


Jesus defines and gives meaning and purpose to the content of our lives. When we are struggling with our weaknesses, Jesus gives us purpose.


I love Paul’s story. He was a man who once terrorized Christians. The Risen Jesus met him on the road to Damascus, Syria. On that road, Paul became the most passionate leader of the Christian movement. He was a great scholar, organizer, and leader. However, when he can boast, Paul does something unexpected; he boasts about his weaknesses. Paul, once proud and judgmental, had a change of heart and referred to himself as “less than the least of all of the Lord’s people” (Eph. 3:8) and “the worst of all sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15).


God honored Paul by giving him heavenly visions to encourage and guide him. Along with these unique visions, God grounded Paul by allowing pain and weakness to invade his life. In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes about how God allowed him to have a “thorn in the flesh” that caused him pain. Let’s read about it.


2 Corinthians 12:2-10 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. 7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.


The Greek word for thorn does not leave us with the image of a thorn you discover on a rose bush. The word “thorn” means a “sharp stake used for torturing or impaling someone.”[1] God permitted something evil to affect Paul’s life to “harass” or “buffet” him. “Buffet” or “harass” means “to beat or strike with the fist.”[2] The original language gives the impression that the difficulty Paul experienced was constant.


What was this “thorn” that caused Paul his suffering? Scholars have debated this for centuries.  Some believe that it was a physical disability like poor vision, epilepsy, or speech trouble. Others suggest the “thorn” was the constant barrage of opposition he faced during his life from people who wanted to stop him from talking about Jesus. Could the thorn have been a spiritual struggle such as bouts of anger or bitterness? We do not know for sure.


I love this story that Paul shared about this thorn in the flesh—a harassing presence in his life. The reason this story is appealing is the honesty of it. Paul felt the ache of having a half-empty glass. We look at Paul’s life, and we see all of these positive qualities, yet, he was aware that his glass was far from being filled to the top.


Whatever this thorn was, Paul spent three seasons in prayer, asking for God to perform surgery and remove it. Just as Jesus prayed three times in the Garden of Gethsemane that the Father would spare him the cross, Paul prayed three times for the thorn to be removed. Paul spoke in glowing terms about how this thorn had made him a better man. This thorn forced Paul to be dependent upon God. Even though God did not answer his prayers for healing the way he wanted, Paul went on to be an incredible leader for the Church.


If Paul had not experienced this “thorn” in his life, he might never have become the man who wrote thirteen letters in the New Testament. Without the thorn, Paul would have been too flawed to launch twenty-one churches in Asia Minor. Paul would tell us, “If God can use a man like me, he can use you! Jesus used me through my weaknesses, not in spite of them! Success is really about finding Jesus Christ’s strength, not our own. The strength is in the glass, not the contents of the glass.”


I enjoyed community group this past Sunday. We had a smaller group than usual due to family schedules. One of our members, who is a glass-half-full kind of guy, shared a personal story of how God did something remarkable in his life. I asked him if I could share it.


A few years ago, he landed a dream job with benefits. God was blessing his family it seemed. He worked hard. Life was good and he felt like this job would be a long-term, stable situation for him. However, he found himself in a situation that was miserable. God was testing him. It was if the situation was a pressure cooker and he was the entree roasting inside.


He became depressed. This depression caused tension in the home, affecting his wife. I am sure that he prayed on many occasions for God to remove the thorn from his job so that he could stay and remain in his comfort zone. However, that was not God’s will.


It became a fight for survival. On one side of the ring was his bread-winning job and benefits, and on the other side was his heart and soul that was being drained of life and peace. His dilemma had absorbed his life and marriage. His glass was looking empty.


God called this man to step out of this situation and trust him. I know for a fact that a husband’s security and identity is often in his job. This was a terrifying leap of faith for this man. I know this individual pretty well. I know that he is not a perfect man, but a very sincere person. He would not lie to us. What happened next was remarkable.


The man had two weeks off to decompress. During that time, according to his wife, it was as he came to life again. He applied for two or three jobs. After two weeks, he was offered a job in a better situation. God had tested this man and rewarded him for choosing to obey God instead of clinging to the security in his job.


This man’s plight of feeling glued to a job that was tearing apart his peace of mind and hurting his marriage reminds me of something Paul said. In verse nine, Paul said, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”


When our glass is looking half empty, we should become thankful that we have a glass at all! Jesus is the container holding our lives together.


If you have nothing to be thankful for today, be thankful for your weaknesses. I know you must be thinking, “Pastor Chris, that is absurd. It makes no sense.” I promise; I am making sense. Your weaknesses are opportunities for Jesus Christ to demonstrate his power through your life.


Your weakness may be a struggle that keeps you on your toes. For some, weakness is a struggle with an addiction that keeps you attending meetings regularly. Weakness may be an emotional weakness that makes you prone to anxiety or depression. Weakness could be a physical problem or disability. Weakness for many believers is a battle against temptation, anger, judgmental feelings, or some other sin. In all of these struggles, God can use them all for good.


Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.


The Bible also says it another way.


2 Corinthians 4:15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.


Paul teaches us that being a Christian is not always about being the strong one. Instead, we can be the weak one who is made strong by God. We can become whole by recognizing our brokenness and vulnerability.


I like to remind the church from time to time about the struggles of the great characters of the Bible. Noah got drunk. Moses stuttered. Jonah ran from God. Elijah was burned out. David’s armor didn’t fit. John Mark deserted Paul on a mission trip. Timothy had stomach troubles, probably ulcers due to his anxiety. Aren’t you glad that you have good company in your weaknesses? The Bible reminds us of God’s love for us in spite of our weaknesses.


Psalm 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.


Today, you probably have some thorn in the flesh. I am not asking you to stop praying for God to remove it. However, I am asking you to live with your brokenness and vulnerability. Why? Because living through your brokenness challenges us to let go of what people think and cling to God’s mercy and plan for your life.


You are human. You are flawed. You make mistakes. You struggle with various issues. Your glass is half-empty. You can be honest about this.


I want to ask you a few deeply personal questions to help you understand the need for gratitude.


Why are you always in a hurry? Why are you so impatient?

Why are you so anxious?

Why are you overly concerned that others tell you that you are okay as a person or coworker?

Why are you devastated that someone criticized something you did or said?

Why are you flooded with fear about a meeting or conversation that you will have?

Why are you over-concerned about success?

Why do you avoid confronting difficult people?

Why do you feel the need to return immediately all calls, texts, and emails? Why do you avoid returning certain phone calls texts and emails?[3]


Our answers to these questions reveal our lack of trust in Jesus Christ. When we spend time with Jesus, praying for his will to be done, we find that God desires to give us peace. Jesus will give us rest in the midst of the hectic, unpredictable happenings of life.


Blaise Pascal wrote, “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”[4] My feelings and thoughts in my most quiet moments reveal a lot about my trust in Jesus. Sometimes, when we are sitting quietly away from our cell phones and televisions, we think about the problems we face. We think about our lives as a half-empty glass. Our bodies change and get sick. People disappoint us. When we focus on the contents of our lives, we find it difficult to be thankful.


However, when I think about Jesus—the One who holds my life together—I am grateful. When I look at my life, and I see that it is like a glass that is half empty or half full, I have missed the point. I should focus on Jesus. He is the container and sustainer of my life. Without Jesus, I fall apart.


“My grace is sufficient for you.” Jesus’ answer to Paul’s prayer was, “My grace is enough.” Jesus is all that we need to keep our lives together. We do not need all of the answers to the “why” questions. We do not live on explanations; we live by God’s grace. His grace is sufficient.

[1]Warren Wiersbe, TBEC, Vol. 1, (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor, 2001), 674.
[3]Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 82.