Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison for fighting for a cause he believed in. Mandela, met external prosecution with internal character, indomitable will and stoic sacrifice. Jailed for 27 years, he spent his time learning and teaching, even mastering the language of his oppressors to be able to communicate with them.
Paul knew a few things about suffering as well, which makes the book of Philippians all the more remarkable. In 2 Corinthians 11: 25-27, we read part of the list of those sufferings: “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”
In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul talks about “a thorn in the flesh ”Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” We don’t what the affliction was although people have speculated things such as a chronic eye problem, malaria, migraines, epilepsy, and a speech disability. We don’t know what it was, but it was a source of real pain in the apostle’s life.
No one likes to live in pain. Paul sought the Lord three times to remove this source of pain from him (2 Corinthians 12:8). He probably had many good reasons why he should be pain-free: he could have a more effective ministry; he could reach more people with the gospel; he could glorify God even more. But the Lord was more concerned with building Paul’s character and preventing pride. Instead of removing the problem, whatever it was, God gave Paul more overwhelming grace and more compensating strength. Paul learned that God’s “power is made perfect in weakness” (verse 9).
God is not in the rating and ranking of Christians business, but Paul may have been the greatest christian in history. He has probably done more to further Christianity than anyone living or dead. Paul wrote much of the New Testament. He still had more than his fair share of bad circumstances, yet in found joy in all of them.
James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” This is the very first thing James writes in his letter after his salutation. Why? Because it is that important. Many Christians think once they’ve made that decision for Christ that everything will fall into place and life will be that proverbial bowl of cherries. And when trials and tough times come upon them or continue, they begin to question, “why?” It is difficult to find joy in the midst of all the junk, hardships, and painful circumstances?
As pastor, I have talked to many Christians who have faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles, mountains of medical bills, bankruptcy, and foreclosure. But amidst all that, God’s joy really is there. You can consider each trial joy, you can greatly rejoice even when you feel like you did a face plant into a mud puddle. In this series, we hope that whatever circumstances you are facing, you realize that God is all you need to have real joy in your life.
1. What does it mean to you to rejoice in all things?
2. Sometimes short-term pain can bring about long-term joy and peace. Have you ever felt the pain you went through was worth it because of the end result?
3. Are you willing to endure short-term trials knowing there is long-term joy coming in the future?
4. Pray and ask God to empower you in a way that you feel joy no matter what is happening around you.