Thursday, July 30, 2015

Cutting Through The Opposition

I have what is called a type ‘A’ personality. As a young man I would eat my food within 60 seconds, whatever it was. What was the point of slowing down? I had things to do! Two things characterized my life. One was time management with an accompanying impatience with not being able to “manage” it enough, and the other was a free floating hostility. I didn’t want to waste time with things I considered trivial. I was driven and impatient. I routinely upset people and often hurt my wife. I ran over people like a steam roller! I don’t say this to brag, though I would have possibly bragged in the past. I say this as a way of telling you how God has worked in my life to change me.

Over the years God has gradually changed my behavior. These changes have come mostly through what I’ve learned in the difficulties and struggles of my life. Some hard fought battles in my life have helped me to have the ability to better control my personality and I would even say have changed my personality.

I believe God truly gave me a gift through the crucible of my failures, struggles, disappointments and difficulties. For those of you who know my abuse history let me explain this part. Much of what was done to me in the form of physical and mental abuse was just evil. And God truly hates evil. So while God never sanctioned someone else’s evil as being a change agent in my life, I have learned so much from God as I have struggled through my life. And it was God who truly helped me change as I went through a very long healing process.

I am talking about the kind of struggles and difficulties that hit hard and kept hitting and kicking and striking me in my heart and my body, and they keep hitting and kicking me over and over in ways that seem to never stop. For those of you who have been abused, you know how it feels to let go and move past the horrible aftermath of abuse. And if you’re like me, you can understand how often I pleaded with the Lord to change certain circumstances and situations in my life and His answer has continued to be a clear ‘No’.

But I hope to explain how I understand this “no” from God. I see that He has allowed me to live out my life day by day having to lean on Him instead of having the instantaneous resolution to my problems that I wanted. God instead allowed me to go through the difficult journey of healing that most of us from long-term abuse have to go through.

I have read the Apostle Paul repeatedly in my lifetime and he is one of my heroes. Both a powerful teacher and preacher and yet very tender hearted toward those who were going through difficult circumstances. Paul had something he repeatedly asked God to take away from him in the form of some difficult circumstance. Like Paul, God’s answer to my pleading for deliverance has been: “My grace is sufficient for you. For my strength is made perfect in weakness!” In Paul’s case and in my case, we learned amazing things about God in having been left to actually live through our difficult circumstances. I believe we both became much better men for it. And we had to learn to rely on God all the time to get through.

This is how I understand God’s grace: Grace is the hand of God working in my heart and life circumstances so that I have His strength to endure tough things with patient joyfulness. And let’s be real, on some days just to endure! I believe God will give me, in whatever my circumstances, the strength I need to allow His grace to work in my life. And this is a gift in my life. Grace is a big concept and it has worked out in my life in a whole lot of ways. Sometimes it’s come in my ability to keep breathing and take the next step. Sometimes it has been in my ability to accept help from another human being when my perpetrator told me seeking help was a weakness. Sometimes that grace has come in seeing a baby smile or a flower grow in the desert and realize that there are little joys that come with each day.

And whenever this gift of grace comes in my life I have gradually learned to accept it and submit to whatever circumstance is in front of me and accept the beautiful good He can bring from that circumstance. Part of what I’ve learned is that God keeps being faithful and getting me through tough times so I’ve learned to be less fearful when a new one comes along. I’ve come to understand God can give me the power to deal with the circumstance and the grace to move through it, and that the grace is truly from His hand. And it’s definitely not just me “gutting it through.”

I often will keep pleading and seeking a different answer from God as escape from the pain of a difficult situation. I don’t think God minds in the least that I do this! But in the mean time I accept and submit to the circumstances at hand. Instead of complaining and being filled with anger. I tell the Lord while I wait for Him I need His grace so I can keep perspective. Often I think of that verse that says “We don’t have the right to claim that we have done anything on our own. God gives us what it takes to do all that we do.” So routinely as I am going through experiences I am thanking God for His help in real time. He really is giving me what I need to take each step. I have seen this through experience. I am not just saying this because it sounds good!

Does this mean that God’s grace will always stop the trial or difficulty? No, that’s not the promise. The promise is: “My grace is sufficient because my strength is made perfect in your weakness.” Notice the weakness often remains. God will give us the strength to endure the trial and let it work its perfect work.

James, a Bible author, says: “My brothers and sisters, when you have many kinds of troubles, you should be full of joy.” Now that can only happen when you receive the grace of God in to your situation. James goes on to say: “because you know that these troubles test your faith, and this will give you patience. Let your patience show itself perfectly in what you do. Then you will be perfect and complete and will have everything you need.” The strength of Christ is made real in my life in the midst of my weaknesses. Oh how this flies in the face of the world’s system of thinking! The world sees weakness not as a sign of victory but a sign of failure. But in the kingdom of God, being weak physically gives God an opportunity to really advance His purposes in our lives. Or it could be weak emotionally, or weak in any way that causes us to have to rely on someone outside our circumstances, and especially on God. That is a hard statement! It means you have to humble yourself and let God orchestrate what you cannot.

James also says: “Blessed is the man who endures temptation for when he has been approved he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” This crown of life is given at the end of life on earth when we see Him face to face.

Paul says: “Therefore most gladly I will boast in my weaknesses . . .” Paul made the decision, by faith, to embrace His weaknesses. Does this mean it is a lack of faith? No! His faith was strong in the Lord. But he said: ‘alright, if you are not going to take this away, Lord, then I want to learn everything about you in the midst of this. I want to learn every facet of who You are. I want to know what this strength is all about. What this power of Christ resting upon me is all about.’ Paul made a decision! “Most gladly therefore I will boast in my weaknesses.” Paul was willing to do the difficult work to bring about the best end.

So what are your weaknesses today? What things are going on right now in your life that you see as weaknesses? Are they physical weaknesses? Do you have disabilities or deformities? Do you have a debilitating disease or sickness that is not being healed? Are your weaknesses emotional? Do you suffer from bouts of depression or tend to always see the world in a negative mindset? Are you regularly seeing yourself through the verbal abuse you grew up with, battling it all the time? Or maybe your weaknesses are relational. It seems that no matter who you strike up a friendship with no one will allow you to get close with them. Or vice versa. Or perhaps you have experienced an unbearable loss which could never be compensated for in this life and the pain is never ending! No matter in what way God chooses to answer your prayers in these matters, one thing is certain. His grace is sufficient for you. It really is.

Paul says “this thorn in the flesh (this difficulty) was given to me as a gift. Most gladly then; I take pleasure in…” Something clicked in Paul where he saw that this power of Christ resting upon him was worth the sufferings . . . it was a decision on his part to make that statement. This is one of the hardest decisions to make! The Bible says once we belong to Christ that we are put to death on the cross with Christ, and I do not live anymore—it is Christ who lives in me. I still live in my body, but I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself to save me.” Some folks called it the “crucified” life because our old sin nature is put on the cross. What this means is our sin nature is going to end up on the cross a little bit every day . . . with our permission. And our help! But with the Lord right in the middle of that with His grace. It is not anymore that my life will be for ‘my benefit, my good feelings but it is whatever you want Lord. I ask God’s help to allow me to submit to His work in my life because the glory at the end is worth the temporary suffering. The strongest step of faith for me is to surrender and submit to the Lord in this way.

Paul mentions five areas of hardship that were going on in his life in his description of his suffering. And eventually Paul got to the point in his life where he embraced these five areas. But he did this all for Christ and not because of a lack of wisdom or a lack of tact on his part. Let’s look at the five areas.

Weaknesses for Christ’s sake! Physical afflictions that we have no control over. They include sicknesses, diseases, deformities . . . any weakness in our bodies. Paul said he was going to ask God for His strength and His grace in his infirmities.

Disgrace for Christ’s sake! This could include slander of character, malice on the part of others misrepresenting our motives, rejection by those you love.

Needs for Christ’s sake! These needs come as a result of choosing to live a godly life in Christ Jesus. It may include being written out of the will because you became a believer in Christ. It may have to do with the hardship or real lack in your life that comes in the midst of obeying what God has set before you to do. There are times because of the economy or some other reason you lose your job. And all of a sudden you are faced with desperate need and your family’s needs are at stake and there is this tremendous pressure on you. Wait a second. God said “My grace is sufficient for you.” Hold the line. Look to God. Is God really in charge of your future or is it just people? If God is in charge of your future and you have lost your job, God will help you find a way. He is not surprised by this circumstance in your life. He is not puzzled. He knows what to do. So you have to trust Him and say ‘okay God give me your grace to patiently and joyfully endure and keep my focus on you.’

Persecutions for Christ’s sake! Sometimes this happens! The Bible says “All who live a godly life in Christ Jesus WILL suffer persecution. When you make a decision to really obey the word of God, even when it is difficult, you are going to end up being persecuted eventually by someone because you are going to end up eventually having to take a stand that is going to be unpopular. It could mean the loss of a relationship. It could mean trouble, physical persecution, physical attack and harm. Something may be done to you which causes you complete upheaval in your life.

Distresses for Christ’s sake! This has to do with the dangers and pressures that come against you while you seek to do what is right in God’s sight according to His word. You stand up and blow the whistle and say ‘wait a minute that’s not right, you can’t be doing that, that’s illegal.’ And someone says ‘you keep quiet or you lose your job.’ That’s a press. That’s a stress. What do you do? “My grace is sufficient for you, do not fear.” Walk in love and do what is right.

Paul says: “I take pleasure in weaknesses, disgrace, needs, persecutions and distresses because I get to watch what God is going to do.” Isn’t that what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount? To rejoice, jump for joy, spin around in joy when you are persecuted for His name’s sake for so were the prophets persecuted before you. Blessed are you when men persecute you, say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. We have to learn that God’s grace is sufficient. We have to stop complaining and say: ‘okay God I’m going to take a different strategy because I want the real deal. I don’t want to play church. I want the real deal! If you say your grace is sufficient then you are going to have to show me what that means. And I’m asking you. I’m coming to your throne of grace to find mercy and grace in time of need. So Lord, show me what that is!’

What does it look like when the strength of Christ is working in us? We find that no matter what the matter is it does not take out our hope. We are confident of His hand being with us, His presence never leaving us, and His ability to take care of our future. And this becomes a witness to the world of God’s glory. Not because we have no problems but precisely because we do. And we walk through them in a unique way because God is stepping through each day with us.

This reminds me of what Paul spoke about when writing to the Philippians. "I want you brothers and sisters to know that what has happened to me has helped to spread the Good News." Philippians 1:12

The word "spread" is an interesting word used here. The Greek word used for spread is "Prokope. "Pro” means forward and “Kopto” means to cut. It could mean something like a pioneer cutting his way through thick brush. We might picture in our military, the Seabees plowing through the obstacles to make way for an outpost or runway for planes. You might say cutting through the opposition.

Here we have Paul with his liberty gone, chained to a guard continually. In a way you could say he was fenced in. He was limited and handicapped. Paul's circumstances were not at all desirable.

But he says that these circumstances have actually turned out to be cutting through the opposition.

The Good News about God coming to save mankind was being proclaimed through the Praetorian Guard and right into Caesar's court. You might say Paul’s pulpit was right in Caesar's palace. I have a friend who visits women in jail and she never knows what to expect when she shows up on any particular night. But looking back, no matter what happens, she can see the good that comes from the out of control circumstances that run counter to what she had planned. The difficulty or confusion cuts through the opposition in the spiritual realm and gets her to the person who was in need that particular night!

There could be circumstances in our lives that hedge us in and handicap us . . . test us and tempt us. Hope that is not realized. Illness or other difficult circumstances that hamper us. People in authority throwing us way off schedule and off kilter taking control of details we thought we had under control. Just maybe these circumstances that tend to fence us in are really opportunities for cutting through the opposition. Maybe we are pioneers in a new wilderness God has seen the need to place us in. These limitations placed on us could be when our best work for the Lord is performed because we are more dependent on Him.

As Paul proclaimed in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 "And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in disgrace, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

For when I am weak, then I am strong. Now that just doesn't make sense in the world we live in does it? Well it's not supposed to make sense to the world around us. Only the ones born of God and realizing their circumstances are "cutting through the opposition" can identify with that kind of attitude.

Lord, help us all to realize that your grace is sufficient in all our circumstances; that you will never leave us or forsake us; that you are our strength. Help us to remember and trust in your promises. We will break through the opposition and reveal your glory in our lives that others may see and believe.

Mark Phelps


  1. Hi Mark is this the blog that inspired the song you know better than I that I showed you

    1. Yes, the song you sent to me led to this writing.