I can already tell the year 2014 will require me to have the skill of a tightrope walker to stay balanced. If you're like me, sometimes it seems we barely keep steady on our spiritual tightrope . . . and then something—or someone—shakes the rope!
Believe it or not, that someone shaking our rope is God. But why does He do that?
There may be dozens of reasons why God will allow us to struggle this year, but I find at least three worth remembering. Each comes from the apostle Paul's pen. Paul began his second letter to the Corinthian believers by confessing who our divine rope-shaker is: "God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort" (2 Corinthians 1:3). This statement is no casual sympathy card with rhyming words and a glitzy greeting. Our mighty God comforts us as we struggle!
Regardless of the need, "He comforts us in all our troubles" (1:4). That draws the circle completely around your situation and mine. Our every affliction is God's concern. He genuinely cares—and that care runs deep.
But why are we afflicted? Why would He shake the rope and then comfort us at the same time? Paul offers these three reasons.
Reason 1: That We Might Be Prepared to Comfort Others
Who can understand what it is like to sit alongside a loved one dying of a terminal illness? Who knows the heartache of a broken home? What about someone who understands the loss of a child . . . or the misery of a teenager on drugs . . . or the anguish of living with an alcoholic mate . . . or the loss of a job? Who on earth understands?
I'll tell you who—the person who has endured those trials while wrapped in the blanket of God's comfort. Better than anybody else, you who have actually been through each stinging experience are the choicest counselors God can use.
This is one of the reasons we suffer—"so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us" (1:4).
Look back at the chain reaction. What goes around, comes around. We suffer . . . God comes alongside to comfort . . . others suffer . . . we step alongside to comfort them. With God's arm firmly around my shoulders, I have the strength and the stability to place my arm around the shoulder of another. It never fails: similar experiences create mutual understanding.
Look at Paul's words: "In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead" (2 Corinthians 1:9).
Maybe you are standing with Paul at the desperate point beyond your own strength. Hope has quietly slipped out the back door. The despair is palpable. A "quick fix" isn't possible. Burdens push heavy on bruised inner tissue. We're convinced that the end has come! Unbelievable as it may seem, God has a reason even in this.
Reason 2: That We Might Not Trust in Ourselves
Did you miss this truth, wedged in the middle of verse 9? Paul puts his finger on a second reason for our season of sorrow: that we might come to a complete end of ourselves and learn the power of total dependence.
When Paul's own strength had ebbed away, he found another strength. When he finally hit bottom, Paul learned that he was not down in the dirt but rather in the palm of God's hand. He could sink no lower because he was cradled in those everlasting arms.
Perhaps I am writing to a stubborn, suffering saint who is wrestling with God over an ongoing affliction. You have not yet laid down your arms and decided to trust in Him completely. Can't you see, my friend, that God is shaking your rope for a reason? It's His way of teaching you the all-important lesson of submission to Him—total dependence on His infinite wisdom and unbounded love.
He will not stop the shaking until you stop resisting; believe me. Who knows better than God that case-hardened independence within you? How much longer are you going to fight God?
Suffering reveals our creature status. We are neither all-wise nor infinite in strength. But God is both. And we need Him—we were created to need Him. Desperately.
Reason 3: That We Might Learn to Give Thanks in Everything
You'll never be able to understand this third reason until you've grappled with the first two. Notice how Paul phrases this to his Corinthian friends in verse 11:
And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.
Look at it this way: Paul wrote them a thank-you note. He considered his suffering an opportunity to share his life with others. Paul felt drawn to the Corinthians with cords tied to the innermost being. As they mutually joined in and helped him through their prayers, many people gave God thanks . . . including Paul himself.
God is interested in using us as living object lessons to others. That is precisely why He urges us to present ourselves as living sacrifices. What might happen in your life if you stopped fighting God and started to praise Him for your pain? Tell Him that you want to be His living object lesson of patience and stability to others . . . and don't forget to thank Him for the winds of affliction that have blown across your life.
Yes, it's God who is allowing your tightrope to shake. But it's also God who spreads the safety net. Our struggling is not the cause of our falling . . . but of God raising us higher.