My son Judah uses a funny phrase when we ask him to do something he thinks is really suffering, like pick up his socks. “Dad”, he’ll moan, “Its such a hard time”. A hard time, son? It makes me laugh. But it is his hard time I guess. What about yours?
Who has the strength to deal with these one at a time, much less all at the same time?
We encounter all sorts of calamities and challenges. How can we make it through? I mean, just reading that list can put a rush of anxiety in any heart. Each challenge needs unique wisdom and answers. Often, we pray for God to take them away. Or we pace back and forth asking, “why?” or “what is going on?”.
But to make it through each calamity we need one thing. We all need one thing to get through it all. Do you have it? Are you longing for it? Have you prayed for it?
Paul prayed about his own calamities in 2 Corinthians 12. He says in 2 Corinthians 12:9, speaking about the thorn in his flesh, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this that it should leave me.” What was the thorn in Paul’s flesh? It wasn’t sin. He explains further in 12:10, “…weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions”. Paul didn’t do these things. These things happened to him. These are weaknesses because Paul doesn’t have what it takes to respond, fix, get over, or find a way out. He can’t make it through.
Why is this happening? Three things.
Paul calls these calamities, this thorn, “a messenger of Satan to harass me”. This is Satan’s harassment. This comes from Satan who loves to harass, wishing he could devour. This is the serpent from the Garden nipping at our heals. All those things mentioned above, many of those things you can think of in your own life which came not of our own doing—Satan’s harassment.
Satan wants to get at us and sometimes God lets him. In Job God grants Satan permission to take away everything Job had (Job 1). Jesus told Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat…” (Luke 22). At the beginning of the same chapter Satan enters Judas, leading to his betrayal of Jesus. And now here is Paul saying Satan is harassing him.
This happens. God’s church and children are not unequivocally protected from the harassment of Satan. Know this for sure, what you are going through as you follow Christ might be the harassment of Satan—no less! That is part of understanding what is going on in our lives.
Harassment. But no more.
What is God doing allowing these things to happen? Why is God doing these things or permitting them? For one, God wants to keep us from being conceited. That is what Paul said in 12:8. The thorn (weaknesses, insults, hardships, and persecutions) were given to keep him from being conceited. It was “a messenger of Satan to harass me” and yet it was there, Paul says, “to keep me from becoming conceited”. Satan wants us to be conceited. God’s wants us to be humble before him, to have faith in him, and to worship him as God. So it is that God means to humble us through the harassment of Satan. Satan’s work in our lives can be (is in Paul’s case) a tool in God’s sanctification kit. Satan’s purposes of harassment are always subservient to God’s purposes.
God is doing that. God is allowing that. This is exactly how God worked through the evil of the cross of Jesus. What Satan meant for evil, God meant for good. That work does not end at the cross. God saves us through the evil of the cross and works sanctification in the same way. God always has the last word. That is also the heart of the oft quoted Romans 8:28. “God is working all things together for the good of those who love him…..that we might be made into the image of Christ”. That is sanctification through trial. And some trials are Satanic harassment.
Now, what will get us through it? Hear what Paul says.
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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.”
2 Corinthians 12:8-9
What was God’s answer? I’ll take that away? I’ll stop Satan? No, God’s answer is, “My grace is sufficient. I was in this harassment and this shaping from the beginning. What you need is my grace. I bring you to a place of weakness, then I give you my grace which is the real power against Satan’s harassment and even our own sin.”
Going back to Luke 22, what was Jesus’ answer to Peter? “Peter”, Jesus said to his disciple, “Satan wants to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” Jesus’ interceding is Peter’s hope to make it through Satan’s sifting. Apparently there was some sifting. In just a few verses Peter denies Jesus three times in the midst of his greatest trial, the death of the Messiah. But Jesus prayed for Peter. Peter’s making it through was a matter of Jesus’ prayer on his behalf and God’s answering Jesus’ prayer.
Our hope is not primarily that God will give us some strength to do something. Rather, that God would do something gracious and be gracious even in the midst of our harassment.
Oh, how God would want us to know, “It is only harassment, child. It is not small. It is not easy. But it is only harassment. I am keeping you. I am sustaining you. Trust my sufficient grace”. There is the power to make it through—God’s grace, not our doing something. Grace is God’s power perfectly exhibited in our lack of power (weakness). God keeps and sanctifies at once.
We’re so focused on the uncomfortable means of sanctification that we forget God is simultaneously keeping us by his grace in Christ Jesus (where there is rising-from-the-dead strength). Jesus rose from the dead, let Satan harass. God keeps us.
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