"Desiring Greatness or God's Strength?" #79-43
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on July 1, 2012
By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:How Should I Respond to Another Person's Trouble?)
Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: 2 Corinthians 12:1-11
Grace, and mercy, and peace be to you in the Name of Jesus Christ, the One who gives us strength and power to live lives of faith in this world. Amen!
One of Yvette's and my favorite actresses is Meg Ryan. We just love the kind of films that she did back in the '80s and '90s. She was everybody's sweetheart. In fact, it seemed like everything she touched turned to gold. She had that warm smile, that cute laugh, and made movies that made us feel good about ourselves. I'm sure if someone asked her how she felt during those times, she would have said, "I feel great!"
It's great to feel great, isn't it? No one wants to feel lousy all the time or sad. People don't get up in the morning hoping for a crummy day. No drivers on their morning commute hope to find people on the road who will show them a little road rage. I don't think there's a customer service representative who wishes that they would get phone calls from grouchy people all the time. People want to feel great. You want to feel great. I want to feel great. But can you really feel great all the time?
I think that the world tries to convince you that it's possible, if you just try hard enough. If you buy the right brand of clothes, use the right fragrance, eat the right food, drink the right beverages, use the right technology, then the world says you'll feel great.
Or, just get famous, that'll make you feel great, right? If you become a famous entertainer, or a movie star, or a sports figure with the big salary along with the fame, you'd feel pretty great, wouldn't you?
Well, I just recently read that Meg Ryan has a different perspective about all that today. She said, "All the fame and fortune accorded to her as a star was empty. The world's stuff is really like cotton candy; it gives you a quick rush, but then leaves you flat," she said.
I think that we can all relate to that bit of wisdom, right? Life is more than just feeling great all the time. You may feel great for a little while. But the feeling won't last. Clothes wear out. Perfume wears off. Technology becomes obsolete. Fame fades. You know that money doesn't last very long. And food-well, that doesn't always wear off so well either.
But our culture persists in trying to convince you that the goal of your life is to feel great. So every day, there is the temptation of a new quick fix solution. Every day, there's another thing that you must buy, another thing you must try, something you must do. But all that really happens is the empty pursuit starts all over again.
Please know I'm not trying to depress you. I'm not advocating for pessimism. This is just the way life is. Deep inside, we know that all this is more than about our cultural temptations or societal pressures. We know that there really is something broken in life, period. We understand that something's wrong. Sometimes we feel good. Sometimes life goes well. But it seems that those moments are so fleeting, even elusive. In life, you learn that you can't feel great all the time. You learn that you are imperfect, that you're a broken sinner living in a broken and sinful world. And that tension can be exhausting and disheartening.
That's why Paul talks about a message of good news, not just for the good days in life, but a message of great news in Jesus Christ that can bring real power to weakness, real joy to sadness, real hope in the middle of despair. That's why he can confess that the power of the life of faith in Jesus is not something so fleeting as feeling great all the time, it is rather, living in the salvation, strength, and hope that God, Himself provides no matter what this life throws your way!
Paul reminds us all that, "The Lord said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, 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."
In preparing for this message today, I ran across another article that shocked me with some sobering news. It was an article about physical fitness and aging. I read it right in the midst of trying to get back in shape; you know trying to work off those extra pounds that seem to come out of nowhere as we get older. The article showed a scientific study that for every decade after the age of forty, the body declines in physical ability by at least ten percent. Your walk around the block at 35 years old won't be as easy or speedy at 65 years old. Now, I'm the kind of person who puts such statements to the test. I won't believe it until I see or feel it, right? So, I did my own experiment concerning these facts. The other day, I ran 5 miles through the rolling hills of my St. Louis neighborhood. Now, either 5 miles is longer than I remember or those hills are getting taller everyday. Or, maybe it is true....things in this world, in my own life are just bent, out of joint, even broken.
But, like Paul says, don't throw in the towel yet! Yes, we groan in weakness. Yes, feeling great is fleeting. Yes, that fame and fortune that everyone seems to be chasing these days, it won't last. But God tells us in His Word, that at the moment of even our greatest weakness, it is here where He does His best work with us. Life isn't about us holding on to what we have at all costs, life is His gift to us, now and for eternity through Jesus.
Paul is bold to say to us all today, especially when we feel weak and defeated, that God's grace is sufficient for us in all things. In fact, weakness and struggle might actually have some benefits in our walk with God, and in our service to one another in love.
Now, truth be told, Paul had his share of great moments, even feelings of great elation. In 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, Paul described his remarkable visions and direct encounters with God's presence. These experiences were glorious--literally heavenly! He saw and heard things that were beyond description. Such a closeness to God was breathtaking. Talk about feeling great!
But Paul went on to say, "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. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me" (vss. 7-8).
The visions and the revelations were wonderful. The intimate knowledge of God was indescribable. But the reality of Paul's weakness had purpose, too. We don't know what this thorn in the flesh was, but, it was a constant reminder of what life without God is like. It's not God who makes us pay in this world, the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh bring weakness and pain. But, here, Paul's struggles helped him remember what God uniquely brought to his life.
So, Paul confesses his own struggles, his own weakness and pain so that you might have an answer of where to turn when, by your own power and strength, there's nothing you can do, no where you can go, no matter what you have, what you do, or who you are.
If that great feeling is eluding you today, if you're looking for an answer amidst real pain and struggle, Paul, your fellow sufferer, provides one that is amazing. He speaks of a gift that only God can bring, one that God Himself wishes for all people to possess. It is a gift that endures even through this world's hurt and brokenness. Listen again to what Jesus incredibly said to Paul and to us: The Lord said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, 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........For when I am weak, then I am strong. (vss.9-10)
Paul didn't find relief in merely feeling great. He found relief in being strengthened by God's grace. He didn't experience respite by running away. He received help through the gift of God's strength and grace. And, that's why Paul could say in Philippians chapter four: "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:12-13 NIV).
To be a believer in Jesus is to know that there's nothing in this world that can separate you from God's love and grace. There's nothing in this world that can stand in the way of your being His son or daughter through the repentance that comes by faith. That's the unique message of the Bible. The answer to your deepest struggle is not trying to feel great on your own terms, it is the gift of a great Savior, it is living in the strength of Jesus Christ alone. And by faith in Him, it's knowing that even temporary struggles can have purpose and meaning too.
A man named George discovered that. You see, George was born into a farming family. The farming operation was very successful and George was blessed with a comfortable life. But you know how times of feeling great fade away so easily. George discovered that, too.
When he was just eleven years old, George's father died. With family life unstable and income not as plentiful, George's education was cut short. He finished elementary school and quickly joined the military. He saw action early and learned a lot from his military mentors. George's six-foot frame and athletic build helped him stand out as a hard worker and a tireless leader. In his early twenties he became ill with smallpox and malaria. The medication used back then caused severe dental problems that plagued him with pain for the rest of his life. But even as he dealt with pain and loss, he became a successful farmer, a respected military man, and a community leader in the state of Virginia, serving in the state legislature.
Then George fell in love. He met a gracious and lovely widow. Both of them were in their twenties. They married and, in addition to raising two children from her previous marriage, they hoped to start a family of their own. But once again sadness took hold. They were unable to have children--most likely a result; once again, of the medicine George received when he was stricken with illness. He bore the scars of smallpox on his face and in his heart he bore the wounds of not being able to have children of his own.
As the years went by, turbulence erupted in the nation. George stepped up to defend colonial rights. He helped form the first Continental Congress among America's growing colonies. On June 14, 1775 he was even appointed as the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.
But he wasn't very successful. By 1777, due to loss after loss against the British Army, George was almost removed from his position as Commander. Barely escaping being dismissed, he moved ahead to key victories in what we now know as the Revolutionary War. And even though he wanted to retire to his farm after his long and difficult service, in 1789 he answered the call to become the first president of the United States of America.
You know who I'm talking about. His name? George Washington.
As the United States celebrates Independence Day, isn't it amazing that the Father of the Country, George Washington, didn't feel great all that often? He had a very challenging life. How did he make it through?
Washington said, "The blessing and protection of heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger."
When life didn't feel great, Washington knew something more enduring, something more encouraging, something with more staying power than fleeting feelings was needed. He knew the strength of God and such faith literally empowered him to make great sacrifices so that others might know liberty and peace.
Many people who knew the great general saw him every morning and every evening kneeling before his Bible, reading the Scriptures and praying. The Father of the Country couldn't let a day go by without receiving his heavenly Father's strength.
Do you need God's strength today? Are you tired of trying to feel good, look good, and handle life on your own terms? Are you hitting the wall of doing life yourself and weary of chasing the next empty promise of satisfaction? Do you need something more?
That's why Jesus came, my friend. He sacrificed the greatest feeling of all--dwelling with God on high in the glory and perfection of heaven. Instead, He gave it all up to bring you His strength. Philippians, chapter two tells us: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped onto, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
Jesus gave up the feeling of greatness to carry your weakness on the cross. Jesus gave up the reality of His eternal comfort so that you might have in Him the very power of God for salvation, now and forever. He suffered the pain of your imperfection and the punishment of your sin; He died in your place. Why did He do that? So that you could walk in the enduring strength of God's gracious love and forgiveness.
Faith lives in the strength of God's actions, God's promises, God's declarations for all in Christ.
He declares, "Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you" (Joshua 1:5).
Jesus said, "I am with you always even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). Baptized in His Name, trusting in Him alone, you walk with Him in a new life even now! You're not stuck in the chase for the next thing that might make you feel better for just a little while. You have the eternal hope of God's strength in your life. It's for you. Today. Right now.
That's why Paul said, "For the sake of Christ, then, I am content. I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, even calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
Even the Psalmist of old said, "The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped" (Psalm 28:7a NIV).
That's why you can say with Psalm 118, "I was pushed back and about to fall, but the LORD helped me. The LORD is my strength. He's my song and he has become my salvation" (vss. 13-14 NIV).
And that's why George Washington gave this advice: "You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are."
Remember Meg Ryan's wisdom....Feelings, even of worldly greatness, fade. Fashions fail. Fads fizzle. But remember even more the Bible's proclamation to you this day. But the strength of the Lord endures forever. Today, God's strength is your strength, by faith through Jesus Christ.
The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag declares the United States one nation under God. Such a commitment surely has blessed the country. But, the bigger question is what is your life founded upon, dear listener? What are you pursuing? Are you trying to feel better on your own terms? Are you answering that yearning with the pursuit of temporary fixes or the temptation of the next best thing?
Today, will you hear the wonderful Word of God that you can have more; you can literally have the power of God by faith to live life abundantly in His Name. Because of the death of Jesus in your place, by His very resurrection from the grave, He offers you more than great feelings for the day, He offers you, by faith, His enduring strength for life, now and forever.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions and Answers) for July 1, 2012
TOPIC: How Should I Respond to Another Person's Trouble?
Announcer: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Today a listener asks, "I have a friend who has been going through a struggle for a long time. I don't know what to say anymore. What should I do?"
Seltz: Mark, this is a hard one because when people encounter others who are going through sustained difficulties in life, they wonder, "What should I say? Should I do anything? How should I respond to another person's trouble?"
Announcer: Well, think about it. Sometimes we don't even know how to deal with situations in our own lives. So, it can be confusing and frustrating when you encounter difficulty someone else is having.
Seltz: It sure can. But as a friend, though, we do want to help and that's a good thing. We want to do something to alleviate the pain or take away the hurt. We want to fix the problem.
Announcer: But we can't do that all the time, can we?
Seltz: No. In fact, most of the time we can't fix what's happening, and that's what makes it so hard. In fact, God doesn't call us to fix every problem. In fact, this might be especially a good word for men out there today. Most of us try to fix all these things. Well, hear what God says. He doesn't call us to fix every problem but He does call us to share each other's burdens, and we can do that. In fact, the Bible says that our difficulties can be used to help comfort others who are going through difficulties. Sometimes we just need to be present, to listen, and to walk with the person during their time of grief or pain.
Announcer: Specifically, what can you do for a person who is going through a long-term struggle?
Seltz: Well, the starting point, of course, is to assure them that God is with them in Christ, and then direct them to the power of prayer with the Lord who loves them. Romans chapter eight tells us that even the Holy Spirit and Jesus intercede for us. They pray for us--sometimes with groaning that is beyond what a person can express in words. So, it's important that we don't view prayer as a last resort, but as a first course of action. God Himself says, "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, you will honor me." The Bible promises that as we present our requests to God, even for the needs of others, the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ (Philippians 4:6-7). So, we help people, first and foremost, by praying for them.
Announcer: In addition to that valuable gift, that tool of prayer, what else can we do?
Seltz: Well, it's important to stick around, to abide with a person in trouble, not to abandon them. Mark, we live in a culture with a low tolerance for long haul relationships--especially during hard times. I've seen people with long-term illnesses abandoned by friends. When the person didn't get better fast enough, the friends didn't know what else to do. They got tired of the daily struggle and they walked away. I've seen the same thing happen to people who are grieving. When a person is still sad for months or years after the death of a loved one, friends don't know what to say anymore. So, they feel awkward, they fade away. As Christians, we're called to be long-haul people who continue to find a way to stay in community together during the ups and the downs of life. As Christ abides with us, we strive to abide with one another.
Announcer: But it can be discouraging trying to help someone who doesn't seem to be getting any better.
Seltz: Yeah, it can, but we need to remember that, ultimately, we're not the ones who help. We're not the Savior. Jesus is. But, we are called to be servants. If a person is grieving for a long time, your friendship and listening ear are precious gifts. You don't have to take away the grief or solve it. If a person is enduring long-term depression or an illness that won't go away, we're simply called to be a friend. We may not be able to remove the difficulty, but we sure can encourage, listen, and be there for them.
Announcer: It helps when people know someone is committed to them, right?
Seltz: Absolutely, You are on that journey with them and you're not going anywhere. With that you're bringing the provisions of prayer, companionship, empathy, and God's powerful Word. God's Word is powerful. It works in the depths of our hearts and souls. Whether it's sending a card to a friend, or reading a devotion with a person who is suffering, or helping them attend worship, we can keep the Word alive in their life, and that's powerful, a life-changing gift.
Announcer: Very good. Thank you, Pastor Seltz. Clearly, we do need each other and God can use us to bring His real help to people even in the midst of their long-term struggles. So, we hope our listener finds this information helpful and, once again, we thank you, the listener, for making the program part of your day. We hope you'll join us again next week. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"How Firm a Foundation" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
"Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"The God of Abraham Praise" arr. Michael Burkhardt. From Hymn Improvisations, vol. 1 by Michael Burkhardt (© 1993 MorningStar Music Publishers)