When the dark skies rolled in, there was one thing that confused me more than any other. Before the storm, I was at a point where I wanted to give my all to the Lord. I started praying that he would fill me with His Spirit and make me a man after His heart. I was ready to go into all the world and make disciples, and to some degree, I was doing it.
Then the thunder started to roll, and the lightning struck, and I was held back from doing what I wanted to do for Him. When it hit my life, it became evident that this was going to be long-term. After an extended period of questioning and evaluation, I came to the biblical conclusion that God was sovereign over all of it. Did God know that this storm was going to hit my life? The only biblical answer to that is, yes. Did He have the power to stop it if He wanted to? Again, the only possible answer was, yes. Had He stopped it? No. The one truth that could logically follow from these questions was that God was sovereign over everything that came into my life. It does not matter if you want to say that God allows it, or brings it, into our lives. The logical conclusion is that God is the final decision-maker of everything we will face.
On one level this is a tremendous comfort. There are no mistakes that happen to us. Everything is within His control, but here is what sent me reeling. I was trying to do what He has called us to do, and the storm he allowed/sent was hindering me from doing it. I could understand that trials come to produce endurance, character, and hope (Rom. 5:4), but in my mind, all of that was to help us do His will. So why would these trials limit me in doing those very things?
I think I first saw it in the life of Job. As I read through Job chapters 25-28, it became clear that before Job was afflicted, he did quite a bit to help the poor and take care of the fatherless. He incontestably lived in a way that was glorifying to God. In fact, God commends him to Satan because of his faithfulness. Then, when tragedy struck, he was no longer able to be that man of good works. It became so bad that those who used to look to him for help began to look down upon him because of his affliction.
The problem was that Job did not give me perfect clarity on the issue, though it did open me to the idea that sometimes God is accomplishing something bigger than what our good works could have achieved. It is much like when God calls us to tend the ground but curses it with thorns to make it more difficult. As Romans 8:20 says, He subjected creation to futility in hope. Those last two words, “in hope” make all the difference, and God does not hope the same way we do. His “hopes” always come to pass. As we work, something He has called to do, He wants us to experience futility (thorns) and He does it as part of His good plan.
Then another passage of scripture clicked into place in a way I had never noticed before. Paul was given a thorn in the flesh. A messenger of Satan to buffet him. Who gave it to him? It was clearly a messenger of Satan, but God was still the final decision-maker. God had given him the thorn in the flesh. First, God called Paul to be a missionary of the Gospel and then gave him an adversity to buffet that work.
There it was. God gave Paul something that limited his ability, for the sole purpose that he could accomplish more. Without this thorn in the flesh, Paul would have grown conceited. He would have been working in the power of his flesh, which was exactly where the barb was placed. Now he saw his weakness, and it was in his weakness that God’s strength was made perfect.
When the thought crosses your mind, that if you did not have to face a certain affliction, you would be able to accomplish much more for the Lord, think again. You may be accomplishing more in your fleshly inability. Job was unable for a time to help those in need, but how many of us has he helped in our moment of need with his answers to his friend’s accusations. His time of limitation was written into God’s eternal word to guide His people. Paul might have been held back in his strength, but now he moved forward in God’s. What Paul accomplished could not have been done in any other way.
Like Jacob, you may have wrestled with God and because of it you now walk with a limp, but is that limp what the Lord now uses, or plans to use, to speak deep into the hearts of people with whom you come in contact? God usually uses shaky voices to resonate His truth deep into the hearts of the hearers. When God sends us limitations, they never limit His ability to work through us. The Lord may be hindering you for the very purpose of helping you advance His kingdom.
“So 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. 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. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10