The Realist And The Optimist
2 Cor 1:8
8 For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. (NKJ)
Some may be surprised to know this verse is even in the bible. Even more surprising is that these words were spoken by the Apostle Paul himself. But I'm very thankful that they are included in the canon of scripture. They have the power to resonate with each and every one of us at various times and seasons of our lives. I'm sure I've been guilty of throwing out some cliche' such as "He'll never put more on you than you can bear". Theologically this may be true, but Paul gives us a "real world" scenario. There are three phrases here I want to look at in more detail.
Paul tells the Corinthians that he and his companions were "burdened beyond measure". He literally felt as though the burden was so heavy, it was beyond what words can express. The next phrase is "above strength". Literally, it was more than they felt that they could physically (and probably emotionally) handle. Next, Paul says that they "despaired even of life". There really is no way to sugar-coat the situation. Paul says that realistically it looked like they were not going to make it! Here is where many of us struggle with emotional honesty and transparency.
Paul was anything but a pessimist. Some of his most encouraging words were spoken to others during times of his own imprisonment. And in the midst of that, Paul never refers to himself as the prisoner of Caesar (or any other human leader)- but always the "prisoner of Jesus Christ". Paul was a man of tremendous faith and belief in the sovereignty of God. And yet he is honest enough to assess the situation without some facade of faith which denies reality. Paul admitted that things were so bad, they seemed hopeless in the natural. Luke made a similar declaration in the book of Acts while he and Paul were aboard a ship during a terrible storm (see Acts 27:20).
God delivered Paul (on both occasions) from what seemed like impossible perils. This gave Paul the ability to remain optimistic despite the "realities" of his situation(s). Notice his words in subsequent verses:
2 Cor 1:9-10
9 Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead,
10 who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, (NKJ)
And now we gain some insight into why God (at times) allows us to go through such trials of faith. Through these instances, we learn who is really in charge. Most of us are hardwired to be self-sufficient. This thinking overlaps into our spiritual lives as well. We become tempted to be self-reliant and to think we have "arrived". These situations are often painful and uncomfortable (Heb 12:11), but they remind us to look to the One who is able to raise the dead!
Notice the tenses in verse 10 (pasted above). God delivered (past tense) Paul from his trouble. God is even now (present tense) at work delivering Paul (and us)- even if we don't see the outward evidences. And finally, there is hope (and faith) that God will yet (future tense) deliver you and me. You may feel that you are in a place right now where things look bleak. Maybe you feel (just like Paul) that you're not going to make it through. But try to remember the miraculous interventions of the past. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, God has already delivered you from the worst possible fate (eternal death!). God is at work in your life now. He is working behind the scenes, causing things to work together for good if you are called by God and love Jesus Christ! (Rom 8:28). And you can trust that the same One who saved you and is presently at work in your life, will be faithful to complete the work He has started in you! (Phil 1:6).
So in summation- don't be a religious phony who wears a pretentious mask of faith. If things are bad, you're not going to make it worse by being honest about it. But by the same token, don't let your realism become an opportunity for pessimism and despair. Yes, things are bad, but believe that better days are ahead. If you are a believer in the Lord, this is absolutely the truth- the best is yet to come!!!!
Until next time....