How easy it is for us to present ourselves as someone we are not in order to make an impression. We become masters at concealing our real selves. Some people spend themselves into bankruptcy by living beyond their financial means. Others stretch the truth about their children’s accomplishments just to make a good impression.
Do you want to get a load off your back? Be real! That is the counsel we get from God.
Our text gives us a good example of someone who was real – genuine, true blue. Still, he did not always act that way. God made him that way so that He could use him. I refer to St. Paul.
Paul and those with him experienced severe hardship in Asia. The text does not tell what the difficulties were, however, Paul and his friends suffered severely. Then telling the story in retrospect, the temptation could have been for Paul to stretch the truth a bit to give the impression that he was a great hero. He could have said, You should have seen how I handled that life-threatening experience! I was in charge all the way. A few of my coworkers were frightened, but they knew their friend Paul would rise to the occasion.
However, Paul was not interested in impressing anyone. He writes, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God, who raises the dead (vs. 8-9).
Here Paul confesses his weaknesses and presents his real self. He was afraid. He could have been angry with both God and people. He could have asked where God was in all of this. Paul realized how weak he was in difficult times. He was not only ready to quit, he was ready to lie down and die. Instead Paul saw the hand of God working in this difficult experience. He concluded that God used those terrible hours to show him how helpless he was, and how dependent upon God he was. When people have learned to be real, God can use them. It reminds me of Abraham Lincoln’s words: “I have often been driven to my knees.” This is the confession of many great men and women in facing the difficult times of life. When we can be real about our inadequacies, God can help us.
We live with our hurts. I think of the devastated state of the parents who were told their son had been killed in a motorcycle accident. The wife who got the news that her husband had been killed in a car accident. The father who walked down the church aisle behind his wife’s casket while his son (home on temporary leave from a federal prison) walked by his side in shackles. I do not know what Paul’s problems were in Asia. However, I do not believe they were any more difficult than what some of these people are going through. It is at times like these that we bow before God and plead for strength. It is at times like these that make us real as we confess our helplessness.
Looking at these experiences in retrospect the human may say, “I made it. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Not so with those living in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We turn to Him for strength and direction. When we confess our weaknesses and turn to God, He can use us.
In this text Paul says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
God comforts us in sundry ways. He comforts us as we hear Him speak in His word. We recall some of these beautiful passages where God meets us where we are and brings us peace. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me,” is just one of the many passages that show us how closely our Father walks with us.
He brings us comfort through others. This is especially true when someone, who has suffered afflictions similar to ours, listens carefully. I recall when my wife first became disabled as the result of a stroke. I would listen carefully to those who had also had a stroke. They knew what the stroke victim was experiencing and could tell me how best I might help my wife. Now, after many years, there are those who have suffered a stroke and are anxious to learn about our experiences with this affliction. What an opportunity it is to bring a strong Christian witness pointing those who are having difficult times to show them the need of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
I like what Rick Warren writes in The Purpose Driven Life. “Do not waste your hurts. Use them to help others.”
What a challenge this is! How thrilling to say to a person who is afflicted as you have been, “I know some of the things you are going through, for I, too, have walked the road you are now on. I know the emotional experiences that go along with your pain. Let me tell you how my relationship with Christ helped me through these days.”
This is not just a visit where we share our emotional times to prove one horror story is worse than the next one. It is a time to share our experiences, admitting that we cannot carry the burden alone. We have to be real, let God help us, and then use us.
Mothers, we haven’t forgotten that this is your day. Millions of people will say their mother is their comforter. She knows the hurts they carry, whether they are five or fifty years old. She knows their emotional fears when they confess they can go no further. She helps them through those feelings of fear, anger, discouragement, and everything else that is going on inside them.
If you are a Christian mother, share your hurts with those whom you love and who love you. Be real in their presence. You do not have to impress anyone. Let your children see how real you are, not acting like one type of person at home with the family and another one in public. You do not have to impress anyone. Just tell those kids what Jesus has done, and is doing, for you.