My iPhone has an app on it that measures how much I exercise. Some days, I do really well and the app plots a point near the top of a graph. Other days, I don’t do so well and the app plots a point near the bottom of the graph. Most weeks, my graph looks like a roller coaster ride with some really good days tossed in with some really poor ones. When I look back over any given week, I can see some great highs and some disappointing lows.
If my phone had an app to measure my life and ministry, I imagine it would look about the same way. There would be some ups and there would be some downs. Peaks and valleys. Highs and lows. We’ve all experienced them. We know what it’s like to be on top of the mountain on one day and plunged into the valley the next. Perhaps Sinatra said it best when he said, “That’s life, that’s what all the people say, you’re ridin’ high in April, shot down in May.” All of us can identify with this roller coaster ride.
Perhaps no one knew this like Paul. When we look at his life and ministry, we see a man who was a great missionary and church planter. He carried the gospel around the Mediterranean world planting churches, training leaders, and discipling believers. In addition, he tells us of an awesome experience where he is carried into the presence of Christ and given great visions (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). These are definitely some mountain top moments.
But Paul’s life wasn’t all tremendous victories. He had setbacks and challenges along the way. As he traveled the world carrying the gospel, he was rejected and ridiculed. He was threatened and beaten, arrested and tried. As he shares the story of his encounter in 2 Corinthians, he tells us that God has given him a messenger of Satan…a thorn in the flesh to afflict him and keep him humble. We’re not sure exactly what that thorn was, but it was severe enough that Paul prayed more than once to remove it.
Like Paul, we too know the highs and lows of life and ministry. Our struggles may come in different shapes and sizes, have different names, and come for different reasons than the one that afflicted Paul, but they come nonetheless. And, like Paul, we often know what it is to cry out to God for the removal of these thorns only to be met with a silence we don’t understand or an answer we don’t want to hear. When that happens, we need to understand something. Like Paul, sometimes God leaves our contexts unchanged so that He can grow us and demonstrate His power in the midst of them.
Jesus did not leave Paul with a simple no. He assured him…as He assures us that “His grace is sufficient.” When we talk about grace, we most often connect it to our salvation. We know that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). But, grace not only saves us. It also sustains us. As God pours out grace for saving, He also pours out grace for living (and serving for that matter). Grace doesn’t just usher us into the presence of God to leave us on our own. Grace strengthens us as we live our lives every day. Grace enables us to move forward as we minister in Christ’s name. It is in our weaknesses that Christ’s power is made perfect.
Don’t give up in the midst of your struggles and setbacks. Life can be hard. So can ministry. Remember that His grace is sufficient. In our weakness, His power is made perfect. The challenges and difficulties are real, but Jesus is there in the midst of them all. Let us remained anchored in the grace He provides.