Our present circumstances can often dictate our feelings and emotions. It is easy to get bogged down in our own sufferings, trials, and afflictions. In the midst of pain, God presents us with an opportunity to move closer to Him by dwelling on things eternal, or instead to focus inwardly; consumed by our troubles through our own shortsightedness.
We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 HCSB)
St. Paul writes in this passage of the many troubles he and the other disciples of Christ experienced. From the point that Jesus returned to His Father, the Apostles suffered greatly. They were hated, pursued, and persecuted. Yet they stayed the course…they did not lose heart.
As followers of Christ, we each have our own specific ways in which we suffer. Whether it be a result of mental illness, physical pain, loneliness, persecution for our faith, addiction, physical handicaps, natural disasters, and so on; our struggles pose unique hurdles and challenges for each of us. And in whatever depth of suffering or adversity we find ourselves, it is helpful to set our gaze on the long term.
Focus On The Prize
And since we have the same spirit of faith in keeping with what is written, I believed, therefore I spoke, we also believe, and therefore speak. We know that the One who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and present us with you. Indeed, everything is for your benefit, so that grace, extended through more and more people, may cause thanksgiving to increase to God’s glory. (2 Cor 4:13-15)
Paul and his fellow Apostles persevere in the midst of their struggles by keeping an eye toward God’s glory and His promised reward. In a measurable way, these Apostle’s saw clearly the abundant treasure promised by God. And through the resurrection of Jesus, God made evident to them His power – even over life and death itself. Through faith, we are assured of the prize – the crown of life which is promised by God to those who love Him (James 1:12).
An Eternal Perspective
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor 4:16-18)
Paul provides us with an excellent example in downplaying the temporal and focusing on the eternal. Just as was the case with Paul, when our sufferings are held up in comparison to all that God has promised us for eternity, like Paul’s, our afflictions, too, may be described as light and momentary. This is not to say that our troubles aren’t valid or aren’t often agonizing for us to experience; but that there is something far greater.
In examining the earthly life of Jesus, we see how, time and again, the Son of God suffered. We’re all familiar with His physical suffering on the cross. But Christ suffered in other ways as well. His agony in the garden when He describes His soul being ‘sorrowful and distressed, to the point of death’ is one example. (Mt 26:37-38) We also see Jesus crying upon encountering the sorrow surrounding Lazarus’ death. (John 11:28-37) And in Matthew 26:67-68, we witness a Savior who is spit upon, slapped, and beaten. Yet in all these cases, His focus remained on His Father and on His mission: “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Mt 26:39)
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11:1)
Even in the center of our struggles, sufferings, and afflictions; we are provided a path above those struggles when we examine the lives of Jesus, Paul, Peter, and countless numbers of saints who have gone before us. They show us a path by which we can acknowledge the sufferings in this world, yet focus on and become consumed by all things holy and eternal. A focus on God in the midst of our struggles produces growth and transformation. (Jm 1:2-4) And this path which we walk by faith in Christ is one which is leading us out of this fallen world, forward, to our eternal Home – the Home where we will dwell forever with our perfect and holy Father in everlasting love; with a room which is, at this moment, being prepared just for each of us by our friend, brother, and savior, Jesus Christ. (Jn 14:2)
And with our sights set firmly on Christ, like Paul, we too can be pressured but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed, failing but not a failure, poor but not destitute, depressed but not hopeless, lonely but not alone.