Problems. Trials. Hardships. Difficulties. Painful situations. All of these are things that we’d like to avoid, yet they never seem to be very far from us, do they? Why does God allow these things in our lives and how should we respond when He does?
Well, to help answer those questions, let’s drop in on the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the church in the town of Corinth where he talks about that subject in a very personal way…
“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…” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9a NIV).
We’ll get back to the rest of this verse in a moment but for now, here’s a question: have you ever stopped to really think about what the great Apostle Paul is actually saying in the verses quoted above? Look again: “we were under great pressure far beyond our ability to endure so that we despaired even of life.”
Do you know what that means? Believe it or not, it means that things had gotten so difficult for Paul that he felt like he wanted to die. Can you believe that? This is really an amazing statement for such a great man of God like Paul to make.
Paul’s description of his feelings tells us something important about what it sometimes can be like to live a life that really honors God. You see, at times, it’s not unusual for Christians to go through times when the pressures of life make them feel like they just want to give up, just like Paul. Perhaps you’ve even felt that way yourself. If so, then you and the great Apostle Paul definitely have something in common. But before we go on, let’s first see if we can learn something from one of those hardships that Paul talked about in the verses quoted above.
One such event in Paul’s life is recorded for us in the book of Acts. It’s the story of a major riot that was started against Paul and his companions while they were staying in the Asian province city of Ephesus…
“But about that time, a big blowup developed in Ephesus concerning the Christians. It began with Demetrius, a silversmith who employed many craftsmen to manufacture silver shrines of the Greek goddess Diana. He called a meeting of his men, together with others employed in related trades, and addressed them as follows: ‘Gentlemen, this business is our income. As you know so well from what you’ve seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many, many people that handmade gods aren’t gods at all.
As a result, our sales volume is going down! And this trend is evident not only here in Ephesus, but throughout the entire province! Of course, I am not only talking about the business aspects of this situation and our loss of income, but also of the possibility that the temple of the great goddess Diana will lose its influence, and that Diana-this magnificent goddess worshiped not only throughout this part of Turkey but all around the world-will be forgotten!'” (Acts 19:23-28).
The town of Ephesus (pronounced epp-heh-suss) was the home for the shrine of the “goddess” Diana (or Artemis as she was also known). Thousands of people would visit this shrine each year and many would often leave with little wood, gold or silver representations of Diana and the temple. These items were very much like the souvenirs that someone might bring home from a vacation trip today and they apparently provided a lot of money for guys like Demetrius and his fellow workers.
However, things definitely started to change in Ephesus once Paul began to teach the truth about God there. When the people of Ephesus and the surrounding areas heard the truth of God’s Word as taught by Paul, many of them responded by making new choices that honored God. One of these choices included dumping bogus idols like Diana in favor of worshipping the one true genuine God. This had the overall effect of seriously cutting into the money that men like Demetrius were making off this phony goddess.
So it’s clear that Paul was viewed as a threat by these men for at least three reasons…
- Paul was truthfully teaching that these human-made “gods” were not really gods at all
- Because of that, a lot of people stopped following those imitation gods in order to follow the one true God
- If Paul didn’t stop what he was doing, a lot of people were going to lose their jobs
Oh yeah, Demetrius also threw in a little something at the end of his speech about how great this “goddess” was but it seems pretty clear from the text that this was really all about the money. Anyway, regardless of his real motivation, Demetrius’ little speech had a big impact…
“At this their anger boiled and they began shouting, ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians!’ A crowd began to gather, and soon the city was filled with confusion. Everyone rushed to the amphitheater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions, for trial.
Paul wanted to go in, but the disciples wouldn’t let him. Some of the Roman officers of the province, friends of Paul, also sent a message to him, begging him not to risk his life by entering. Inside the people were all shouting, some one thing and some another-everything was in confusion. In fact, most of them didn’t even know why they were there” (Acts 19:28-32).
The theatre in Ephesus could seat thousands of people and the whole place was in an uproar all because Paul simply taught the truth about God. To understand what this was like for Paul, just imagine how you would feel if there was a large arena that was filled with people who were rioting because of something that you did. Is it any wonder that Paul said in our hearts we felt the sentence of death ? Is it any wonder that Paul felt like he would never live through it?
Now the chances are probably good that you’ve never had a group of people start a riot because of you like Paul the Apostle did. However, the chances are also pretty good that you’ve had times when you’ve experienced the same kind of feelings that Paul had too. So what should we do when the pressures of life start to close in on us just like they did on Paul? How should we respond to those times when we just feel like giving up?
Well, Paul gives us the answer as we continue with the rest of that verse from 1 Corinthians that we talked about earlier…
“…But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:9b-11 NIV).
When God allows us to experience troubles and hardships in life, it helps to remember that He always has good reasons for doing so. For example, God may allow difficult times to enter our lives to strengthen us (2 Corinthians 12:10) and to increase our trust in Him (Psalm 50:14-15). Sometimes God uses difficulties to help us develop patience (Romans 5:3-5) and endurance (Hebrews 10:35-38) or to serve as an example to others to show them the right way to handle trials and problems (2 Thessalonians 1:4). Sometimes God may even allow difficulties in our lives for the purpose of helping others who will one day go through similar things (2 Corinthians 1:3).
You should also remember that when things get tough, Jesus is always right there with you. In fact, in the last sentence of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ very last words to His followers are these: “…surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). That should be a great encouragement to anyone who is going through a difficult time right now.
It’s never easy when God allows trying times and difficult circumstances to enter your life. However, you can trust that God has an ultimate purpose for those difficult situations that you experience and He will bring some good from it if you trust Him to bring you through it (Romans 8:28). You should also remember these words from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 whenever you’re going through a rough time like Paul and feel like the pressure is beyond your ability to endure…
“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our inner strength in the Lord is growing every day. These troubles and sufferings of ours are, after all, quite small and won’t last very long. Yet this short time of distress will result in God’s richest blessing upon us forever and ever! So we do not look at what we can see right now, the troubles all around us, but we look forward to the joys in heaven which we have not yet seen. The troubles will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.”