WHEN THE STORMS OF LIFE ARE RAGING

WHEN THE STORMS OF LIFE ARE RAGING

Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross

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Neal Pollard

When I preached in Livingston, Alabama, Selman Falls would often lead us in singing the song, “He Will Hide Me.”  This M.E. Servoss hymn was in the Songs of the Church hymnal.  Servoss, a woman from Chicago (“Mary Elizabeth”), was a prolific hymn writer.  This was maybe her most notable hymn.  Perhaps no imagery is more graphic in scripture than depicting troubles as a storm (cf. Psalm 55:8; Proverbs 1:27; Isaiah 25:4-5; 1 Timothy 1:19; etc.).  Storms are frightening and damaging.  I sat in a hallway with my head in my lap in Junior High in Franklin, Georgia, during a tornado and my family and I rode out a hurricane in Virginia in 2003.  The unknown of what the storm will do adds to its ferocity.

I read David McCullough’s Johnstown Flood, about the torrential rains that broke the Little Fork dam and unleashed a calamity of its kind unmatched in modern, U.S. History.  People were completely swept away, crushed by debris, drowned, and even burned to death.  The storms of that late May day in 1889 cost 2,209 people their lives.  McCullough tells about Victor Heiser’s incredible survival in this flood.  He climbed into a barn just before the powerful waters blew through the property and he watched the family house (in which his parents were) instantly demolished.  The barn was carried downstream in such a way that it barely missed whole houses, freight train cars, barns, and the like before the then sixteen year old Heiser found refuge with nineteen others in the attic of a two-story brick house commandeered by the flood.  Along the way, he witnessed the deaths of several not so blessed as he.  Heiser made the most of the blessing.  He grew up, became a doctor, and it is estimated that he saved as many as two million lives through the development of the first effective treatment against leprosy.  He died at the age of 99 in 1972.

Most storm survivors are not as acclaimed and famous as Victor Heiser.  So many have taken hold of the hand which calms the storms and have enjoyed the Lord’s guidance as they weathered their own storms of tragedy, trouble, and transgression.  They reached their end, many of them having aided others to escape through Christ!  Spurgeon and a friend saw a weather vane upon which were written the words, “God is love.”  The friend objected, saying, “God’s love is not so fickle and transient.  That vane is not correct.”  To which Spurgeon replied, “No, friend, you have misunderstood its meaning.  It is correct.  It suggests that God is love, which ever way the wind blows.”

Donna Dungan, a wonderful Christian lady who has lived along the Gulf Coast where many fierce storms have blown, wrote a poem to comfort a friend suffering from an unknown virus that eventually took her life.  Her beautiful words may bring you comfort as you deal with your storms.  I close with it.

Though a fierce storm is raging about you
And you fear there is nothing you can do
There’s a place in your heart where He meets you
And in the eye of the storm He carries you through
Don’t let go, don’t try to leave the eye, or the storm will take you in
Nothing will overtake you while you are holding on to Him
There is a place of peace and rest that is safe from the battles of life
A place in your heart where He will shield you from worry and strife
Our Lord never sleeps nor slumbers while His children are in pain
He alone has the power to hold you up until you are whole again
Oh, please don’t let go–just hold on
In the eye of the storm just hold on.

 
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A Message From The Rattling Bones

A Message From The Rattling Bones

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

Dale Pollard

Six hundred years before Christ would make His providential appearance, a righteous man finds himself in captivity. While exiled, Ezekiel, was able to witness the spirit of God in a very intimate way (Ezekiel 1). Even so, he was still living under the thumb of the Babylonians like every other Israelite with him. While under these unideal circumstances though, he is privileged to see awe-inspiring visions from God. Have you ever paid attention to the eerie sensations described throughout this book? In Ezekiel 1:4 the prophet feels a great and stormy wind on the bank of the river Chebar. The wind brings with it a massive cloud with fire flashing around it and a substance like glowing metal in the center of it. The wings of the creatures he saw (verse 24) made sounds like that of roaring waters. The voice of the Almighty was like the sound of a great army camp. What sights he was able to see! This great connection to God didn’t take away his pain or sorrow, though.

 Chapter 19 is one long lament as Ezekiel cries over his hardhearted Israelite brothers. Why won’t they listen to him? Even after Ezekiel performs some radical visual illustrations like eating his bread over dung and laying on his side for an entire year, they won’t respond to the “invitation.” How frustrating is that, preachers? God never abandons His faithful servant, but His confused prophet is still left to wonder what God is going to do about the mess which makes up his reality. A familiar feeling for many faithful Christians today.  

Never underestimate the hand of the Almighty. This truthful statement can be pulled from Ezekiel 37, when the prophet is taken up and then placed in the middle of a dark valley. Ezekiel is surrounded on all sides by heaps of dry human bones and he’s probably wondering why in the world God has taken him to such a place. The text answers the question by asking a question. God speaks to Ezekiel and says, “Can these dry bones live again?” What an odd thing to ask. However, Ezekiel responds, “Only you know, O Lord.”

 It’s always when we’re deep in the valley’s of life that we’re forced to answer the difficult questions about God’s abilities. When we’re surrounded by darkness, the question we have to ask is, “Does God have the power to see me through this?” If you remember, Ezekiel has become frustrated with the fact that Israel just won’t listen to him or Him. He’s lost hope in their ability to change— they’re just too far gone. However, God demonstrates to His prophet in a dramatic way that NOTHING is impossible for Him. 

He doesn’t bring the bones to life in the blink of an eye, but we know He could have. Instead, He allows Ezekiel to hear those bones rattle and to hear the sounds of fibers and flesh sticking together. He wanted to leave an impression on Ezekiel to demonstrate the might of the Almighty. Ezekiel had no idea how those bones came to life, but he knew one thing for certain. God did it. You may not understand why God has allowed you to enter your valley, but you can be certain that He has the power to see you through. You are standing on your two feet because God has given you the strength to do so. God has promised His faithful servants a heavenly light at the end of our tunnels and whatever God says— He will always accomplish (Ezekiel 37:14). 

Words For The Aching Heart 

Words For The Aching Heart 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

Why do we hurt? In Bible classes and in sermons you have been pointed to scriptures such as James 1:2, which says, “Count it all joy my brethren, when you fall into various trials.” You may then find yourself wondering about that specific trial you are forced to miserably wade through. 

Perhaps you think, “But what good could possibly come from this?” Or maybe you even question, “why would God let me experience this kind of heartache?” This is when a faithful Christian may sink into a pessimistic kind of bitterness that slowly steals each smile and smothers even the faintest glimmer of hope. If Jesus could sit with you and lovingly give you some wisdom, I’d imagine this is what He’d say.

I dreaded that cross, the cruel instrument of death.
I felt such intense emotion with each painful and strained breath.
Embarrassed, I was stretched naked amid a hateful crowd—
but prayed for their forgiveness, with my bleeding head bowed.

I intimately knew trauma, isolation, abandonment, and shame.
I lost everything for everyone, so peace and glory you would gain.
It’s that joy I’ve set before you, even seen through tearful eyes,
that will push you, as it did Me, through each valley and each sigh. 

No matter what you’re fighting here, don’t worry, stress or fear.
Today it hurts, tomorrow it’s over, in the twinkling of an eye I’ll appear.
Life is brief and fragile like that of a lowly dove, and like the dove,
with broken wing still mending, look hopefully above.
–Dale Pollard
(These words were inspired by the words found in Hebrews 12:1-3.)

I’d like to encourage you, if you’re suffering through a trial in life, to read Psalm 69.  It’s a lament psalm, which may help you put into words what your aching heart is feeling.

“What we really need and what the psalms of lament provide is a way to live through times of disorientation with God as an intimate traveling companion.”
– Glenn Pemberton

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Lessons From Adversity: An Introduction

Lessons From Adversity: An Introduction

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

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Brent is a 1998 graduate of Faulkner Univ. He’s done full-time ministry  in AL, TN, VA, and NC.

Brent Pollard

Without delving into the minutiae of my medical history, suffice it to say I’ve been through a lot. Consequently, I could not accomplish all I hoped and dreamed to do in life. If you were to ask others about my legacy, you might well hear expressions of admiration about how I deal with adversity. Had I the righteousness of Job and could imagine my plight the consequence of a conversation between God and the adversary, in which God allowed the latter to test me, then I might find a little bit of solace in the thought. Stripping away the complimentary aspect of those words, though, people are telling me I suffer well. Nevertheless, I suppose it permits me a small measure of wisdom, rooted in Scripture, I can share with others.

Jesus calls us to complete submission. As gracious as His invitation is (Matthew 11:28-30), it requires acceptance of a yoke. Though ours is not an agrarian society, we remain familiar with a yoke’s purpose. Yokes enable control over beasts of burden. Agriculturally-engaged animals experience harm, despite benevolent masters, only when fighting the guidance of said masters. (Consider Jesus’ words to Saul on the road to Damascus about kicking against the goads in Acts 9:5; 26:14.)

How many realize that with acceptance of a celestial yoke, one agrees to give up any pretense of control he had over his life? I am not referring to self-control, in which we govern our passions. We should discipline our bodies (1 Corinthians 9:27). Yet, we’ve been told it is hubris to make plans with disregard to Divine will (James 4:13-15). Hence, Robert Burns’ maxim: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” There are too many factors beyond our purview to speak confidently of anything aside from that established in God’s word. Sadly, because of false confidence, it takes only tragedy to remind us of reality.

How then should we act? Obviously, we cannot be like the Thessalonians who seemingly gave up on life as they awaited the perceived imminent return of Christ. There are responsibilities that are ours alone. For example, a man must work to eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). Outside of what is our concern alone, though, everything falls to the Will of God. Even the politics over which we too often become preoccupied is a matter of God’s will for the nations of the earth (Daniel 2:21; Acts 1:6-7; Romans 13:1). And what of life’s length? Barring our Lord’s return, we even have an upcoming appointment with death we cannot change (Hebrews 9:27). These truths drive home Solomon’s inspired observation:

“The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NASB)

Thus, despite how glib it may sound, lesson one is: “Let go and let God.”

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A picture of my family in 1990 (Brent, far left). 

“No One Supported Me, But All Deserted Me”

“No One Supported Me, But All Deserted Me”

Neal Pollard

These are some of the last words written by one of the greatest men who ever lived. He wrote them while in prison, waiting to die for his faith. He has just spoken of people he trusted who had deserted him. He is lacking even the bare essentials. A man, knowing how difficult his life was, had done additional great harm to him. No wonder he would open this window into his suffering soul and let us all look inside. Despite all this, he was not bitter.

Have you ever felt mistreated, even felt like people were actively against you? Or perhaps felt like people you count on abandoned or neglected you when you needed them? Maybe you have suffered for your faith. It is tempting to become bitter, even to lash out against the church and God.  Paul is a great example of how to think when you feel unsupported and deserted by those you count on. After making that statement in 2 Timothy 4:16, he says some other things that can help us when we feel, at least in a small way, the way Paul felt. 

  • Focus On The Lord. He could see how the Lord had helped through his darkest hours in the past (17). But, as importantly, he had confidence that the Lord would help him through future trials (18). Despite his unfair treatment, he could still say, “To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” When people hurt and disappoint you, look higher!
  • Find Your Higher Purpose. Incredibly, Paul could sift through these sorrows and see God at work to accomplish His will. He’s suffering, but he can see a greater good. He says that he endured these hurts “…so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear.” Can you look for what God, who doesn’t cause suffering, can do to bring good even out of those times? We’re prone to feel sorry for ourselves when God may be showing us and others His power through these situations to save souls and help lives. 
  • Forgive.  Paul doesn’t hold a grudge. Concerning those who let him down and even hurt him, he could say, “May it not be counted against them” (16). Doesn’t that sound like a Savior who asked God to forgive His tormentors? What a mindset! We can nurse perceived offenses, but how much better to be magnanimous toward those who we feel failed us in our hour of trial?

If you’ve never felt unsupported and deserted, you probably will at some future time. The temptation will be great to let it become a spiritual problem for you. Why not remember Paul’s response when he was in his deepest valley? It’s the way up to the spiritual mountaintop. 

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P.A.I.N.

P.A.I.N.

Neal Pollard

Problems aren’t inherently negative.  Will you remember that? The middle-aged man with the persistent pain goes to the doctor, who discovers the malignant mass and gets him to the surgeon. The man’s life is saved by pain. The teenage Christian girl who endures the hurt of breaking up with the boy who is ungodly but who she loves feels pain. Eventually, though, as she raises her four children and enjoys marriage with a strong Christian man, she thanks God for that former pain. Illustrations of this point are endless.

How do you view your pain? By human nature, we tend to view suffering as the very worst thing that could happen to us. The anxiety of the medical test, the chronic disease that impacts every portion of our day and life, the permanent loss of a loved one through whatever events, or a rift in the family all can seem unbearable.

Will you remember that, as with the physical body and the emotional makeup, pain in our spiritual lives can have a positive benefit? We can learn from the painful thing. Pain can cause us to grow. Pain can serve as a spiritual refinery. After all, problems aren’t inherently negative. It is how we respond to the problems that makes all the difference. If we give up due to the problems we face, it’s devastating. If we sin in response to our pain, we fail and inflict damage on ourselves and others. If we blame God, we are in danger of allowing our pain to conquer us.

Despite those possibilities, though, none of these things have to occur. The encouraging thing is that how we respond to our problems is fully under our own control. We can be the example, in our suffering, that leads a lost soul to Christ or an erring Christian back home. We can be the role models others remember when they go down the road of trouble. We can bring glory to God by faithfully enduring such things.

Problems aren’t inherently negativeThank God for this.

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“He sends forth springs in the valleys; They flow between the mountains”

“He sends forth springs in the valleys; They flow between the mountains”

Neal Pollard

This statement in Psalm 104:10 is spoken literally of God’s physical provision for His creatures. But, have you ever thought about how that is true for you and me when we find ourselves in the valleys of life? In between the mountaintops of successes and happy days, we can find ourselves seemingly down in the valley of the shadow of death (cf. 23:4). I am so thankful that in those moments that might seem dry and thirsty, God sends forth springs in the valleys of life. Whatever creates the valley for us, it can seem like a deep place hard to climb out of. How does God send forth spiritual and emotional springs for us, even in the valleys of life?

  • The church is a spring in the valleys of life. Other Christians lifting and encouraging us can be the medicine we need to take the next step through the valley. No wonder the church is such an expression of God’s wisdom (Eph. 3:10-11).
  • Prayer is a spring in the valleys of life. Pouring out our hearts to a God who understands us and knows our situation perfectly strengthens us.
  • Our family can be a spring in the valleys of life. Those of us who have Christian parents, siblings, children, and other relatives have a double blessing, family twice over. They can be the support and encouragement we need to keep moving.
  • Spiritual blessings are a spring in the valleys of life. Ephesians 1:3 says in a general way what the rest of the New Testament enumerates in a specific way. God is blessing us in so many ways because we are in His Son. Never do we appreciate that more than when we struggle.
  • The Bible is a spring in the valleys of life. There is wisdom and insight on every page, guidance for our journey. God has revealed the road map to help us traverse the narrow way to heaven. The narrow way will not keep us from traveling through valleys, and often it has valleys the broad way does not.
  • Faith or trust is a spring in the valleys of life. Like Paul, who often camped in the valleys of life, “I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). My eyes may be wet with tears in the valley, but my eyes of faith see with crystal clarity.
  • Hope is a spring in the valleys of life. It anchors the soul (Heb. 6:18-19), but it also helps lift us up. Because I face the future with confidence, no setback will keep me discouraged but so long. Tomorrow will be a brighter day!
  • Christian service is a spring in the valleys of life. Maybe nothing leads me through the valley any more than finding a fellow sojourner to help out of their valleys. When I focus outside of myself on other strugglers, I soon forget my unpleasant experience.

Many years ago, I heard Franklin Camp talk about the valleys of his life and how he overcame. His young daughter accidentally burned to death in a brush fire. He faced other huge losses in life, but brother Camp through it all was a man who had his eyes fixed on the ultimate mountaintop experience. In the valleys of life, let us look for the springs God sends. They will refresh, renew, and relieve us until our journey is complete.

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Facing The Storm

Facing The Storm

Neal Pollard

Springtime in the plains is a notorious time for storms. I was driving through northwest Texas near the time when three storm chasers were killed southwest of me on Tuesday afternoon. They died pursuing the storm, not directly because of it. They were there because conditions were ripe for tornadoes. 17 people were killed by tornadoes in 2016, but 24 have already died in them this year. Hollywood has captured our awe and fascination with them since The Wizard Of Oz. We view storms as mysterious, ominous, powerful, and frightening. They come in so many forms—hurricanes, floods, blizzards, cyclones, and more. But “storms” are synonymous with fear and sorrow.

Wouldn’t you classify some of the major, traumatic events of your life as storms.  They build and threaten, they strike, then they leave aftermath. The storm may take but a moment, but recovery can take days, months, or even years. Not surprisingly, the Bible uses the storm metaphorically to describe such moments in our lives. David wrote, “I would hasten to my place of refuge from the stormy wind and tempest” (Psa. 55:8). The man we most associate with such figurative storms, Job, laments, “You lift up the wind and cause me to ride; And you dissolve me in a storm” (30:22). Most frequently, the Bible uses storms representatively to describe God’s judgment. But, as Job and David show, sometimes storms strike the innocent and undeserving.

What do we do when facing a storm? We heed precautions. We take shelter.  We wait and endure. We ask for and trust God’s protection.

The world is full of people riding out storms today. That includes Christians. These storms are assaulting their bodies, bank accounts, relationships, spiritual strength, and spirits. Some feel safely sheltered, while others feel as if they are barely holding on. How do we face our storms?

* Seek help from others (Heb. 12:12-13; Ecc. 4:9-10).
* Search for possible benefits from it (Psa. 66:10; Rev. 21:3-4; Js. 1:2-4; etc.).
* See God’s power to help in it (Psa. 18:19; Rom. 8:28-38; 2 Pet. 2:9a).
* Shelter in the place of safety (Exo. 33:22; Psa. 91:1; Mat. 7:24-27).

God doesn’t cause evil or sin, but He allows it. We will always struggle with the “why” of this. But, we can grow our dependence on our great, perfect God when we are being battered. He is faithful. He wants to help. Lean on Him through your storms!

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Expectation Versus Euthanasia

Expectation Versus Euthanasia

Neal Pollard

She was born the year after the Civil War. Her mother died when she was three. Her father dropped her and her newborn sister off at the home of the widow of an army friend. Unable to care for the girls, the widow ultimately transferred care to a sweet, religious couple in the community. The girls spent happy years through their school days, but the older sister came to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis as a teenager. It steadily grew worse until she could not walk. Their adopted parents died within months of each other, and the young women were poor and had little prospect of earning money for themselves. Before her affliction, she had developed aspirations as a concert pianist and shown great promise as a poet and writer. Arthritis robbed her on the musical dreams, but she flourished as a poet and hymn writer. Rather than seek relief from her pain through suicide, she channeled her suffering into beautiful writing that continues to comfort others as it did in her lifetime. Ravi Zacharias summarized her suffering, saying, “Her body was embarrassed by incontinence, weakened by cancer, and twisted and deformed by rheumatoid arthritis. She was incapacitated for so long that according to one eyewitness she needed seven or eight pillows around her body just to cushion the raw sores she suffered from being bedridden” (“The Cry For A Reason In Suffering,” np; other information from The Story of Annie Johnson Flint, Rowland Bingham). Her poetry and songs are not riddled with bitterness or even soul-wrenching questions of why. You’ll find titles like “The Grace Of God,” “Not Down, But Through,” “Rest, Tired Heart,” “Grace Sufficient,” “He Giveth More Grace,” “He’s Helping Me Now,” and on the hopeful, positive compositions flow.

We have only one of her hymns in our song book, and it is entitled, “The World’s Bible.” These familiar words include the lines, “Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today, He has no feet but our feet to lead men in the way….” I appreciate the living testimony Ms. Flint was of the way one who believes in Christ ought to respond to the tragedies and difficulties that can strike in this fallen world. I pray that I will never be wracked by such suffering, but if I do I would want the world to see the spirit in me that so many saw in her. Her life was one of trust in God’s sufficiency and strength through the darkest moments of life.

Our state (Colorado) was one of a few that has passed physician-assisted, right to die legislation in the recent election cycle. Besides the ethical slippery slope of people, even doctors and patients, selecting when to end life, there is in such an effort a failure to see the intrinsic value of life as well as God’s sovereign right over His creation. Ms. Flint’s situation makes us cringe in discomfort at first blush, but we see the refined beauty of a trusting heart to impart profound comfort despite life’s harshest turns. To persecuted Christians, Peter offers this hope for all strugglers when he writes, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Pet. 5:10; cf. 1 Pet. 1:6-7). Whatever the trial, we can choose life instead of death, trust in God rather than trust in our own thoughts. Let us live in triumphant expectation, no matter what we may have to endure for the moment (Rom. 8:38-39; Psa. 30:5).

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Coping With Thorns

Coping With Thorns

Neal Pollard

Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10). He is the author of audacity, and he showed it first in Eden. He is at work today through temptation and suffering to try and dismantle our faith. He is a presence in our personal lives (1 Pet. 5:8). If there’s hurt, he’s happy. If there’s sin, he’s satisfied. He can’t force anyone to sin (Js. 1:13-15). He can’t make us fall away (John 10:28-29). But, he’s at work. Paul writes about something that has long mystified the Bible student, in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. In that passage, we have:

  • The reality of the thorn (7)
  • The reproach of the thorn (7)
  • The reason for the thorn (7)
  • The result of the thorn (7)
  • The response to the thorn (8-10).

Paul reveals Satan’s involvement in that thorn. This troubles me. I have never asked for a thorn in the flesh and I have no reason to think Paul asked for his, but he got one anyway. What do you do when you have a thorn in the flesh? Consider at least three things Paul teaches us in this powerful passage.

No one is immune from thorns. Who’s talking in this text? The great apostle Paul, a man God gave revelations, who’s preaching across the world, converting so many, and achieving name recognition for the best of reasons. If you ever thought anybody would be sheltered for doing right, it would be him. But Paul says there was given to him a thorn in the flesh. That makes me uncomfortable. I need spiritual lessons about God and myself, as Paul and even Job, who Satan was allowed to buffet, did. If a great Old Testament patriarch and great New Testament preacher had thorns to deal with, I know I am not immune.

Sometimes, God lets the thorn stay. We may have to accept that our given affliction may never come to an end as long as we’re on this earth. A recurring or chronic illness, constant adversary, or irreversible limitation may not be removed. I wish I knew why God told Paul “no” and why he sometimes tells us “no” when we ask for our thorns to be removed. But, even if we keep the thorn, God’s grace is sufficient and He can use that very thing to accomplish good through us for the Kingdom. God uses thorns to supply us with humility and grace. If our thorn comes and stays rather than comes and goes, God will use it for our good and to accomplish good if we will properly view it.

Thorns are growth opportunities. If we remain faithful to God through our thorns, we will spiritually grow. Satan is rebuffed and defeated, as he was with Paul and Job. But, for every Paul and Job, how many have let affliction and adversity destroy their faith? We know God’s power eclipses Satan’s. But don’t underestimate this enemy (2 Cor. 2:11; 11:14; 12:7). One of Paul’s final points in the letter is about God’s great power (13:4). Paul was weakened by affliction, but he could endure because of faith. God is more powerful than Satan and Paul’s thorn is but one proof of it. Lyte wrote,

As woods, when shaken by the breeze, take deeper, firmer root,
As winter’s frosts but make the trees abound in summer fruit;
So every Heaven-sent pang and throe that Christian firmness tries,
But nerves us for our work below, and forms us for the skies.

Is it a trial or a blessing in disguise? Doesn’t it depend on how we view it and what we do with it? Satan wants to use afflictions to destroy us, but God is greater. He can transform our tragedies into triumphs. Trust Him through the thorns. The roses will appear!

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