Friday, October 5, 2012

When God Harasses You

I was feeling particularly overwhelmed one day last week. As I headed out for a walk to pray, I knew I needed some targeted grace. My mind went to 2 Corinthians 12, so I pulled it up on my phone and read it as started to walk.

[A little quick context for those of you not familiar with what's going on in the letter to this point:

Paul's apostolic credibility had been torpedoed by some so-called "super-apostles" (see 2 Cor 11:5; 12:11). They boasted impressive resumes and undermined Paul by saying he was unimpressive. They were healthy and wealthy. He suffered too much. They spoke with eloquence and rhetorical flourish. His speech was plain and weak. They boasted of visions. He was always preaching that bloody cross. Etc. Etc. And some of the Corinthians were buying it. THAT bothered him (see 2 Cor 11:28-29). So, he decides to do a little boasting of his own. He hates to do it, but for the good of the Corinthians, to get their attention and redirect it down the narrow Calvary road, he does a little boasting of his own.

He speaks in the third person of a man who was caught up to the third heaven, who heard things that cannot be told. He is speaking of himself, but he can't stand to boast of anything except the cross of Jesus Christ. Yes, it happened. But it's not something that can bless and build up the Corinthians. He has always refused to "play this card." The goal is not to impress them with his unique and visionary celestial access. The goal is to impress them with the gospel of Jesus Christ, which gives them access to the throne of grace!]

Here's what I read (2 Cor 12:5-10, emphasis added):
On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses--though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
My mind got hooked by the word "harass" and I started meditating on Paul's divinely inspired logic. Yes, it was a messenger of Satan that harassed Paul, but God had that messenger on his leash. It was not Satan's goal to keep Paul from becoming conceited. That was God's goal. So, God ultimately ordained that Paul be harassed.

I think I got stuck on the word "harass" because it seemed to resonate with how I felt. (Disclaimer: I'm not trying to throw a pity party here. I know you don't want to be on that invite list. I am sharing this because the barrage of needs and responsibilities I couldn't keep up with felt like harassment.) I'm guessing you've felt the same way. So, I'm sharing this with you, fellow harassed struggler, because there is a lot of grace for you in this passage, just like there was for me that day.

Back to the logic of the text. God ultimately harassed Paul, to keep Paul humble. It was encouraging to realize that God intentionally harassed Paul, in order to help Paul.

God harasses Paul, to help Paul? What kind of twisted plan is this?!
No, this is not a twisted plan. This is a loving plan. Think of the alternative. God gives you gifts and blessings. And then he gives you no harassment. And then you slowly and subtly get conceited, thinking how special you must be to have such gifts and blessings. And then you get self-sufficient. And then you feel no need for all-sufficient grace. And then, you become weak -- terribly weak in your self-reliant pride. Thinking yourself strong, you are cut off from true strength. That would be a twisted, unloving plan.

So God harasses. He harasses us into weakness so that we see our utter need for his all-sufficient grace. And seeing our utter need for his all-sufficient grace, we do not begrudge or resent the harassment in our lives that keeps us weak and humble. We will welcome it. And welcoming our weakness and depending on all-sufficient grace, the power of Christ rests on us. We become content with harassment, for when we are weak, then we are strong.

That was grace to me last week. Maybe it will be grace to you this week. One of God's modus operandi: harassment, to humble you, to help you with all-sufficient grace, that you might be truly the strength of his might.

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