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Finding God's Comfort in Affliction
— DAY ONE —
Have you ever become weary ...
because you've been so afflicted that you actually despaired of life? because people accused you of not keeping your word? because your honesty caused sorrow and they missed the fact that you had to say what you said because love compelled you? Have you felt a little overwhelmed by conflicts without and fears within because you're concerned for the well-being of someone you dearly love— a parent, a child, a mate? Or because of a tenuous relationship with another, and you don't know where you stand? Their once-warm heart has turned cold ... the company they keep has changed ... and deep down, gut-level, you believe these new associates have turned them against you ...
Or perhaps you've been criticized, torn down, demeaned, due to some physical attribute that is less than perfect, or because of some "lack" in your personality, or maybe because others have questioned your role, your position, in respect to them, or because you've been accused of treating someone improperly.
Are you stressed out, Beloved, because you fear that those whom you've loved, protected, cared for, or ministered to have been led astray in their thinking? Or because you have a "thorn in your flesh" that God hasn't removed, though you've begged Him over and over to do so? Or because you know you may end up in a confrontation you don't want ... but probably must have?
You're in good company, my friend, for all that you just read is exactly what was experienced by one of the greatest men of God, the apostle Paul. For Paul, it was not just one of the above, but all of the above.
It's all recorded for us in the most intimate and personal of all of Paul's letters—2 Corinthians, the letter we're going to study. In it, you and I will see what I'll call the anatomy of a heart for God.
Wouldn't you like to know, my friend, that after going through the kind of circumstances I've just queried you on, you could still be able to say at the end of your life, as Paul did, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His [Christ's] appearing"?
Wouldn't you like to be assured that you could experience all the situations I've posed and still turn to others, as Paul did, and say in total sincerity and truth, without one drop of egotism: "Follow me. Be an imitator of me, even as I am of Christ Jesus. Look at the way I walk and know that if others do not walk this way, they aren't walking in a way pleasing to God."
Can you imagine having such confidence? Confidence, not brashness. Confidence in the midst of cross fire. Confidence even if the government threatened to take your life for what you believed and lived. Confidence so sure that you could stand alone, even though others deserted you because they loved this present life more than the next.
This is the heart I long for.
And what about you, Beloved? Surely, because you picked up this book with this title, we are kin—of a kindred heart.
On the day we see Jesus Christ face to face, to have missed having a heart like this will seem like the greatest of tragedies—especially when we see such a heart was indeed possible for the believing, for the learning, for the disciplined. God always hears the cry of His people, especially when they cry, "Lord, give me a heart for You—give me a heart for You!"
Why don't you close today by going back and reading through the questions and the "becauses" I posed at the beginning. (Each one of these, by the way, reflects real-life situations that Paul deals with in 2 Corinthians.) Put a star by each one that somehow pertains to you. Then, when you finish, take a few minutes to sit in the Lord's presence and talk to Him about your heart, just as countless others have done through the corridors of the centuries.
Then record below, for your own benefit, this prayer for your heart.
— DAY TWO —
His conversion was glorious—yet hard for some to believe. One moment he was adamantly persecuting those who were followers of Jesus Christ, whom he despised with a vehemence. The next moment he was prostrate on the ground saying, "Who are You, Lord?" to the resurrected, ascended Jesus Christ.
The brilliance of his encounter with this One he believed to be an enemy of God left him temporarily blind until a man by the name of Ananias came trembling into his presence.
Ananias had a right to tremble. Every follower of Jesus Christ trembled at the thought of encountering this banty rooster named Saul who was so cocksure of himself and his cause. No one wanted to be caught by this man of small stature who carried, so to speak, a very big stick—letters of permission from the chief priests in Jerusalem to imprison any of "those of the Way" and probably put them to death. Hadn't Saul consented to the death of Stephen after Stephen testified before the Sanhedrin? Saul joined with others in deeming these people to be enemies of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. ("Those of the Way" is what these followers of Christ were called. The nomenclature probably came because Jesus had claimed with His own mouth to be "the way, and the truth, and the life" and declared that none could come to God, the heavenly Father, except through Him.)
Ananias went to see this murderer Saul, but only because he was convinced he had heard the Lord's command to go. Ananias had explained to the Lord the reputation of this one to whom he was being sent—but to no avail.
Just as difficult for Ananias as going to Saul was the message he had to deliver. The Lord had said to Ananias, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake."
After spending three sightless days, neither eating nor drinking, and seeing a vision of Ananias coming to him, Saul received his sight—and immediately he was out trying to convince others that Jesus of Nazareth was truly the Christ, the long awaited Messiah.
Years later, after beginning his first missionary journey, Saul became known as Paul. How this change came about we don't know, but never again does even Paul himself use his former name except when sharing the story of his conversion before a Jewish mob in the temple and later before King Agrippa. Saul was his Jewish name, while Paul is of Latin origin and means "little." I cannot help but wonder if Paul took on this Latin name not only as a way of more closely identifying with the Gentiles to whom he was called to minister, but also became of its meaning. For Paul saw himself as "the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God."
Although Paul described himself this way, and as "one untimely born," he became probably the greatest of the apostles. Not only were most of the New Testament epistles written by him, but the greater portion of Acts is devoted to the account of this man's three missionary journeys and closes with the account of his imprisonment and journey to Rome where, as a Roman citizen, he appealed to Caesar.
It was on Paul's second missionary journey that he went to Corinth. Let's take a look at how Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee and "a Hebrew of Hebrews," ended up in Corinth, Greece, a city unrivaled for its immorality. To do that we need to begin with Acts 15:40-16:12. As you read through this passage (printed out for you below), mark the references to geographical locations by double underlining them. If you have a green pen, do it in green.
The reason I'm asking you to do this, Beloved, is to introduce you to a way to mark your Bible with standard or consistent markings so that it will be easy to spot various truths quickly. If you start marking your Bible in a purposeful way, you'll find yourself incorporating a learning skill that will help you better remember and retain what you learn.
As you read this passage, remember that this is Paul's second missionary journey. What was his purpose on this journey? We find it in Acts 15:36, where Paul to Barnabas, "Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are." As you mark where Paul and Silas go, observe what happens in the churches they established on the first journey.
* ACTS 15:40-16:12
40 But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.
41 And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
16:1 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek,
2 and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium.
3 Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
4 Now while they were passing through the dries, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe.
5 So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.
6 They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia;
7 and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them;
8 and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.
9 A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us."
10 When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
11 So putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis;
12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days.
Good job. Now let's take a look at the map on the next page of Paul's second missionary journey and find out where these places are. According to Acts 15:35, Paul and Silas left from the city of Antioch. This particular Antioch was in Syria (watch that, because a city of that name—known as Pisidian Antioch is also mentioned in Acts). So beginning in Antioch of Syria, trace their journey on the map. Use a colored pen that will stand out so you can easily follow them.
On page 10 you'll see a chart showing the sequence of events in Paul's life after his conversion. When you have time, you might want to scan this chart and notice the events in Paul's life that led up to his second missionary journey.
Well, Beloved, you've done a good day's work. Quite an accomplishment. As you read this portion from Acts, wasn't it interesting to see Paul's sensitivity to the leading of God? First Paul and Silas passed through the regions of Phrygia and Galatia because they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word of God in Asia. Then, when they arrived in Mysia and wanted to go into Bithynia, the Holy Spirit again checked them. They went instead to Troas, where Paul saw the vision of the man of Macedonia asking him to come over and help them. And what did they do? The Word tells us that they sought to go to Macedonia immediately. No delay, no hesitation.
When your heart belongs to God and you will to do His will, you can rest assured, Beloved, that God will lead you by His Spirit, step by step. Your responsibility is simply to commit your way unto Him, and He will bring it to pass.
Then you can walk in confidence knowing that "the steps of a man are established by the LORD, And He delights in his way."
— DAY THREE —
From the beginning, God made it clear to Paul that he was destined to suffer. Remember the Lord's word to him through Ananias? "He is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for [note the "for"] I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake."
But suffering wasn't to be Paul's alone, precious one. When anyone unwraps the gift of salvation, he or she will find suffering tucked in with it. The two are inseparable. Paul would later write to the church he founded in Philippi, "For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me" (Philippians 1:29-30).
At the very end of his life, as Paul prepared to die for his faith, he wrote his final letter to Timothy, his son in the faith (you remember Timothy, for you read yesterday in Acts 16 how he and Paul had met). Paul reminded Timothy that "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12). Those who desire to live godly in Christ are those who have a heart for God. This, Beloved, is something you and I need to understand and remember as we pray, "Lord, give me a heart for You."
Excerpted from Lord, Give Me a Heart for You by Kay Arthur. Copyright © 2001 by Kay Arthur. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|Chapter 1||When the Pressure Is Great, the Stress Is Overwhelming: Finding God's Comfort in Affliction||1|
|Chapter 2||When Relationships Are Fragmented: Resolving Conflicts||33|
|Chapter 3||When I Feel Inadequate: Finding Adequacy in Christ||57|
|Chapter 4||What Happens When I Die?: Standing at the Judgment Seat of Christ||87|
|Chapter 5||When I'm Broken by My Sin: Suffering and Separation That Bring Holiness||121|
|Chapter 6||When I'm in Need... When I Have Plenty: Understanding the Ministry of Giving||149|
|Chapter 7||When the Warfare Is Great: Confronting the Enemy||175|
|Chapter 8||When God Won't Take Away "The Thorn": The Power of Weakness||203|
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