The Apostle Paul is one of the most influential writers and evangelists in Christian history, but few realize that despite his tenacity and bold Christian witness, Paul suffered from a mysterious handicap. By his own admission, God used this malady to forge humility in his life. Today on Insight for Living, Chuck Swindoll will continue his brand new series called Clinging to Hope.
In this study, we'll discover that our physical flaws need not eclipse our hope, rather our weaknesses remind us that God is our strength. Chuck titled today's message, When Thorns Rip Our Pride. The Thorns assaulted Paul like an implacable demon, repeatedly attacking the man.
Now, why? Why the thorn? Why such a devastating, relentless pain? And before I go further answering that, will you remember every time you read Paul, he's writing in pain? He was never free of pain.
And he states the reason to keep me from proudly exalting myself. I read not here or anywhere else that the thorns are no longer used by God. Whatever it is and whatever they are, they always have the same effect. They humble us. They break us. They bend us. Especially if you are highly intelligent and greatly gifted and deeply, deeply spiritual, that thorn will keep you from ever accepting the applause of your adoring public, because that thorn is there to remind you you are to walk in humility, not in pride.
In fact, I'm getting a little ahead of myself. You will notice verse, verse 8 it is, three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. I've learned the lesson.
Take it away. And we read each time the implied response is no, no, no. But Paul describes it in these words. Each time he said, my grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness. I will not boast about my weaknesses.
I will tell you of my struggles. And he does that in chapter 11. That's how he can be this vulnerable.
He tells you that not so that you will applaud him, but that you will understand. This is a broken man. This is a man who operated his life on his knees. This is a man who leaned hard on the living God because the pain reminded him. And so the difference, look at the difference it made in the man's life. It's rather remarkable. Verse 10.
That's why, so look at the summary. That's why, because I've learned that my weaknesses show the power of God, that's why I take pleasure in my weaknesses. In fact, insults don't despair, don't depress me. Hardships don't make me quit.
Persecutions don't turn me off. Troubles don't overwhelm me. For when I am weak, God's strength works through me. And he does what I could never otherwise do. He speaks words I could never otherwise speak. And he uses my words in ways I could never make them useful on my own and in my own strength. In other words, when I am, when I am weak, God is strong. And I finally learned that, says the Apostle.
And that's the part of this whole message that is so unexpected. What do you expect of those who are highly intelligent? Examples of great intelligence and then they're telling you about it, what they've invented, what they're able to do, problems they're able to solve, companies they're able to run, the numbers of people they're able to direct, decisions they're able to make, the highly intelligent or busy about impressing you with their intelligence. Paul doesn't do that. How about the greatly gifted in whatever may be the realm of giftedness.
How often they're the ones who are looking for the adulation of the public. Paul never looked for that. He says, I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.
I think it's his way of saying I can't change anybody. I have put together ten questions that are searching. I've not read them anywhere else. They're original with me. I say that only because I didn't get them out of another book. It's not somebody else's thinking. I thought through what I've just been going over in 2 Corinthians 12 and I thought these are questions that need to be asked and I asked myself and they are convicting questions.
Listen to them. Don't answer out loud. Answer because only you know the answer to this, but don't forget the questions. Number one, is your image still a little too important to you? Number two, are you still trying hard to impress those around you? Number three, does someone else's opinion of you mean too much to you?
Number four, are you easily offended by someone's negative comment about you or to you? Next, how well do you model in your life what you expect in another's? Do you give the other person the credit she needs or deserves or he deserves?
You give credit where it's appropriate rather than taking it. Are you vulnerable and quick to acknowledge your weaknesses rather than defensive and secretive? When you know you don't know, do you say you don't know or do you hide that? Do you secretly keep score regarding achievements? By that I mean comparing yourself with others. When you suffer, do you focus on the pain it brings or the lessons it teaches? Finally, is God's grace all you need or do you need more to bolster your ego? You know it's easy to understand why someone who is healthy and free of disability and enjoying the good life would struggle with a message like this, but in fact everyone does.
I thought of that when I read Johnny Erickson Tata's book, Choices and Changes. Johnny Erickson Tata, remember? Since her teenage years when she took that fateful dive into the Chesapeake, struck her head, broke her neck, been paralyzed ever since and has been wheelchair-bound. I have the privilege in a couple of weeks to be with Johnny and friends as they celebrate their 40th anniversary of ministry of helping others who are disabled.
This dear woman bound to a wheelchair will also celebrate 70 years on this earth, her birthday. She writes, among other things, everywhere we go in Poland, people give us flowers, fresh, thick bouquets in full bloom in our drab hotel rooms, but how odd it is to see these flowers swishing in the wind here, here at Auschwitz. Even though the grounds of this death camp are so very tidy now, delicate wisps of wildflowers crop up here and there around the bases of brick buildings and trunks of trees. We wonder if the government, which operates a museum here, has sown wildflower seeds to brighten this horrible depressing place. I notice a row of rose bushes just yards away from the gruesome gas chambers.
I ask our guide about the roses. He's quick to point out that where flowers are now there once was hard naked clay, every blade of grass picked clean by starving prisoners. Bear bricks and barbed wires, storehouses of eyeglasses and hair, gold teeth and canes and crutches, shoes and hearing aids, stacks of yellowed and dusty record books, neatly tabulated numberless names, gallows and guard towers, even the ominous chimneys and those ovens. All these things I've always associated with Nazi death camps are here and I shiver. I shiver not so much from the cold as from the thought that people handicapped like me were the first to be exterminated, labeled as useless bread gobblers and nothing else. They killed us first. But even this thought is not entirely new. It's the flowers.
The flowers are something I didn't expect. We journeyed the short distance from Auschwitz to Birkenau. Here, trainloads of Jews and dissidents were emptied into the freezing night to face the machine guns of powerful and insane men. Children were gun butted one way and mothers herded the other. Men were separated into groups of the old and the young. But virtually all of the millions of them ended up in one place, the incinerator. Nothing stands at this camp now. Our guide explains that what appears to be orderly rows of heaps of bricks were once the smokestacks of wooden barracks. What are you thinking, Ken, my husband asks.
I was thinking of Corey Tinboom. As she was in a place not unlike this, I nod toward the field of ghosts. By all accounts, she should have died 40 years ago in that concentration camp I saw. Ken shakes his head and wonder, who would have thought she would leave that awful place at 50 years of age? He marvels.
And then start a whole new ministry. She adds, I recall Tanti Corey's recent funeral at a small suburban cemetery a few miles south of Los Angeles. It was the flowers that impressed me that day, too. No hothouse blooms stuck in styrofoam cut out shapes of hearts or crosses or doves. No white satin banners with gold sprinkled messages of sympathy. Instead, there were just vases, tens of vases, freshly cut tulips of yellow and red, bouquets of dewy white carnations and bunches of heavy red roses someone had clipped from Corey's backyard. Casket was closed.
The music was Johann Sebastian Bach. The eulogies were glowing but understated. The only extravagance was the flowers. The profession, the profusion of flowers in the little stone chapel was then filled with sweet fragrance. Now I sit in silence in this vast field, memories of Corey stirring my thoughts. The confinement of her lonely cell attacked her own vanity and lonely pride.
Did you hear that? Pride. Even there. Even in Corey. It attacks my pride. Even in Johnny. My pride, she says, and constantly exposes my need to give to others who suffer.
I have no one to blame for my circumstances. How does she write like this in a wheelchair? She's learned the lessons from the foreign. She will never be out of the chair. She will never be free of paralysis. And still she acknowledges that pride that must be kept down.
Are you hearing this? When will we learn in this generation to walk in humility with our God and stop making life about us, me, mine, ours, and learn from the pain of life? Pride has no place in our journey from earth to heaven. Could be that you're hearing this today will be the beginning of your path toward the most meaningful decision you will ever make as it leads you to the cross, which, by the way, was a place of foreignness, a crown of foreignness. Learn the lesson of the foreign. You'll discover just how selfish you are.
And you'll get to where you despise it in yourself as the thorns do their work of cleansing. Cory learned it and ministered to millions. Johnny has learned it and ministers to millions. You can learn it and minister to those around you who live in the emptiness of their own conceit and arrogance as they see in you a different kind of model.
And when they ask why, you can tell them because of the grace of God that has taught you strength and weakness and you really don't expect to be first in anything and it is your pleasure to serve and to give. He is my strength when I'm weak. He is the treasure that I seek. He is my all in all.
What a way to live. I want that for you more than anything else. To be so preoccupied with Christ that you simply fade in the distance and he emerges first and foremost. Please bow with me. Just sit tight right there.
Just sit right there. Could it be that this is why the Lord has not lifted the affliction that you live with? Could it be that the lesson is not yet learned? That you're still far too important to yourself? Could it be that you still not understood when you're weak?
You're at your strongest. Let it be, my friend. Let it be.
Give it up. Could it be that all of this has occurred up to this point to bring you face to face with your need for the Savior who modeled it beautifully, died, with a saliva of his enemies running down his body, with his own blood streaming from his hands and feet, blood that would cleanse you from your sins. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. You will be saved to know a life like that.
A life of giving and serving. Come to him today. Come today. Father, thank you for these words from your book. Thank you for the truth that they represent.
Thank you for your patience. As the master teacher, you've been at it all our lives and we're just now getting it. We finally are willing to acknowledge that you're the strength when we're weak. You're the treasure we seek. You're our all in all.
And that satisfies. For those still struggling with it, may the struggle continue relentlessly until they finally learn to bow and submit their will to yours. I pray through Christ, our Savior and Lord, all his people said, amen.
This is Inside for Living. Our Bible teacher, Chuck Swindoll, titled today's message, When Thorns Rip Our Pride. To learn more about this ministry, visit us online at InsideWorld.org. This is message number eight in Chuck's brand new 12-part series called Clinging to Hope. If you're prepared to dig deeper into this topic during your daily quiet time with God, you'll be glad to know that Chuck has written a brand new book that complements this teaching series. The book is called Clinging to Hope, and there's a complete chapter on the topic we address today. Plus, Chuck addresses 11 other relevant subjects, such as what to do when unexpected tests rattle our world, how to cope when doors of opportunity get slammed shut, and how to survive when troubles come and stay. You'll enjoy reading Chuck's biblical insights on these issues, and it's the perfect book to pass along to a friend or perhaps to a child or grandchild who needs a dose of encouragement. Some will use this book to facilitate lively conversations in a small group Bible study.
Again, Chuck's brand new book is called Clinging to Hope. To purchase a copy right now, go to Insight.org slash Hope, or call us. If you're listening in the United States, call 800-772-8888. Well, as you would imagine, our world is filled with people who are desperately searching for hope, and we make it our mission to send these daily programs far and wide so that people have access to authentic hope as defined in the Bible. In fact, Insight for Living is translated into eight languages other than English, expanding our audience in parts of the world where Bible teaching is rare. So thanks so much for remembering the critical importance of giving generously to Insight for Living. To give a donation today, call us.
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Our goal is to create special moments when you deepen your love for the Bible and draw closer to your Lord. Experience an unforgettable 12-day tour to Israel with Chuck Swindoll and Insight for Living Ministries, March 5th through the 16th, 2023. To help you grasp the significance of each site, you'll be accompanied by hand-picked Israeli guides, and we choose the best, along with seminary-trained pastors and professors to enhance your spiritual journey. No organization I know of offers this level of exceptional, in-depth instruction and personal care for Holy Land travelers. To learn more, call 1-888-447-0444.
Just imagine walking along sacred sites and watching the Bible come to life. Make your reservation by calling 1-888-447-0444 or go to insight.org slash events. Insight for Living Ministries Tour to Israel is paid for and made possible by only those who choose to attend. I'm Bill Meyer. Tomorrow, Chuck Swindoll talks about clinging to hope when God's discipline strikes. Join us Wednesday here on Insight for Living. Thank you.
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