The “First Week”: Week Ten/Session One.
Theme: God’s Merciful Love for Me.
Our reading for today: 2nd Corinthians 12: 5-10.
Because of the extravagance of those revelations (I received), and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then He told me,
My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. 2nd Corinthians 12:7-10 (MsgB)
The Apostle Paul was one unique man. Just as you and I are unique human beings.
In truth, there is no one else on the planet who is exactly like you or me. No one in the past. No one in the present. No one in the future. Our God, our Creator/King, in His amazing creativity, has made certain that no one else will ever have the unique traits that you or I have. I guess that’s why things like our fingerprints or our DNA are used in figuring out if we committed a crime or not.
And it’s in this creativity and uniqueness, God, our Father, sees us in ways we just can’t comprehend. Jesus said (Luke 12:7) that even the number of hairs on our head is numbered by this God who loves us in such a deep way, He even keeps track of minute details such as that! (P.S. Lord…I think I’m down about 27 just today!)
So when it comes to our sinful condition and how it works itself out in our lives, I’m thinking that God knows full well the unique way my sinful, self-consumed side acts out when given the right opportunity…or should I say, the wrong opportunity to do just that.
You see, Paul apparently was the kind of guy who could easily get caught up in his own uniqueness. It’s obvious from his writings that he was very well-versed in words and highly-trained in his ability to convey his thoughts to others. He admits of himself in his letters that he was schooled by the best and prior to his conversion to Christ, was quite the zealot for truth and accuracy in all things God. As a matter of fact, before the Holy Spirit zapped him off his high horse one day, Paul (or Saul as he went by then) was on a mission from God to cleanse the world of anyone who might believe something different than he did.
So, minimally, Paul was one proud person. A unique man with unique talents.
Now, enter Jesus of Nazareth.
In his second letter here to his friends in the Corinthian church, Paul alludes to a holy experience he had where Jesus apparently took him into high heaven, showing him things that were far beyond anything he’d ever experienced before. It must have been a glorious experience because it’s apparent from reading Luke’s account of this event (Acts 9) that Paul was radically transformed from the inside out, becoming a changed man; one who was going one way in life and now was so re-wired, even his name was changed in order to mark such a transformation.
Here, in today’s reading, we find Paul admitting to his friends that he was so greatly influenced by this one event that he was tempted on a regular basis to become proud, and even arrogant, by the things that he experienced. In other words, Paul, if left to his own devices, had experienced something so unique, he was tempted deep down in his flesh to take that uniqueness he had been given by God, and turn it into an instrument of pride.
But then…there was God.
As I see it, God gave Paul this unique experience, thus placing him in a unique category amongst others. Yet in His wisdom, God also knew Paul so well that He also had to give his servant a daily reminder that even Paul admits himself here was ‘a thorn in his flesh’ (Eugene Peterson in The Message calls it ‘the gift of a handicap’), a prickling that kept him from moving out of his own uniqueness in such a way that others would perceive him as something special.
So how might God be uniquely humbling me, allowing something irritating in life to prick me on a regular basis so I don’t become too sure of myself? Oh yeah, I know this doesn’t sound very nice to think about such things, but let’s get honest here. If you’re like me, you like it when people say nice things about you and your uniqueness. I get a little heady at times when folks email me saying they really like my blog writings, or tell me how much my words meant to them.
And maybe, just maybe, my loving Father looks down on my uniqueness and, at times, says to Himself, “Hmm…I think all that nice stuff is going to Marty’s head…maybe I need to remind him that this whole thing is about Jesus and not him.”
Hey, Lord, What’s the deal?
Just reminding you, son, like I did with my friend, Paul. It’s My grace that is sufficient to carry you through this life…not your uniqueness!
Amen, Lord. Ouch. Amen.
My prayer: Father God, I must be quick to admit that there are times I revel in my uniqueness and tend to fall in love with my own words. Like Paul, I realize that I need those occasional pricks in the side which remind me that it’s You and Your grace that gets me through this life, not my own strength or goodness. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: So where am I leaning on my own strength today, trusting in my ability to git-r-done for Jesus? What ‘gift of a handicap’ am I asking God to take away? And could it be, like Paul, that Jesus is using that very same limitation to remind me about God’s all-sufficient grace?
So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together The Ignatian Adventure?
Over an eight month period, you and I will be working our way through the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. For more information on our journey and how to begin…click here!
To go onto the next journal entry…click here.