“For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within.” 2 Corinthians 7:5
This has been a tough season, one with way too much quiet, uncertainty, and emotional turmoil- a season of the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope to never see a time like this again. What I find strange about this time is the vast degree of emotions I am experiencing. Up one moment and then down the next. Having this type of emotional up and down isn’t my usual way of doing life, I tend to be pretty level. Not knowing what the next minutes, days and weeks will bring is causing me some distress. Especially the news we received this week that our almost 3 -year-old grandson was hospitalized at the Children’s Hospital in Atlanta for pneumonia in the midst of this pandemic.
That news made me struggle and caused some fear. Seeing pictures of him in his hospital bed with his oxygen flowing and IV dripping was not a sight I ever thought I would see. He should have been playing and running, not lying in a hospital bed attached to medical equipment. I know your life situation looks different, but I imagine you might also be experiencing this emotional rollercoaster ride as a result of this pandemic.
At the moment, I am studying the book of 2 Corinthians. I like to read through an Old Testament book, and when that book is accomplished, I go to a New Testament book. I find that this routine strikes the right balance for me as I study. This morning I was taken back by several verses I have read many times before, but this time something new jumped out to me. I love that about Scripture! At one time, just words on a page and then those words go straight for your heart and mind. A new understanding is ignited, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance awakens a new understanding and awareness. An “aha” moment occurs!
Charles Spurgeon described this type of awakening, “Do you know what it is to have a text leap out of the Scriptures upon you, and carry you away? This special energy and flash of truth is always memorable. How often have the waves of this sea of truth been phosphorescent before my eyes—a sea of glass mingled with fire, of which the spray has dashed over me and set my soul on flame!”
I love Spurgeon’s passion for God’s word, and I love the way he describes this passion, but I must admit I wondered what the definition of phosphorescent is? The teacher in me had to find out. The Merriam -Webster dictionary said, “phosphorescence is a luminescence that is caused by the absorption of radiations (such as light or electrons) and continues for a noticeable time after these radiations have stopped.” Examples of this are things that glow in the dark like those glow in the dark stickers kids use, or the face of an alarm clock. Long after the light has left, the glow continues.
Spurgeon was likening our awakened understanding of Scripture, which the Holy Spirit ignites in us, to a “glow in the dark” object that absorbs light and then continues to glow for a time. God’s Word can be phosphorescent as we expose our lives to it! If we allow it to do its work, the Word radiates the truth into our hearts long after we have been exposed to its great energy, influence, and sway. Wow!! His word is alive, and it continues to actively transform, comfort and instruct the reader after the book is closed. What a powerful image!
This morning these words from 2 Cor 7:5, popped as if they had never been there before, of course they have been there for several thousand years. Paul wrote, “For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within.”
This is the way ministry is. The one who shepherds and corrects; worries not only about the spiritual health of his sheep but the emotional wellbeing as well. But what struck me with this Scripture is something I hadn’t seen before. Paul was struggling! He felt a tension with those he loved. He had written to the Corinthians and had chastised them- to lead them to walk faithfully with Jesus. He had been praying they would mature. He sent a letter of correction along with Titus, and then Paul held his breath and waited. For a long time, he was forced to wait. Not knowing how his words had been received caused the struggle and stress. But here is what stuck out to me, Paul, a man who had seen Jesus on the road to Damascus, a man who had been filled with the Holy Spirit, admitted he not only struggled because of outward pressures, but he struggled inwardly as well. He recorded for the world and for all time that he was fearful within.
Awwww…do you see that? Stable, steadfast, and highly educated, Paul, the man who was priviledged to write much of the New Testament, struggled with fear. Fear and stress that he said came from within. And in recording these feelings and emotions, Paul validates our feelings and emotions as well. We are human and so was Paul. Paul understood his humanness and in the process he pointed to the cross, he maximized the size of the cross. Paul was made small, but the cross was made big. Later in 2 Corinthians he writes these well known words, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:8-9) Here is the encouragement for you and me- our very BIG God knows all the outward pressures we are facing right now, and is very much aware of the inward pressures as well. He doesn’t keep us from the tension but he walks with us through it. He understands our fears when we have a grandchild in the hospital during a pandemic. He understands when someone who lives alone is so tired of enduring days and days of solitude. He understands when the flow of money that should be coming in has dried up. He understands when his child watches the stock market dropping in record time, and retirement is right around the corner. He knows when a mom with small children has had all she can take…HE KNOWS!
HE UNDERSTANDS that there are battles on the outside and fear on the inside! “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:8-9)
We tend to think that as a believer in Jesus, we should never experience fear, right here is a nugget of truth. Here in front of us is a stalwart of our faith, Paul, confessing his feeling of fear. And that admission gives me HOPE. Hope that just as God recognized Paul’s inward fears and sent him relief, he can do the same for you and me. Paul’s encouragement did come. Here is what he said, “But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus.” (2 Cor 7:6) Titus returned from visiting the Corinthians and gave Paul a good report of the Corinthian’s walk with Jesus. They weren’t angry and had taken the correction well. A report which took him from fear-filled to soaring with hope, and encouragement.
Just a few minutes ago, we got really good news. Word came that our little Will and his mama are on their way home from their 2-night stay in the hospital, his numbers have improved and the Doctors have given the okay to go home. Thank you, Lord, for good news! And thank you Lord that you are a God who encourages the discouraged.
So today, no matter what pressure you are facing on the outside and inside, you can be sure that just as God was with Paul, he is with you. And my prayer is that God will provide you with encouragement from any fear you may be feeling. Maybe it will be the encouragement of good news, news that will make your heart soar and your fears subside. Or maybe it will simply be the Good News that just like God was with Paul he wants to be with you. Just ask him. And thankfully, Paul’s words assure us that with certainty we can know that He is the God who encourages the discouraged.