It’s time to look within. When Paul told his readers (us) to examine themselves, he wasn’t talking about a physical exam. He was referring to the health of our faith journey. We know there are many things that can get us off track. For me, the biggest derailment was always my busyness. I thrive on being busy. I do not do well to sit idle. I often long for the day when I can just sit and do nothing, but then when I try, there is too much energy inside to contain. Can you relate?
Paul was concerned for the people and if they would be ready for his arrival. Would they trust him enough? Would they be open and accepting to his message? Those are common doubts we can wrestle with as well. Will our message be well received? If we aren’t sure, we often don’t even bother to try. Is it fair that we keep his good news to ourselves? Shouldn’t we instead pray for those we reach out to, like Paul did, so they are ready to hear and accept our message?
Have you ever had your motives questioned? Maybe you were trying to help a neighbor in need and someone else looked at what you were doing and thought you were taking advantage. Or maybe you were serving at church and somebody thought you were only worried about your “own” agenda and not what was best for the ministry. If it sounds like I’ve “been there, done that,” it’s true. Those are real life examples, and it hurts.
Paul seems to be having a little of the same “shame” going on. He shouldn’t. He is listening to the voice of God and is there to help. People will be people. Doubting. Judgmental. Perhaps even jealous. As leaders, we open ourselves up to criticism. We can’t please everyone and many times that’s enough to keep good people from taking leadership roles. Even in the church, especially in the church, you would think we’d be safe from this questioning behavior. Paul shows us it was happening even then.
One of my favorite verses comes up in today’s reading. In recent days we’ve talked about boasting and struggles. While most of us don’t want to boast about the things that have caused us harm, sadness, misfortune, or weakness, Paul is giving us the nod to go ahead. It is especially powerful when we can see God working amidst our pain.
Have you ever cried out to God to take away a limitation, a struggle, a sickness, or some other challenge? Paul did, too. And here’s the promise from verse 9, “Each time he [God] said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” God is speaking that into our hearts today as well.
We recently read about being careful not to boast. Here Paul says, “If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am.” When we boast of our weaknesses it is often to show our victories in God. Some people find joy in wallowing in their misfortune. That’s not what I’m talking about here. Paul wasn’t either. His accounts of his trials were not to gain sympathy or to complain. They were to show the power of God to sustain him.
As I write this, the whole planet is under watch or attack of a pandemic virus. You can’t have a conversation, turn on the television, peruse social media, or even read your email without mention of this “trial” of life. It is affecting everyone differently. For those close to it, with loved ones affected, I have no words. Families are being torn apart and unable to comfort each other. People are dying alone because there is too much fear of spreading this virus. For those of us staying indoors, limiting our contact with other humans, there is less concern. Yet, we are all in a place of weakness. We all need Jesus’ power to sustain us.
False prophets, teachers, apostles–there are many in our world. Just as Eve was deceived by the “cunning ways” of a serpent, we can find ourselves hearing a watered down, twisted version of the Gospel message. If we aren’t careful, we might even give in and believe it. We are not immune when we call ourselves children of God. In fact, we are an even more tempting target for the evil one.
As followers of Christ, I sometimes feel like we have a target on our backs. The evil one lurks behind every barrier, around every corner, just waiting for an opportunity to pounce on our doubting heart, our wayward soul seeking answers. Are we ready to know the difference between right and wrong? Will we recognize the lies, or will we be unwittingly sucked into the “un-truth” because it sounds good?