July 8, 2018
Don't worry. Be happy. Stay positive. Amen. Our next hymn is ….
Oh, if only it were that easy. Most everybody here would say it is a good thing to be happy, to have a positive attitude, to get rid of worry and stress. But do you know what can be stressful? People telling you to stay positive when things are going bad.
“A team of researchers conducted surveys with over 1000 undergraduate students, curious to see how their approach to negative thoughts and emotions plays out in their lives. They were asked to respond to questions like “I tell myself I shouldn’t be feeling the way that I’m feeling” and also asked to complete measures of psychological well-being, life satisfaction, depression, and anxiety.
The results might seem a little paradoxical at first, but the researchers found that being more accepting of negative thoughts and emotions was actually associated with greater well-being and satisfaction with life. And fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety as well.” (Bulletproof Musician blog)
But the more we think about it, it does kind of make sense. Look at Paul in today's epistle reading.
He was having negative thoughts and emotions. “A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me.” This came, apparently, on the heals of an emotional high. He tried to describe it, but theologians can't be sure just what he was referencing, “caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told,... if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations.” Paul doesn't say he was the one with the vision, but it is almost universally accepted that his humility kept him from saying it was he. Whatever the case, some kind of revelation had made Paul exultant. But this is where the thorn in the flesh comes in, “to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh,”
Now he was having negative emotions. We do not know what the thorn in the flesh was. There are lots of theories; migraines, eye troubles, recurring bouts of malaria, epilepsy, depression, temptations or a speech impediment are some common thoughts on the thorn. But Paul never, in any of his writings, tells us what his trial was. And God uses this omission; because no matter what we may be facing, it may be very similar to what Paul faced. And so Paul's example of how to handle negative feelings can be applied to what we face today.
And what do we face? I listed some specific examples of what members of our congregation are facing today two weeks ago. I will repeat them today: arthritis, loneliness, aging and the troubles that come along with old age, disease, worry, money concerns, family breakups, physical aches and pains, recurring surgeries. Two weeks ago I called them the giants we face, today's terminology is thorns in the flesh. The answer two weeks ago was to face them head on counting on the presence of the God-of-the-Angel-Armies being with you. And the shepherd David was our example. Today it is Paul with the thorn and we look at the example of how he lived with that thorn; which wasn't going away even with prayer.
The key for Paul, as it was with David, is the presence of the Lord. His prayer was for relief; but God's answer was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Sometimes, things just are not going to change. Sometimes we have to live with situations we never asked for and do not want. But how we decide to live with the negative situations in our lives has a lot to do with the attitude we have. It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “A man (or woman) is about as happy as he makes up his mind to be.” Be positive. Think positively and surround yourself with positive people. This is week 2 in the Jacob Wetterling series of life attitudes, be positive.
While on maternity leave, a woman brought in her new bundle of joy. She also had her seven-year- old son with her. Her coworkers gathered around the baby, and the seven year old boy asked, "Mommy, can I have some money to buy a pop?"
"What do you say?" she asked. Respectfully, the boy replied, "You’re thin and beautiful." The woman reached in her purse and gave her son the money.
We need people like that son in our lives. It is not too hard to find people willing to tear us down, to complain about this and that. Saturday Night Live had a character, Debbie Downer. She was negative about everything. Well, her theme song says it like this, "You're enjoying your day, everything's going your way, then along comes Debbie Downer. Always there to tell you 'bout a new disease, a car accident, or killer bees. You'll beg her to spare you, 'Debbie, please!' but you can't stop Debbie Downer!"
There is plenty negative in the world. And we always have the choice to concentrate on the negative like Debbie Downer or to look beyond the negative to find God's hand in our life. That's what Paul did. Not only did he get past the disappointment of whatever his thorn was, he learned to be positive about it. “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” See, he isn't ignoring his trouble. He is expressing it. Back to that study I began with, the report says, “the more ok they were with experiencing negative thoughts and emotions, the less mental stress they experienced.” We don't celebrate our troubles, but we can accept them with an eye toward living a more Christ-like life. Let the power of Christ dwell in and through the troubles. That is how to be positive in trying times. See Jesus in and share with Jesus the thorn in your life.
Jesus gave Paul this assurance, “My grace is sufficient for you.” As I've said I am working om my New Testament Greek. The Greek sentences are not set up the same way English is and it is often hard to find the subject, object and verb as they are out of order. Listen to the way this sentence reads translated directly from the Greek: “Enough for you is the grace of Me.” God tells Paul and he passes it on to us—enough for each of us, enough for each day, enough for us to face our thorns—is the grace of God! And enough means enough, sufficient, plenty of grace to face our day.
There is an old saying, “God won't give you more than you can handle.” You've heard it, you've maybe told others that. And it may be helpful sometimes to get someone to face another day of an unbearable situation. It may give a glimpse of hope that God is going to limit the sorrow or pain. But it isn't biblical. I am not afraid to tell someone facing a dreadful life situation that God may be giving you more than you can face. Because we are not meant to face our greatest trials alone. We have a Savior who longs to share the grace of God with us...even in our darkest hours...especially in our darkest hours. Jesus makes clear that He is with us when the burden gets too heavy. “Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11: 28) In other words, the Lord's grace is sufficient for whatever it is you face.
In fact, Paul points out, not only is God's grace sufficient, but God's “power is made perfect in weakness.” Perfect. When we are weak. It doesn't mean life will be all peaches and cream. But God's power and grace are sufficient, are perfect.
And sometime that thorn in the flesh is a little exaggerated. Not to minimize what you may be facing, but often we get so caught up concentrating on our particular thorn, that the world passes us by. When an illness or a life-changing event takes place, our world can become very small. Suddenly everything revolves around my issue, my troubles, my life. And that is a natural reaction. But there is a better way. So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. It isn't natural to boast about our weaknesses, although you probably know somebody who loves to tell you about his or her ailments.
Three elderly sisters were discussing the travails of getting older. One said, “Sisters, sometimes I catch myself with a jar of mayonnaise in my hand in front of the refrigerator and can’t remember whether I need to put it away, or start making a sandwich.”
The second sister chimed in, “Yes, sometimes I find myself on the landing of the stairs and can’t remember whether I was on my way up or on my way down.”
The third one responded, “Well, I’m glad I don’t have that problem; knock on wood.” “Is that the front door or the back door??”
But complaining is not what Paul is talking about. We boast about our weakness because that is the opportunity for the power of Christ to be displayed in our lives.
The goal here is to be positive. Life isn't perfect, but most of us have a pretty good life.• We have a roof over our heads.• We rarely lack food or water• Most of our basic needs are met; in fact, most of us don’t even lack the things we want• We live in the greatest nation in the world• We have friends• We can worship in freedom, without fear.
But sometimes we tend to be Debbie Downers. Instead of embracing this amazing life God has given to us, we think about how much better things could be. I'm guilty often of telling God just how things could have worked so much better. It is easy to judge how life should play out for us. But we understand that we live in a fallen world where trials and tribulations are not just possible, they are promised. We are going to have some type of thorn in our life, sooner or later. Most of you have some thorn troubling you right now. Can we find God's grace in our thorns? Often it is a matter of attitude.
[Chuck Swindoll said it this way, "The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, or say or do. Attitude is more important than appearances, giftedness, or skill. Attitude will make or break a company --- a church --- a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude that we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past, we cannot change the fact that people act a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude --- I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it."]
Speaking of attitude, consider the difference in attitude for a vulture and a hummingbird. Both fly over our nation’s deserts. All vultures see is rotting meat, because that is what they look for. They thrive on that diet. But hummingbirds ignore the smelly flesh of dead animals. Instead, they look for the colorful blossoms of desert plants. The vultures live on what is dead and gone. Their vision is all about death. But hummingbirds live on what is. They seek new life. They fill themselves with freshness and life. Each bird finds what it is looking for. We all do. (Steve Goodier, Quote Magazine, in May, 1990 R.D.)
What is your attitude towards the thorns in your life? Is it like Paul, a vision of God's grace touching your life, filling you with hope and peace? It can be. Paul discovered that God doesn't always remove the thorn, but God is always full of grace. We may grow discouraged, we may not feel God's presence, we may doubt God's love. And those valleys are tough when you are in one. But the grace that Jesus offers is sufficient for whatever you are facing. When you know the love of Jesus, our weakness is made strength. Trust in the presence of Jesus to be a balm for the sinsick soul, to be there with perfect power and enough grace to face any situation. Amen.
There is a Balm in Gilead 394 PH