2 Corinthians 1:8-11 (NKJV):
8 For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.
9 Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead,
10 who delivered us from so great a death, and does[a] deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us,
11 you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our[b] behalf for the gift granted to us through many.
Whoever said that Christians would not have sufferings... In The New Testament the fact of suffering and conforming into the image of God are interwoven and go hand in hand. God allows whatever necessary sufferings into our lives to kill our self-reliance in order to resurrect us into His co-dependence. Each one of us who claim to be a follower of Jesus would experience this cycle of death to resurrection.
Sufferings are the producers of the death to oneself and resurectors of the new life for the Lord. This is a very important fact to grasp and accept for those who claim to be true believers and followers of Jesus. Jesus Himself promised that we would have tribulations in this life because the world didn`t recognize Him and neither would it recognize us since we are no greater than our Master:
18 "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.20 Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. (John 15:18-20 NKJV).
The main indicator that we are the followers of Jesus is if the world hates us. That is because people don`t know the Father nor do they recognize Jesus as a result because Jesus came to this earth to do the will of the Father. Jesus gives this warning that if the world does recognize us, than we are not His followers.
Paul writes to the Corinthians that they carry the deadness in the body recognizing that the world afflicts and persecutes them. The reason why this is so important for us to comprehend is because going through this cycle of dying to oneself in order to be resurrected by the Lord for His will requires being rejected by this world. It certainly is painful when the loved ones that we care about so much mock us and cut us off for preaching the Gospel and choose to obey the Word of God. They cut us off whenever we refuse to drink with them, or watch R rated movies, or lie on taxes, or whatever other things that we may experience causing us grief and sorrow as a result of being rejected by those who we care about.
That`s why it`s encouraging to see and understand this cycle in order to be more cognizant of the reasons for sorrows that we face:
1. God allows us to be "burdened beyond measure, above strength" in order to kill our self-reliance.
I was struck by the vivid picture of the battle when watching a movie "Patriot" last week, and in that picture I saw the defeat of the battle when the army attempted to win the battle with whatever little weapons and arsenal that they had against the exceedingly abundant opposing army. The battle was lost, and there was abundance of the dead bodies lying on the ground motionless.
This is when the Lord spoke to me and explained the reason for the defeat that I have experienced in the court. I had a flash in my head of me standing in front of the firing squad being shot at, and God was just standing on the sidelines and watching me die. This is exactly what happened to me in the court on the day when I walked out with the final decision of the shared custody over my daughter. I felt like God abandoned me and forsook me for good. Little did I know that God allowed me to die to myself that day, so He could resurrect me in order for Him to use me to serve Him, and this is exactly what He spoke to me when I watched the movie.
God allows us this kind of failure (mind you it looks like a failure in our eyes, but in God`s eyes it`s part of the vistory), so we could recognize that our rational thinking doesn`t bring us victory; rational and common sense become our own enemy because God doesn`t use common sense, but he uses uncommon sense in order to mock the intelligent and wise. Being a shrewd woman, I really had to struggle with forsaking my own intelligence and surrender common sense in exchange for God`s character.
As humans we are very good at using our own intelligence and skills to accomplish what we want, and we place God on sidelines by doing that. He would only be a spectator when we rely upon our skills and strength. As much as I tried, but I could not let go of control over the legal process because my daughter`s life was at stake, and God knew that. I literally had to pray: "I believe, Lord, but please help my disbelief".
2. That enduring "beyond measure and above strength" brings us to the "sentence of death in ourselves" which we could never obtain by any other way but through severe sufferings of failures and defeat.
I was dying to self-sufficiency in order to be able to carry my "sentence of death in me". I no longer live my life for this world, but I live it with the hope to get to heaven one day. As I write this, I realize how bizarre to the world these words may sound, yet this is exactly what the Bible teaches us would happen to those who follow Jesus: we would experience the dying to self-sufficiency in whatever capacity necessary in order to be resurrected with Him to solely rely on Jesus.
The best example of this scenario that comes to my mind would be examples of Joseph or Moses. Joseph was given a foreshadowing dip of the kind of a glory he would receive by having his brothers and his father bow down to him, but he had to go through the "death sentence in his body" and be placed in the circumstances of death to self-sufficiency in order to grasp on the fact that it would not be by his own strength that he would be glorified, but only by relying solely on the Lord. 20 lengthy years of his life were spent in circumcision of his heart before the Lord brought to pass all the dreams that He showed Joseph so many years prior to his success. Joseph died to himself, and as soon as he did that, God "resurrected"him by bringing to pass all the dreams and naming him the second man after the Pharaoh.
Moses was raised in the Pharaoh`s palace, but one day he was taken to the desert where he spent 40 years circumcising his heart and learning of the Lord before God brought him back to "life" and called to fulfill the mission of leading the Israelites out of Egypt, that Moses was aware of for so many years prior to it passing.
Every Bible story that we take, we can see this cycle of dying and returning back to life. The cycle is not physical death to resurrection, but a spiritual death to resurrection.
3. This "sentence of death in ourselves" accomplishes the main purpose of the Holy Spirit in our hearts: "that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead."
As we clearly see in all these Bible stories of Moses, Abraham, Joseph, Gideon, David, Apostles (especially Peter), we see how God allowed all the sufferings and hardships in the lives of people in order to bring them to this realization that our strength is only in the Lord, and we can do nothing apart from Him.
God allows failures on purpose, so we could humble ourselves and recognize that this world and this life is not for us but a temporary passing place; our lives are to live for the inheritance in heaven to glorify God. This is why it`s important to realize and to prepare ourselves that if we choose to follow Jesus, we will have suffering and lots of them. God allows that to purge us from ourselves and to fill us with the Holy Spirit to do His will.
4. Only by experiencing the drastic despairing circumstances we are able to test and see this trust in the Lord and faithful deliverance as a continuance that never seizes. God was faithful to deliver, is faithful, and will always be faithful to deliver whatever the circumstances are. The condition for the deliverance is our realization and acceptance of carrying this "sentence of death in ourselves", a.k.a. complete surrender to the Lord for Him to do whatever He pleases with us. Not us questioning Him "why?", but accepting whatever we must endure in order to glorify Him-this is the condition of deliverance that Paul so testifies to the Corinthians of.
5. This deliverance is impacted through the faithful prayers and intercessions of the saints in order to produce praise and glory to the Lord.
I think it`s really said that the churches or believers don`t communicate with other churches and sometimes feel burdened to share their prayer requests. This month become so painful and dreadful for me that I`ve succumbed to the most drastic measures: I contacted the churches from all over the country and all over the world requesting to pray for specific resolutions in my life and in my family. I will admit that I was afraid in sending these requests because I expected to either get ignored with my requests, or get blown off by the silence in response, or get some quick meaningless response such as: "our thoughts and prayers are with you".
I was so wrong, and I am so glad that I contacted all the churches and continue to reach out to even more places for prayer support. Not only did I receive an encouraging and supporting phone calls right on the days when I was desperate the most, but also the emails with reassuring scriptures and pledges that I was placed on the prayer chains was just overwhelming for me. This is what I really call coming together as one in the body of Christ and standing in the gap for each other regardless of the proximity to the church location or the relevance to the particular church`s ministry, but without asking any questions, people just lifted me up in their prayers as one interceding for me and my family to see this major breakthrough.
I have to testify that today I saw the main snow precipitation that we`ve experienced throughout the entire winter season this year. As I was driving to work today, I was overwhelmed by this tangible evidence of God`s continuing battle for my life as He promises to secure the treasuries of the snow and hale for the days of war and battle (Job 38:22-23). All this praying support that I continue to receive throughout the world does matter, just like Paul points us to in verse 11:
11 you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our[b] behalf for the gift granted to us through many.
We are helping together in prayer when we stand in the gap for each other despite the distance to each other or the church location and affiliation, so that God could be worshiped and glorified by many. I am obligated just the way I continue to send these prayer requests on behalf of my needs and my family, I will have to contact them to testify of the Lord`s answer in my life, so they- "many" could praise and glorify the Lord.
Satan really hates it when we reach out to each other for praying support and this is why he likes to sow these thoughts of deceit and doubt in our hearts just like I had them: that we don`t matter and nobody would waste their time praying for me when they have their own problems, and the church only cares for their local people. This is so wrong, and I am really grateful to the Lord that he dissipated this myth for me, so I don`t fall into this trap of Satan's deceit that my prayer requests would go unresponded.
On the flip-side, God reminds us just like Mordecai reminded Esther to answer to these praying requests for the others, so God could use us as the vessels of help to one another. God would always find alternative ways to bless you and me, but if we ignored God`s call for prayer or help, we are the ones who lost the blessing. By standing in the gap for the others, we allow God to bless those who we pray for and us.
13 And Mordecai told them to answer Esther: "Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king's palace any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"(Esther 4:13-14 NKJV).
I was stunned to see responses from the praying teams with words such as: "we are honored to be entrusted to be praying for you and your family". We are truly honored to be given this opportunity to minister to one another, and it`s up to us to choose whether we accept this call, just like Mordecai reminded Esther of her appointed and predestined place being a Queen in order to save the Jews. We too, are entrusted this opportunity to "save" through our interceding prayers those who entrusted our prayer requests to us.
I have to thank all of you who`ve been praying for me and my family because I can assure you that these prayers are what make the difference and bring victory in my daily life. Some things are not as noticeable as others, but they keep me afloat and get me going every day. We have to be this praying tower of security for one another, so we could give many praises to the Lord and share this joy of God`s deliverance in each other`s lives.
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:12-13 NIV).
To me this scripture carries all the more significance because it was written by Peter who suffered much after he repented of much. Peter, of all the apostles always boasted of his devotion to Jesus and how much he would do for Him until one day when he had to face his first fiery trial of faith: he denied Jesus 3 times before Jesus was crucified. Peter had to experience the cycle of death to resurrection by Jesus in order to glorify Him as we read he did in the book of Acts.
These fiery trials and sufferings reveal the substance of our faith, and this is why they go hand in hand with our choice in following Jesus. God cannot use unreliable and untried people, so He tests our faith through variety of circumstances.
I would encourage you today not to estrange the fiery trials and sufferings recognizing that we are partakers in Christ`s sufferings when we pass these trials and glorify Jesus. God never allows circumstances for no reason, but He continues to hold everything under His control. It`s only for our own good that God allows us to live through this cycle of death to life, so we could be purged of our sinful stains and be conformed into the image of God. Don`t make God a spectator of your life, but make Him a Commander, and you will see the difference!