Text and Context

Last week cast a long shadow into this week with so many things left undone after five days of VBS. I kept returning to my “to do” list on Saturday adding more and more items that came to mind. I comforted myself with the thought that Monday was coming and life would return to normal.

Well, Monday arrived early for me as I woke up at dawn with a sore throat, a headache, a runny nose, and lots of sneezing. Ugh! I feel awful. I tried to remember the last time I was ill—it’s been years. My next thought also took me back a few years to a sermon by John Piper where he said sickness should remind us that a day is coming when it will be a permanent feature of our lives, so now is the season to redeem our time wisely, filling our minds and hearts with Scripture.

I think we would all agree that sickness makes reading the Word and studying the Bible difficult. All I have is a summer cold, yet I’ve struggled all day to focus on something other than the pain in my throat and the throbbing in my head.

I don’t know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, but it troubled him enough to pray three times to have it removed. The sufficiency of God’s grace and power in Paul’s weakness worked such gladness in him that he desired to boast about his weaknesses so that he could experience the power of Christ resting on him, or as some translations put it, as dwelling in him (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Am I thankful for my weaknesses? Not as much as I should be, and that’s probably because my weaknesses are almost always associated with suffering. I took the down time to reflect on Genesis and consider those who witnessed the power of God in their time of great weakness.

Certainly Abraham and Sarah would make the list. Their bodies were as good as dead when it came to producing babies, but God’s powerful promise held true and Isaac arrived on schedule. If they had not been childless, would they have seen God’s power and grace on such brilliant display in their lives?

And then there’s my favorite Old Testament character—Joseph. The power of God rested on Joseph in the slave’s quarters as well as in the prison. Would this favored child have experienced or even sensed a need for such power in weakness if he had remained by his father’s side in a position of comfort and privilege?

Elisabeth Elliot was asked whether the Lord comforted her or whether she was sometimes lonely and sad after the death of her husband. Of course, the answer was yes, the Lord comforted her and she was lonely and sad. She writes, “If I had not been lonely and sad at times, how could I have needed, received, or appreciated comfort? It is the sick who need the physician, the thirsty who need water.”

She goes on to say that the Bible is full of proof texts, but if we are to experience their truth, God must position us in proof contexts—prison, the lion’s den, the furnace—where He shows us the reality of His grace and power.

Today, I’m thankful for a miserable head cold because God has used it to remind me of my weakness and great need I have for His comfort and presence and grace.


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