I try to accomplish things in an orderly way, and in so doing, it’s natural to want to divide my life into categories. Too much of this is not always good; I can recall noticing, when I was a new Christian, that my life had been fragmented and was now becoming unified in Christ. I was becoming a better-integrated human being.
Still, it makes sense, for practical reasons, to divide my master to-do list into several categories–home, teaching, research, church, etc. I’m still waiting for the day when I’ll have finished every task I need to complete in every category, and nothing new will need my attention.
That will never happen, of course, but we were created to want all to be made right, and there is nothing wrong with that kind of longing.
Recognize that chaos is temporary.
When my son Michael was about 11 years old he came to me one day and said, “Daddy, I want to talk to you.” I would have loved to drop everything to spend time with my son, but I just did not have time to talk to him at that moment. There are times in life when even children have to learn to wait for a parent’s attention. I wrote on my to-do list, “Talk to Michael.”
On the one hand, I can’t believe I had to schedule a time to talk to my own son! On the other hand, some things are simply beyond our control; that’s just part of the Fall. We live in the old creation, in a world that is under the curse of sin and death.
One of the great promises of Scripture is what Paul calls “the summing up of all things in Christ” (Ephesians 1:10). Paul presumes that there is brokenness in all we experience. Somehow all the brokenness we experience in our relationships with God and other people, and the brokenness of the entire created order, will one day be reconciled.
Do not lose heart.
In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul suggests that he was sometimes tempted to lose heart, to be discouraged:
Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart. (2 Corinthians 4:1)
“We do not lose heart” means something like, “we do not become despondent or lose courage.” To lose heart reflects the brokenness of this life.
That brokenness, for Paul, can include everything from physical pain and external abuse, to loss of friendship. It can mean psychological stresses, hunger, sleeplessness, and cold. Paul is referring in this passage to the entire gamut of human experience that can cause one to become discouraged.
When Paul uses the word “we,” he is sometimes referring to his readers. At other times he has in mind the apostolic company. It’s important to determine which “we” he has in mind before you try to apply his statements to your own life. But, while we are not apostles, and while much of 2 Corinthians is autobiographical, I think, in this case, the application is clear. We can all relate to Paul’s brokenness.
Be of good courage in the midst of suffering.
Paul repeats this theme in 2 Corinthians 5:
We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8)
Paul’s language here contains an undercurrent of suffering. In fact, Paul says in 1:8 that he has come close to death:
For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life.
This is very honest language, the language of someone who has endured significant hardship. To paraphrase Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:9,
“Indeed, I was convinced I was going to die. We had the sentence of death within ourselves, but now I see why God allowed that to happen–so that we could trust not in ourselves, but in the resurrecting God who delivered us from that great peril of death. And of course, that is only a foretaste. He will deliver us on the Last Day.” (Paraphrase)
Paul went on to teach us two strategies that can help us thrive in the midst of the brokenness we experience every day in every category of our lives. I’ll explain more in my next blog post.
The preceding was adapted by Rachel Motte from a sermon Dr. Sloan delivered at Tallowood Baptist Church on June 24, 1990.