I am drawn to people who suffer without murmuring. Especially when they believe in God but never get angry with him or criticize him. It seems to me that not murmuring is one of the rarest traits in the world. And when it is combined with a deep faith in God — who could alter our painful circumstances, but doesn’t — it has a beautiful, God-trusting, God-honoring quality that makes it all the more attractive. Paul was like that.
Brought to the Brink of Death
Paul tells of the time when his faith was put to the test in a way that brought him to the brink of despair and death:
We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Corinthians 1:8–10)
Three things are remarkable here. First is the severity of the suffering: “We felt that we had received the sentence of death.” Second, there is purpose or design in this suffering: “That was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” Third, this purpose was God’s purpose. It could not have been Satan’s, since Satan certainly does not want Paul to rely on God.
So, the truth that Paul believed about his suffering — no matter how severe — was that it came ultimately with God’s purpose, and the purpose was that Paul would trust himself less and trust God more, every moment of his life, especially as death approached.
A Key to Not Murmuring
This, it seems, is how Paul could be free from murmuring in his suffering. He knew God was in charge of it, and that God’s purposes were totally for Paul’s good. Paul fleshes this truth out in several other places:
We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3–5)
Again, the basis of Paul’s freedom from murmuring — indeed, the presence of his rejoicing — was his confidence that God was at work doing something crucial in Paul: producing endurance and God-saturated hope.
Suffering at the End of Earthly Life
But what about suffering that leads only to death and not to a new chapter of life on earth where reliance on God (2 Corinthians 1:9) and deepened character and hope (Romans 5:4) might be increased? Paul was keenly aware of this question and gave his answer in 2 Corinthians 4:16–18:
We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
The issue here is the gradual wasting away of human life — through affliction and sickness and aging. In other words, the next chapter after this suffering is not a season of greater faith and hope on earth. The next chapter is heaven.
So, is there any point in the increased suffering that comes with the approach of death? How do those of us who have only a few years left not murmur at our aches and pains and the onrush of death? Paul’s answer is that this life’s afflictions — if we endure them by trusting Christ — actually produce greater measures of glory in heaven. “This . . . affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory.”
Secret to Contentment
Therefore, even though Paul’s life was one of seemingly unremitting sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:23–33), there is scarcely a hint of murmuring, and none against God. He could get angry at destructive error and its teachers (Galatians 1:8–9; 5:12). And he could express his pressures and burdens (2 Corinthians 11:28). Nevertheless, his contentment through it all was unusual.
He said he had learned the secret of contentment:
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13)
This “secret” seemed to be the all-satisfying presence and worth of Christ (Philippians 3:8), together with the confidence Paul felt in the merciful sovereignty of God that would work all things for his good (Philippians 1:12; Romans 8:28). Watching Paul maintain his humble, God-dependent, Christ-cherishing contentment through all his sufferings causes me to stand in awe of this man.
“Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit? … You have not lied to men but to God” … Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. – Acts 5:3-5 NASB
Many people’s faith was largely a set of rules or traditions. Some brought this perspective when they responded to the Gospel.
Consider the attitude of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira. On the surface, they might have seemed like model believers. But in fact, in their hearts, they were deceptive.
Believers demonstrated the depth of their conviction by sharing resources during this time. Some sold land “and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (v. 2).
Ananias and Sapphira appeared to share that commitment. But other believers did not know that Ananias “kept back some of the price for himself” (v. 3). However, Peter, inspired by the Spirit, knew that they had been under satanic influence.
The price they paid was severe: Both Ananias and Sapphira died as the result of their deception. The church was shocked. And with their death, “great fear came over all who heard of it.”
Believers were learning that following Jesus was not a religion or a set of rules. This was not about appearances or getting praise. This was about a real relationship with God. He was serious about their lives. Lying to other believers and to the Holy Spirit was, and is, a serious sin.
These are critical lessons every believer should learn today. Always remember to be honest with God. Be humble before Him. Develop a personal relationship with Him. Be sure that you are in tune with His Spirit.
Finding Peace in the Midst of Chaos
SEPTEMBER 16, 2019
The papers fell off the kitchen table and onto the floor. My children were running and playing as they usually do, completely unaware of anything besides the fun they were having. But in that moment, as I watched whatever little work I had accomplished journey to the floor from the breeze my children created, defeat overtook me.
I’d been trying to get sensible words on those pages for hours, and nothing seemed to make sense. I thought the papers’ descent was my sign to just let it all go. Maybe try again another day, or at another time.
Sinking further into the chair and wondering what to do next, I watched my children play. They were in the moment, having the best time, laughing, chasing and simply enjoying one another. They couldn’t care less that the toy box had fallen over, the play dough was stuck to the floor or that the caps were off half of the markers.
But there I sat, feeling stuck in the thick of things, unable to accomplish any of my goals. The laundry, fresh out of the dryer, was waiting to be folded. The pile of dishes in the sink from breakfast needed to be washed. And those fallen pages still needed to have words on them.
How could my children block out everything and maintain so much joy in the middle of what felt like mayhem to me?
From my chair, I began to breathe deeply, whispering my need for God along with heartfelt thanksgiving for His presence in the midst of it all and a request for meaningful words to flow onto those pages.
My tension began to shift. And as only God can do when you slow down, surrender control and embrace the stillness, He revealed my lesson.
The children were focused on having fun, and wherever I decided to place my attention determined what I would experience as well.
What I needed to do was adjust my focus, placing it solely on God and trusting that He had everything under control. Only when I made God the center of my focus did I begin to experience the truth of Isaiah 26:3, which says: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”
Shifting my attention enabled me to experience His peace, joy and hope even in the midst of the chaos surrounding me.
No matter what’s going on in the world, your home or your life, you can choose to focus your heart and mind on God. When you choose Him above all else, you can experience His perfect peace in every situation.
I thought about how much time I wasted feeling defeated. How by allowing discouragement to take over, I opened the door for other toxic thoughts and emotions to distract me from the blessings right in front of me. God was right there with me all along, patiently waiting for me to choose Him.
He’s always the best option and is delighted when you seek His face. So, no matter how many people, piles and projects need your attention, you can rest knowing peace can be found by simply keeping your mind stayed on God.
Dear God, as my children play, the piles of laundry and dishes await my attention and the deadlines loom, help me keep my mind stayed on You. Perfect peace is found in Your presence, and it’s where I long to be. Continue to guide me in Your truth, no matter what’s going on around me. In Jesus’ Na