Four survival principles for desperate times, from the Apostle Paul. For more information, visit cornerstone-sf.org
The passage I want to begin with is Second Corinthians 1:8-11. This is a great passage, especially when we find ourselves in difficulty. We’ll be able to relate to everything that the apostle Paul, who was also a pastor, had to say to us. It says, “We think you ought to know dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the Province of Asia.” He’s talking about a very difficult time in their ministry. Then he gets very candid, very real. He says, “We were crushed. We were overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure. We thought we would never live through it. If you want to know the truth, we expected to die but, as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely on God who raises the dead. He did rescue us from mortal danger and will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in Him. He will continue to rescue us, and you are helping us by praying for us. Many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.”
Paul’s writing this to the church at Corinth and telling them, “Here’s what we went through. Here’s how we felt, literally. We felt crushed, overwhelmed.” When he says he was feeling crushed, overwhelmed, and that he expected to die, that tells us he’s not an exaggerator. He says, “I want you to know your prayers made such a difference for me.” I looked at that and I thought, “Wow.” That eighth verse, “We were crushed and completely overwhelmed. We never thought we would live through it.” I was looking at a couple of other versions and how they translated it.
In the ESV, it says, “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life, itself.” The NIV translated a different version that struck me the most. “We are under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired for life, itself.” Look at that phrase. “We’re under a great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired for life, itself.” Have we ever been under so much pressure that we thought we might not make it because “This is too much? I don’t know if I’m going to be able to make it.” Have we ever been under so much pressure that we thought we might die? Or have we ever been in so much pain and despair that part of us wondered if death might be a better alternative? That’s real. Let’s look at this passage and the survival principles that we just read. We may not see them, but they’re there. They’re staring right at us. In the eighth through 11th verses, there are survival principles about how to move forward when life is placing tremendous pressure on us.
I’m not suggesting that we’re under that right now. Some of us may be. We will experience things that will test us. They may be physical. They may be relational. They may be emotional. We’re going to see. We’ll talk about it. What is the first thing he suggests we do? The first principle is to stop. It sounds so simple. Stop relying on ourselves and, instead, rely on God. Don’t rush past that. It’s like, “Oh yeah, yeah. That’s an easy thing to say.” No, Paul did. In verse nine Paul says, “We learned not to rely on ourselves, but to rely on God” We’re taught, “You rely on yourself. You’re the strong one.” Paul is suggesting something antithetical to that. He’s saying, not that we shouldn’t want to be strong people. But he’s saying, “Learn how to rely on God. It’s better than relying on ourselves. Rely on God,” because there’ll be some situations where we don’t have enough to do this right.
Rely on God. What does it even mean? Someone said, “What does it mean when he says, “Rely on God?” How do we even do it? In part, it means that we are to appeal to Him for strength and courage. Part of relying on God means we turn to the Lord for strength and courage. We also invite His Presence, His Spirit to help us. We begin to practice trust. I talked about this a little bit, last week. We practice casting our confidence in His direction. There’s a great verse in Psalm 55, Verse 22. It says, “Cast your burden on the Lord. He will sustain you.” He will what? “He will sustain you. He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.” If we hold ourselves in a certain place, then we are almost untouchable. To cast is to extend our reach. You’re casting your burden. We’re casting something in His direction. It’s almost as if we’re throwing our concern in His direction. “Lord.” It’s a casting. It’s important to understand that when we’re under that kind of pressure and duress, we reinforce our trust in strategic ways that we buttress it. We want to hold ourselves in a certain position to move through something. I understand how hard it can be sometimes when we’re feeling beaten, weakened, and despairing.
It’s hard, sometimes, to keep our hands up, if you will. We can barely lift our arms. There are times when we have hit a wall. We feel like, “If not the enormity of what we’re facing, the relentlessness of it is beginning to wear me down at a level that it’s killing me. It’s pulling the life out of me.” I think when we feel that way in those moments, we need to be able to just extend ourselves towards the Lord and know that He’s there. He’s there to help us. He’s there but, sometimes, we get extended beyond our capacity, beyond our ability. We’re running on fumes. We’re on empty. That can happen in our relationships, too. It can happen between a husband and a wife. Sometimes you get that way where you’re so beat down by one another. You’re hurting. It also can happen in friendships.
During my time in the cave, that’s what I call what happened to me two years ago, I came across Psalm 31. I’m not expecting everybody to get every detail. I know not everyone has heard all the messages, and I’ve been sharing in and out of it. The fact of the matter was I had to go on a medical sabbatical. I was working through a number of issues simultaneously. I felt awful. But I was reading the Scriptures. I was writing down the Psalms. I was asking God to speak to me. One of them I hit was Psalm 31. The Psalms are powerful. They’re real. They’re a great way to approach something when you’re trying to position yourself with God because things are hard. In Psalm 31:9-11, David wrote, “Have mercy on me, Lord, because I am in distress, and tears blur my eyes. My body and my soul, I feel like they’re withering away.” You can feel the raw emotion because he’s a man in pain. Have you ever been hit with grief? If you have, you will understand this. “I am dying from my grief. I am so sad. My years are shortened by sadness.”
David shifts, “sin, it’s drained my strength.” It can do that. “I’m literally wasting away within.” He shifts one more time. “Not only that. I’m scorned by all my enemies. I’m despised by my neighbors.” He has relational tension from all kinds of directions. “Even my friends are afraid to come near me.” That’s abandonment. “When they see me on the street, they run the other way.” That’s avoidance. Why? He’s saying, “They don’t know what to do with me. They feel sorry for me. It seems like they don’t want to be around me. They avoid me.” We understand that. Sometimes, when we’re uncomfortable with someone, we don’t know what to say. “I don’t know what all this is about. What I’m going to do. I’d just rather not be there.” David’s saying, that’s what’s happening to him. “I’m in such a mess. I’m hurting on the inside. I feel like all my relationships are breaking down. I feel like people don’t want to be around me.” He summarizes it with the 12th verse. He says, “The truth is, I’m ignored as if I didn’t even exist. I’m ignored as if I was dead as if I were a broken pot that has no value to anyone.”
Is he engaging in hyperbole? Maybe. But this is how he feels. If anything, I’ve learned that how we feel is how we feel. David feels like no one cares. In his present place, he has no value. He says, “I’m as worthless as a broken pot.” Do you want to know what that broken pot is? In their day, clay jars were the containers that held oil, water, or grain. Once they were cracked, they were thrown out. They were of no use anymore. It was not like there was a repair kit. David says, “That’s what I am.” He could feel his pain. He’s physically depleted. He’s scorned by his enemies. He’s despised by his neighbors. He feels alienated from his friends. He feels ignored and worthless as if he’s a broken pot. If you’ve ever felt anything like that, you relate to him. Watch what happens. This happens a lot in the Psalms. They make their way through the real pain and into the seriousness of what’s going. They work on the problem or struggle but find their way to God. Watch what David does in verses 19 to 21.
David gets to this spot and repositions himself. He says, “How abundant are the good things that You have stored up for those who fear You, honor You, and revere You in their lives. You bestow in the sight of all, on those who will take refuge in You, and take refuge in the shelter of Your Presence. You will hide them from all human intrigues.” I call that the complexities of life. “You will keep them safe in Your dwelling from the accusing tongues, from the relational components that seem to make their way in the falsities of life.” David then drops back into this place of praise. “Praise, be to the Lord Who has shown me the wonders of His love when I was a city under siege.” He shifted his attitude, reconfigured his focus, and he falls back and says, “When I was a city under siege.” I know some of us know how that feels because I was thinking about, “Wow, what a phrase, a besieged city.”
I remember where I was when I was reading this, and I was thinking, “That’s how I feel right now. I feel like I’m getting pressure from each side, some of it from within, some without. I feel like a besieged city,” A besieged city is when you’re being pressed from all sides in peril. You know you’re in trouble. You’re fighting for your life. You’ve got stuff coming at you in all directions. You’re in a besieged city, a city under siege. Then, notice David says, “But, then, God showed up. He showed me the wonders of His love. While I was in a besieged city, He showed me the wonders of His love. He showed me the wonders of His love while I was a city under siege.” God will show up when it is the hardest. It’s what He does. Then, go back to the first thing we talked about. Paul said in the passage that we opened up within Second Corinthians One. The point that we made was not to rely on ourselves. We’re to rely on God.
When we’re under pressure, that’s exactly what we tend to do. We tend to stop relying on God. We start relying more on ourselves. When we’re under a tremendous amount of pressure, severely discouraged, or feeling like, “I got so much stress on me,” we start to panic. You know this is true. Some of us know it well. We can start to catastrophize everything as bad. It’s worse than it is. That’s how we feel. In our angst, we react. Some of us are workers. We work our problems through. We try to solve things by doing the same thing, only harder. It doesn’t produce the breakthrough we were looking for. Sometimes, in those times where it’s hard, it’s easy to misdiagnose. Fear starts playing tricks on us. We’ll be talking about it and it starts terrorizing us. Fear becomes our enemy. Fear begins to distort our reality. I know this is true. In the dark forest, there are shadows everywhere, even where there aren’t any.
What we’re saying is when it comes to relying on God, we need to practice distrusting ourselves and practice trusting God. We need to doubt our feelings, which are powerful. I’ve got that saying. Remember we talked about this before. We’re hitting it again. When we’re in these places, we are to doubt our doubts and believe our beliefs. We are to doubt our doubts and to believe our beliefs. I said, “Lord, I want to doubt this doubt that I’m having right now based on how I’m feeling. I want to believe the things that I have committed myself to believe, based on what Your Word tells me. I am going to position myself there. I will doubt my doubts and I will believe, by faith, my beliefs. Help me, Jesus.” That’s what we mean by walking in faith, practicing walking in faith. It’s centering ourselves on God’s promises which are yes and amen. It’s pulling His promises in and then saying, “Lord, even though I feel this way, I don’t know how to get out of this thing. I’m a city under siege. I want to hold onto Your promise right now. I want to plant myself in Your promise. That’s one thing we do. That’s part of what it means to rely on God.
When we read through the second thing Paul said, we don’t notice it. We must remember the “we.” Let’s look at that passage again. You see “we” is all over it. “We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble.” There it is. “We went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it.” You see it constantly, “we.” He’s not saying, “This is me.” He says, “We.” He was in this with others. Paul was in this with others. He was not alone. When you’re in the heat, do not be alone. It’s been said that shared pain is half the pain, and shared joy is twice the joy. I don’t know if it’s exactly true, percentage-wise. But I do love that. Shared pain is half the pain, and shared joy is twice the joy. It’s as if someone else helps bear some of the load of that pain. I reflected back on that patch at the beginning of 2015. I lost a lot of things. I recall how much I benefited from others. I was not all alone. I had a few critical key Christ-centered friendships where the trust gap was small, and vulnerability came easier.
I call this the paradox of the wounded. I’ve noticed that when we are in pain, it’s not uncommon to want to do two things that seem almost paradoxical. When we’re in deep pain and hurting, part of us wants desperately to share that with someone because it’s such a hard load to bear. There’s another part of us that, honestly, we just want to hide. On the one hand, we want to share our pain because holding onto it is so hard. At the same time, we want to shield ourselves from vulnerability because we don’t really know who we can trust. Both things can happen simultaneously. “I want to hide. I want to share. I want to shield. I want you to help me.” That’s the paradox of the wounded. In that place, I look back at my situation. I can only tell you I’ve benefited so much from the Christian community. I benefited so much from having invested in a small group. In addition to what I mentioned earlier, I had a small group. The group that I was in was very small. I’ve been in it for a little while, now. It was very important to have that. I tell everyone all the time, that if you’re serious about following Jesus, get involved in the community in a more sensitive and intimate way with a small group.
Jesus sets small groups up as a way of experiencing life with Him. He originated the first small group in the Christian movement. You could make the case that Jesus is the originator of the small group movement as we know it. He, Himself, never sent His disciples out alone. They were always in twos. He built His team with a small unit. That unit ended up changing the world. Out of that unit, He had another smaller circle, the three, Peter, James, and John. Out of that, He had one He felt closest to, John. Think about this. It is a reminder that a small group allows for us to be around people that we wouldn’t normally be around. We’re sharing commonality in Jesus. Also, out of that, whether it’s ministering on teams or serving together, friendships and trust are increased.
I talked about the trust gap. When the trust gap decreases, our ability to be vulnerable increases. There are some places we cannot be healed without being vulnerable. I gained tremendous strength, at that period, in the ‘we.’ That’s often how God shows up. The other thing that happened was I asked some people in our prayer ministry to pray for me. I didn’t tell them all the details. I didn’t even understand my own self. What I did ask them for was prayer because I knew I was heading into a dark place. I was already there and trying to figure out, ‘how do I move through this right Lord?’ I was having a hard time. I remember asking, “You know what? I need you guys to pray with me.” One of them sent me a passage of Scripture, a Word. They said, “Hey pastor, I was praying for you, and this passage of scripture came to my mind. I sent it to you. I think it might bless you. I felt impressed that it was for you.” I take this passage of scripture and I look at it. First, I said, “Oh, thank you.” Then I look at it. You know, I know the Bible. I look at it and I thought, “Hmm.” As I was reading, I started to feel, “This is a word for you.”
It will happen. The Word will contain a word for you. That word, if it’s properly received at the right time, will give you strength for a journey. That’s why it is important to listen to the Lord’s words. It might come when you’re reading them. It might come when you’re hearing them. When the Word of the Lord comes, and you hear something, that is your word. Write it, embrace it, own it, travel with it. Much strength will come to you in this word. The word that came to me through this person, you could argue whether this advice was accurate in the way that it was being given. But the passage itself met me exactly where I was. There’s one part of it that, when I first read it, it made me cry. That partly is where I was.
This is what it says in Job, 11:15-19. “Then your face will brighten with innocence,” not all the versions are the same. But the NLT had, the older one, had it slightly different when I first read it. “But then your face will brighten with innocence. You will be strong. You will be free of fear.” The 16th verse hit me, “You will forget your misery. It will be like water flowing away.” The version I read said, “It will be all gone like water under the bridge, and your life will be brighter.” I just started saying, “Lord, that’s what I want. Your life will be brighter than noonday. Even darkness will be as bright as morning. Having hope will give you courage and you will be protected and will rest in safety. You will lie down unafraid and many will look to you for help.” That word was so powerful for me. It was such a blessing to me. It was such a hopeful word for me. I’m saying God will send you a word sometimes. You will think, “That’s the word for me.”
There are certain seasons when the Lord will send certain people to us who will walk with us in certain ways. It will make a huge difference in our life with God and our ability to sustain through the difficulty that we are facing, moving through, or at least having to deal with. Ananias is sent Saul. Peter is sent to Cornelius. Elizabeth is sent to Mary. The Bible has countless examples. I’m convinced that it’s part of His grace to us. It’s part of how He provides for us when we’re in trouble. He sends people because ‘we’ are always better than ‘me.’
Three, “Ask Him for courage, confidence, and guidance in the uncertainty.” Go back to verse 10, at the opening passage, because Paul says, “We have placed our confidence in Him.” Paul rejoiced that God rescued him. God showed him the way out of his perilous situation. The truth is, we’re going to come to a place where we’re not sure what to do that confounds us when we’re in the heat of a battle of our life. Or in a situation that’s hard, or we feel extraordinarily defeated and incapable of moving forward. We will find ourselves at a fork in the road moment. In these fork of the road moments, we’re not sure which way to go. Part of us almost can feel paralyzed. I will show you a picture that my wife took when we were away. We were in Colorado. It was one of my lowest points. We just took a walk, but I was not well. I’m sitting there and this picture seemed a metaphor to me; “What are you going to do?” It also had to do with the attitudinal path I was going to have to take. “Which one are you going to do? Which one are you going to take? You can’t stay where you are. That thing’s come to a close. You are where you are. You can stand there in fear, paralyzed with indecision. That will get you nowhere. The path that you are on is coming to a juncture and you have to decide what you are going to do? Which is the way?”
We get to these places in our lives where God is saying, “Look, you’re going to have to move down this path.” The problem is both paths can look scary. We want to stay exactly where we are. But you can’t because you’ll die there. You have to move. When I was reading a devotional from a missionary, I also came across an Amy Stanley Jones saying. In my mind, I was thinking, “Lord, just show me the path I’m supposed to go.” When I read something, it hit me squarely. Maybe it’ll help some of us. Jones said, “When you’re in this tough place where you don’t know which way to go and you want to say, “Show me the end of this road, don’t ask for the whole way. Just ask for the next step.” There are times where it’s not about, “I want to know the way. I want to know. Show me the direct path out of this thing.” No, this is not the time to ask for the whole way. What you need to ask Me for is the next step. That’s the thing you want to ask for. “Show me the step I’m supposed to take.” “But I want the whole way.” “Ask Me for the next step because you’re not getting the whole way.” When you are given the next step, take it. What is the next step in the walk of faith? The next step is simply just falling forward. “I’m just falling forward, Lord.” That’s what walking is.
I looked at that and was thinking in my head, “Well, the faith journey I was on…” It was almost like God started sending me manana from above. Imagine a besieged city. All of a sudden, you get provisions sent or dropped down. Critical provisions dropped into my besieged city. I had a hard time appreciating it. When you’re hurting, I feel like you don’t really appreciate it until you look back. Later down the road, you think, “Wow, that’s God’s provision. Oh my goodness. That’s God’s provision.” I didn’t want the next step. I wanted the whole way. But the faith journey I was on was going to be a next step journey for the whole way. In a certain way, it still is.
Last, it’s going to sound super simple, but I’m going to tell you there’s a lot in it. We’re going to leave it here. Do not underestimate the power of prayer. Look what Paul says in verse 11. “You are helping us by praying for us.” When you are under fire, be a prayer collector. Collect prayers. Don’t be too proud and try to go beyond, “Ah, it can’t hurt,” to “This will make a difference.” Try to go beyond, “Thank you. I appreciate your prayers,” to, “This can make a difference.” Try to go beyond. “Yeah, it can’t hurt. Thank you for the kind gesture,” to, “It will make a difference in Jesus’ Name, in my life and situation. It can literally move things.” For example, during the sabbatical that ultimately led me to go away and spend some time with my wife’s family, some of whom live in Hawaii. Everybody thinks, “Oh, he went on sabbatical to Hawaii.” It wasn’t like that at all, for me. I almost felt it was so intense for me. I couldn’t enjoy it. I was fighting things. I realized I’m not reliable.
I remember one night, my mother-in-law, who we stayed with, is a godly woman. She didn’t always follow the Lord, but at a point in her life, she started following the Lord. She’s now a widow. She’s been living in Hawaii. She’s a very faithful part of her church. One of the things about her that I was always aware of is that she’s a woman of very simple, but intense, prayer. She loves to pray. She has a gift of faith and intercession. I truly believe that. I think all of us are involved. Everyone who follows Jesus is called to pray. Everyone is invited to pray for others. I think we all have different gifts, though. Some of us, for example, when we begin to find our identity in Jesus, we find that there are certain gifts God’s placed into us. For some of us, it’s the gift of hospitality, a gift of encouragement, a gift of giving mercy, or a gift of leading. There are many different gifts. There are many different kinds of spiritual gifts the Bible talks about. One of which is intercession in faith. Which is a way of saying that sometimes people, when they pray can pray for long amounts of time. They pray, in almost any kind of way, with great faith for simple things and, sometimes, profound things.
That can drive some of us who are less like that to be frustrated. We think, “Do we need to pray about everything?” Parking spaces, stuff like that. Part of me says, “You know what? It’s okay.” I tell you this. I came to her when I was in this place. and I said, “Lo.” Her name’s Lolene. I said, “Lo,” I think it was the second night there. I just felt I was supposed to do this. I said, “Would you pray with me before I go to bed?” I remember just sitting there. She grabbed my hands and just started praying for me. I remember I cried, and we prayed. “Heal this one. .” That became my evening ritual with her for the time I was there. Mother-in-laws are great. They’re awesome. Mine was a blessing to me. We prayed and it was such a strength to me. When you pray for someone in a wounded place, you become invested in their journey. It’s not just them. It’s us. Paul later would say, “Everybody’s been blessed by your prayer, praying for us. The victory that your prayers laid the groundwork for, everybody’s experiencing it. It’s because of you. You did this. Your prayers made a huge difference in what we are doing together.” It became a collective powerful thing. It’s the provision of the Lord. A lot of times people say, “Oh, I’ll pray for you,” and I get it, and I love the fact that people say that. “Let’s keep them in our prayers,” or “You’re in our prayers,” or “You’re in our thoughts and prayers.” Something bad happens. “They’re in our thoughts and prayers.”
People mean that as a gesture of kindness and thoughtfulness. A lot of times, there’s a value in having someone pray for us because in a way we’re receiving strength. It’s like they’re saying, “I care for you.” Then, we say back to them, “I know you do,” or, “Thank you.” What I’m talking about is so much more. I’m talking about power. I’m talking about prayer, not just as a gesture of sympathy, but as a mechanism of releasing spiritual power that can change something inside of us that only God can get to and heal up. You never know what it is because Jesus said it could be the faith the size of a mustard seed that could dislodge a mountain. It could create an opening for God to do something all through the power of the prayer of faith in Jesus’ name. A lot of truth there.
When we think of provision, we’re reminded of how God provides. I’ve been thinking about how God provides, how faithful He is. Think about our church, how the Lord has provided for us. I think about how it shows up. We’re going to have our giving time. That got me thinking even about things like giving. I know some of us are faithful in that. It’s not only giving because it’s a good thing that God wants us to do, and we’re faithful in it. That’s a good thing. It’s not only good because our church would not exist without it. It’s the faithfulness of the people who choose to do it. Really, what it is, is, if we say we care about something, it shows up in what we do. It’s fact. It’s what we invest in. It comes back around too because the Lord is faithful in all His ways. I want to close us before we have our time of giving by having us read the daily prayer. I wrote it for all of us to share. It’s meant to be our prayer for the week, connecting to the message.
“Lord, there are going to be times when it feels like we are a city under siege. It’s going to happen in this life. When we sense our isolation and fear is beginning to overwhelm us. Have you ever felt that way? In those times, would You please help us to rely on You and claim your promises because Your words are life. May our misery be like water under the bridge. May You show us the wonders of Your love. This is what we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.