...Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:7-10; NIV)
One of the reasons that people play video games is because it makes them feel powerful and in control. In a virtual world, you get to be powerful (or at least, you have the potential to become powerful, with time and practice). Games are increasingly becoming more like reality, and as they do, they change the way we think of ourselves.* We all want to feel powerful. Being powerful is fun. Being weak, and having life beat down on you, is not fun.
The problem is that we don't live in a game. Not most of us, anyway. Our funds are limited, our bodily strength is less than superhuman, our physical appearance is not quite model-quality. We often find ourselves disappointed, with life taking a brutal toll on us. Sometimes other people bring us disaster and pain, and no matter how hard we try, we can't do anything about it. We feel underpowered, and so we try to compensate by focusing on our strengths. We try to take control. Maybe we try to control others, as a way to feel better about our own lives.
As a Christian, you can become bitter at God for allowing horrible things to happen to you. I have done that. I spent years pleading with him to take some things away that were hurting me badly. As time went on and those things didn't get removed, I made the decision to trust him anyway. And then something happened. I began to change.
Paul had some problem that tormented him, and we're not sure what it was. He calls it a thorn in his flesh, in 2 Cor 12:7, so it might be a physical ailment. Whatever it was, though, there are a few things we are sure of. We are sure that it caused him serious pain. We are sure that it was sent by Satan and was intended to harm him. And we are sure that God not only refused to remove it, but that he used it to change Paul's life.
This teaches us something important. The evil one can bring horrible things into our lives, we are not immune to that. It also teaches us that, when we face pain and hardship, it is not necessarily the case that we have done anything wrong. It also shows that we cannot always see God's specific purposes in allowing hardship to come on us. But his general purpose is clear. He wants us to become weak.
This is not something that we want to hear, but it is true. As we fight for power and control over the circumstances in our lives, we lose the opportunity to rest in the hands of our savior. Our strengths, our triumphs, our wealth, our physical beauty -- we can choose to lean on these things, or we can lean on the one who is Lord over all. If we do find ourselves beaten down, hurt, in desperate straights, or the victim of someone's anger or betrayal, we are also in the perfect position to experience his power. God's power is perfected in our weakness.
What this means is that, the weaker we are, the more room he has to reveal himself. Our conceit interferes with experiencing his sovereign power. We must decrease for him to increase. Our humility, loss, and pain is the perfect spot for him to do something incredible in and through us.
Paul says he delights in his weaknesses. I need to mention that, for the first time ever this last week, something horrible happened to me that I could not control and did not deserve, and I felt joy, knowing that God would reveal himself even more powerfully. I have never had what people call a life verse, but it struck me that 2 Cor. 12:9 was that, for me. It was a change of perspective on hardship, for me. A change of perspective on all the things I think are so great about me, and all the things I think are so bad. I need to rejoice in all the things that make me weak and dependent on Christ.
If you take a stand for Christ, things will not always go well. You will have pain, discouragement, hardship, loss. You will also have a chance to see incredible things happen through your life. It is not the reason why bad things happen, but it is the purpose.
* I wrote an article about this almost twenty years ago, which you can download in the Publications section, if you're really bored and want an overly technical discussion of something that is now pretty obvious. When I wrote it, a lot of people questioned whether participation in virtual reality could affect the decisions we make in real life. I think we all know better now.