November/December 2017, Volume 99, Number 6
“So tremendous, however, were the revelations that God gave me that, in order to prevent my becoming absurdly conceited, I was given a physical handicap — one of Satan’s angels — to harass me and effectually stop any conceit. Three times I begged the Lord for it to leave me, but his reply has been,”My grace is enough for you: for where there is weakness, my power is shown the more completely.” Therefore I have cheerfully made up my mind to be proud of my weaknesses, because they mean a deeper experience of the power of Christ. I can even enjoy weaknesses, suffering, privations, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For my very weakness makes me strong in Him” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9, Phillips).
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The following article is a personal testimony written by a young sister who has endured a remarkable number of chronic physical problems in life. This article appears as a personal testimony edited for publication.
When I was 10 years old, a severe injury to my foot required multiple surgeries. At that age, I did not appreciate the Lord as my refuge. Thirty years later another surgery on my foot was required due to pain that limited my walking ability. Complications continue to require constant treatment. Additionally, three back surgeries due to a birth anomaly-the first at age 18-have resulted in an adult life of recurring problems and constant pain management. While working in New York City, a severe scare from a brain virus redirected my career. Although I could not see it for some time, through these experiences, I have come to appreciate what the Lord means by “My grace is sufficient for thee.”
While we do not know for sure the source of Paul’s physical handicap, it was something that was quite a burden for him. When the Lord denied his request despite the difficulty, Paul knew he could go on because God would give him the strength. God does not always remove a problem, but always helps us find a way to deal with it. For some reason, often unknown to us, we need the experience to help us in the narrow way and to further our character development. In order to understand and work with mankind, we need to experience everything they do — both physically and mentally.
There are many examples in scripture of those who dealt with challenging experiences. Their difficulty was not always removed, but God gave them the ability and strength to deal with that trial. Even in the world there are noble examples of people who have been through challenges and difficulties that we could not imagine. They showed grace through that challenge and taught us many lessons.
Genesis 39 details the circumstances of Joseph. First he escaped death but was sold into slavery by his brothers. After rising to a position of importance in Potiphar’s household, Joseph was unjustly accused by Potiphar’s wife of trying to seduce her. As a result, Joseph was sent to prison. While Joseph could have felt forsak- en by God, he instead had faith in God’s goodness and eventually was placed in charge of other prisoners. Joseph endured dreadful conditions, but never lost faith in God.
Joseph is exemplary in those enduring faith-shaking trials and difficulties. Like him, we must learn to lean on the Lord and trust Him even more during difficult times. Faithfulness must be tried, tested, and proven to grow. As new creatures, if we trust in the Lord and endure as Joseph did, we are promised immortal life: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer … Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10 NASB).
Judges 14-16 tells the story of Samson, who judged Israel for 20 years. As a sign of his loyalty to God, Samson kept the Nazirite vow and God endowed him with superhuman strength. Misled by his moral weakness, he fell prey to the Philistines through the temptress Delilah. She had made a deal with the Philistines to deliver Samson into their hands by cutting his hair in order to drain his strength. The Philistines then put out his eyes.
While a prisoner, Samson had to rely totally on the Lord to get through and as he patiently endured, he was given back his strength. In the end, he sacrificed his damaged life to save his people. Chained between two pillars, he prayed to the Lord for the strength to pull down the temple that held nearly 3,000 Philistines. Samson’s realization that his strength was in the Lord’s hands finally drew him to accomplish his mission as a deliverer of Israel. Should we not ask the Lord to use whatever we have in his service, no matter what is taken away from us or what we have gone through?
Helen Keller was 19 months old when she contracted a brain infection, leaving her deaf and blind. Since she had barely learned to speak, she was also without a voice. She created signs of her own in order to be understood. This was a severe disability that without help would be impossible to overcome. Ann Sullivan, who was visually impaired herself, became Keller’s instructor and was at Keller’s side for 49 years as not only her teacher, but also as her governess and life-long companion. This relationship was portrayed in the movie, The Miracle Worker.
When they first met, Sullivan found Helen extremely misbehaved. She immediately began teaching Helen by sign language spelled out in Helen’s hand. Despite Keller’s lack of understanding, Sullivan was relentless in her efforts. Everything changed the day Helen understood the word for the cool water running over her hand. This was the point when she “got it” and then wanted to learn words for everything.
This is similar to our lives. We have teachers who instruct us in the Word, but until we see the need to understand, we will not progress. Then we can take personal responsibility and look to God to overcome our disabilities.
Helen Keller never let her disability slow her down. She learned braille and read sign-language by touching hands. She attended the Perkins School for the Blind and schools for the deaf. She became the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree from Radcliffe University. She not only learned to speak but became a prolific public speaker. With grace and determination, Helen Keller, through the persistent help of Anne Sullivan, became a shining light. Her example is truly one of great perseverance in adversity!
Nelson Mandela was a black anti-apartheid revolutionary who became the South African president after spending 27 years in prison. Although he died a peaceful man, Mandela did not start that way. It was while in prison that he changed his view of the world.
Mandela was a radical that believed apartheid could only be overcome through radical means. He was a student of Karl Marx and rumored to have joined the communist party. Eventually he was arrested and accused of high treason, but not convicted. He then cofounded a militant group and sought to bomb military installations, power plants, telephone lines, and other places where there would be less chance of a violent confrontation. Mandela was arrested again and convicted, found guilty of attempting to overthrow the government. He was sentenced to 27 years in prison.
During those 27 years, Mandela experienced a complete change of heart. He turned from violence and hatred to peace and love for his enemies. White guards became sympathetic. Following his release, Mandela was elected president of South Africa. He invited one of his former wardens to his inauguration.
Mandela wrote in his autobiography that “people must learn to hate. If they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love because love comes naturally.” He said that hate requires an unnatural effort. His change of heart reminds us that Paul also had a change of heart toward Christians whom he had opposed. He then developed a deep love for the cause of Christ.
My Personal Application of Paul’s words
As stated earlier, at 18 I suffered a severe back injury related to an undiscovered birth anomaly. This problem was fixable only by surgery. At the time I was away at school and could only turn to the Lord for strength to endure. I spent much time in prayer asking for help to get though the school year until I could return home for surgery. I don’t think I was a patient person prior to this problem, but during the experience, I learned patient endurance until I could get relief from the pain. Just as Nelson Mandela’s experience changed his outlook, I went from one end of the spectrum to the other.
Over the next 17 years, I required two more spinal fusions. Only the Lord knew my pain. I had been an active athlete all my life, but now I was confined to getting through a day without pain. Just as Samson was alone when he was blinded, I could only place my trust in the Lord to help me through the difficulties of these repeated problems.
During this part of my life, I was living in New York City, doing an internship and attend- ing graduate school. In 2000, I experienced some very strange symptoms that proved to be neurological. I couldn’t play the piano because I saw four sets of notes. While participating in a Bible Student friend’s wedding, I stumbled around and couldn’t see right. Finally, an MRI revealed lesions on my brain. Needless to say, I was terrified, and I prayed to the Lord for help. A neurologist in New York finally diagnosed my problem as a virus affecting the Central Nervous System. I found that I could not process multiple stimulations, and eventually had to leave my job and for over six months be cared for by my parents. Eventually the virus ran its course and I regained my abilities. During this time, I constantly prayed for the Lord to see me through, and in each case, He said, “my grace is sufficient for me.”
My back remains a constant problem, and from time to time severely limits my activity. Incessant pain is manageable through drug therapy and medical device implants.
Throughout all of these experiences, I have realized that I can do nothing on my own. Like Joseph in prison, I have learned that we must patiently endure our trials and be thankful for the Lord’s strength each day. In the end, Joseph and Samson relied on God for grace to endure. Nelson Mandela saw the futility of bitterness. Helen Keller fought adversity through determination and dedication, and through help from others.
The lesson of patient endurance is precious. I do not say, “God, haven’t I suffered enough?” I have learned that God gives us unique and special experiences to teach us necessary lessons. They help us say that God’s grace is sufficient.
They help us demonstrate our loyalty to God. Like Job, I want to say “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15). Leaning on the Lord has helped me persevere. Hopefully, that will continue not just through one, two, or three trials, but even to the point of death. Whatever the Lord’s providence permits, I know it will help shape my character and that of all my brethren who are part of the bride of Christ. Hebrews 10:36 (Philips) says “Patient endurance is what you need if after doing God’s will, you are to receive what he has promised.”
The lesson of patient endurance is precious.
“He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him.” (Psalms 145:19)