At any rate, one of the blessings of retirement is having time to meditate on Scripture. I remember once reading that a prominent Christian psychologist said he kept his own head straight by spending 2 to 3 hours every day focusing on the Word before listening to his patients. At the time I thought, "Well, that's fine for you but .. um... it's never going to work for me on my schedule!"
And having the attention span of a gnat, even in retirement I still can't spend several hours a day doing Scripture stuff . But I can at least spend a little more time with the Word than I did when I was working. And more and more, I can see why the psychologist leaned so heavily on the Bible at the start of each day. It pays.
Today I was looking at II Cor. 12:7-9. In this passage, Paul said that Satan had sent a messenger to buffet him, a thorn in the flesh. I thought about that: something bad enough that he considered it to be direct from the pit of hell, something that "buffeted" him, something that he asked God three times to take away from him. The previous chapter, II Cor. 11, describes a ton of problems that Paul encountered in his life: shipwrecks, beatings, long journeys through dangerous territories, both in rural areas and in cities. Not to mention hard work, long hours, sleep deprivation, times of hunger and thirst. And add to that list, the pressure of feeling responsible for fledgling churches as well as "dangers from false brethren." Which I guess means he knew what it was like to have a spiritual knife or two sticking out of his back from people who pretended to be believers but really weren't. Yet I don't get the feeling that any of these traumatic things are the specific "thorn in the flesh" that Paul writes about in chapter 12. I get the feeling that chapter 12 is about something worse, if that's possible; something constant rather than a problem that comes and goes.
Basically, the word "buffet" makes me think of a car being beaten from side to side by a strong wind. So I'm thinking that Paul didn't have an attack from Satan here or there but instead he had something coming at him all the time, worrying him, and, if it came from hell, maybe it wouldn't be too much to say, tormenting him.
But then he goes on to talk about how when he is weak, he is strong. I don't know that I ever really understood that - I used to wonder, "Why does God want us to be weak? Why do we have to be face down in the dirt so to speak in order to be strong?" But then I saw that the New Jerusalem Bible translates 12:9 as "... 'My grace is enough for you: for power is at full stretch in weakness.' " (My italics.) And suddenly it made sense to me.
If I think of myself as a container (Bear with me here! And I know I would be the super size, not the economy size :) and I'm "full of myself" - not necessarily in a bad way (I could also use phrases like " I was at the top of my game this week!" or "I just aced that test!" or "Life is tough but I'm tougher; I'm handling it!" and simply be telling the truth) - at any rate, when I'm on top of things or at my strongest, my container is mostly full of.. me. But when my own strength has been depleted, my container is mostly empty. And that means there is room for His power to stretch out in my heart.
For this reason, Paul goes on to say that he is grateful (in the NASB it reads "content") when weaknesses, insults, distresses, and even persecutions come his way because of his work for Christ. Why? Because when he's going under, he waves the white flag of surrender and at that point, God's power sweeps in and takes over.
Which is really not a bad exchange when you think about it.
My weakness for His strength.
"but he has answered me, 'My grace is enough for you: for power is at full stretch in weakness."