In the last three months or so, how many of you have had at least one bad week? How many of you had a bad week this week? During any of that bad stuff that happened to you that made that week or that day a bad week or a bad day, how many of you said the same thing that the apostle Paul said in the last verse of our lesson, when he wrote, “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?’ It sounds like St. Paul is saying, “I am so happy for all the bad stuff,” doesn’t it? And that’s exactly what he is saying. Let’s see why he was saying that – and how we can say that, no matter how much bad stuff has gone on in our lives – or may be going on in your life right now. Lord Jesus, help me to know how I can say in a godly way, “I Am So Happy for All the Bad Stuff!”
One thing I am not happy about when it comes to bad things that happen in my life is the reason for the bad things. In fact, I assume that all of us can get downright upset and frustrated when so much of the bad stuff happens because someone else isn’t doing their job or doesn’t know how to do their job and it makes me have to stay on hold on the phone for over forty-five minutes; or someone else doesn’t know how to drive or doesn’t care how their driving affects others and ends up causing a three-mile back up on the highway or, worse yet, injuries or fatalities to innocent people; or someone else doesn’t understand me or respect me or have any desire to hear what I have to say. Those are a few of the kinds of things of the many kinds of things that are part of why I am not happy for all the bad stuff that happens so often in my life.
But do you know what’s even far worse than that? Do you know what kind of thing you and I must say to ourselves that makes us most unhappy about all the bad stuff — in order to know how we can be happy for all the bad stuff? It’s not what other people do to us to make us unhappy. It’s what we ourselves do to God to make him unhappy. This is one of those things that goes totally contrary to everything in our nature when bad things happen to us. Our first inclination is always to blame someone else or to get frustrated with God, when the truth of the matter is that the blame for all the bad stuff is all the sinful stuff we do that should frustrate God to the point of him saying, “Okay, if you’re going to put me on hold in your life, then you can stay stuck in traffic until the day you die.”
But what happens when you and I open up to God and say, “God, I am sorry for how I have not done my job as your child; God, I am sorry for how my uncaring or careless actions affect others; God, I am sorry that I have not shown kindness or understanding or respect to someone who just wanted an ear to listen to what was on their heart?” What happens when we confess those sins to God about all our spiritual bad stuff is that God opens up the bank of his grace and mercy and love. So, to be clear: God does not say in his Word that a particular sin or bad thing we have done necessarily causes a particular bad thing to happen in our lives, but the more we realize that our sinfulness in general is the cause of the evil that comes into our lives, the more we can be thankful for what God allows to comes into our lives to allow us to know the love – the grace — he has put into our hearts. In the middle of verse 8, for example, the Lord said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” That means that God’s love — God’s grace — has as its goal, no matter how sad or down we may feel on the inside, the desire to show us where the power and strength to go on in life with a happy heart comes from.
It can be very helpful for us when we think about the bad stuff to remember what led Paul to be talking about this in the first place. He had been talking about some very good stuff — some amazingly good things that had happened in his life. In the opening verse Paul talks about the fact that the Lord allowed him to go through the many difficulties he experienced in life in order to keep him from becoming conceited because of some surpassingly great revelations he had received. Right before our lesson, St. Paul had described how the Lord had given him a vision of heaven as he was preparing him to become an apostle to preach the gospel. I don’t think it’s too hard to imagine how Satan could tempt Paul to think that he must be an awfully important and good person to get that kind of treatment from God. That certainly must have been a temptation, but what Paul specifically says that Satan used as a temptation was some “thorn in the flesh,” he calls it, a thorn in the flesh that was some extreme problem God allowed to come into his life and that “tormented” him, he said. It made his life horrible.
We don’t know what that thorn in the flesh was, but I would have to think that nearly everyone of you can think of something in your life that could be called a thorn in the flesh that torments you. It may be a person; it may be a situation; it may be a health concern; it may be a particular weakness or habit; it may be any kind of thing that Satan wants to use to make you think that either God doesn’t care about you so that is why all these bad things have come into your life, or that God is punishing you because of all the bad things you have done in your life. Either way, it torments you at times, doesn’t it? And, just like St. Paul, we might plead with God, “Take it away from me, God. Help me feel better, God. Let me have fewer problems in life, God, so that it’s easier to serve you.”
Here’s what it comes down to. If everything always went well in life, what would eventually happen? From the apostle Paul’s perspective, there are probably two main things that would happen. One thing is that we would not think we needed Jesus as our Savior from sin, and the other thing is that we would not think that we needed heaven as a deliverance from evil. But when we do know those things – as we do as God’s dearly loved children – then we can know how we can say what St. Paul said at the end of verse 9, “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…, and so on.” Yes, for Christ’s sake I am so happy for all the bad stuff.
This is not always easy to swallow, but when you do wonder what is going on in your life and why it is going on, remember that it is for Jesus’ sake that it is going on. Your Lord loves you so much that he does not want anything of this world to keep you away from the world that is to come. Your Lord loves you so much that he wants you to remember that the only one who did not deserve any of the bad stuff in his life – Jesus Christ — endured all your and my sins so that you and I never have to be afraid that God is punishing us to get even with us. That’s what Satan wants us to think, but that’s not what God wants us to think. That’s why he tells us that his grace – his undeserved love – is sufficient for us. It is enough for us to know that if God sent Jesus to take the punishment for my sins, nothing that happens to me in this life can take me from his love. Rather, it leads me all the more to hang on to his love, because it makes me remember what Jesus did to make me his child. And it also helps me to remember that this world is not where everything will end. All the bad things that happen to me – they will soon be past – what is to come in heaven – that’s going to last. In God’s grace he does not want me to have to ever think that everything in my life is going to continue to be bad. He promises me in the Bible that in heaven every illness will be healed and every bad memory remembered no more. That’s why I can say, even at times with tears in my eyes and the weight of the world on my heart, “I am so happy for all the bad stuff.”
One more thing. There are times in life, thankfully – and for many of us perhaps many times in life – when things are going pretty well. Maybe this is one of those times for you. That, too, is a blessing from God, so don’t feel bad about that at all, as if we should ask God to send us bad stuff so we don’t feel too good. The bad stuff will come just because that’s the way life is. Thank God for those times. Enjoy those times. Be even extra generous during those times. But remember that from how God speaks in the Bible those times are breaks in the action. They are times to be extra thankful for God’s grace to be so good to you to treat you better than you or any one of us deserve, and they are times to be extra much looking forward to a life in heaven when things will be so much better that we won’t even begin to be able to compare what will then be to what now is.
Whatever now is for you at this moment – whether good or bad — remember that when the bad stuff of life does come, it is meant to help us thank God for the goodness of his grace. So for Christ’s sake help each other when you know someone is experiencing weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, difficulties — but also rejoice with them because that is how God keeps them depending on Jesus and not on themselves, just as he does for you. We don’t pray for bad stuff to happen, but for Jesus’ sake – our dear Savior and our Lord – because it helps us depend on Jesus all the more, for that reason we can be happy when it does. God bless you with that kind of joy every single day of your life, no matter what. Amen.