Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22)
The need for inner strength arises not just from the depletions of everyday stress, but from the suffering and afflictions that come from time to time. And they do come.
Suffering is inevitably added to heart-weariness on the way to heaven. When it comes, the heart may waver and the narrow way that leads to life may look impossibly hard. It’s hard enough to have a narrow road and steep hills that test the old jalopy’s strength to the limit. But what shall we do when the car breaks down?
Paul cried out three times with this question because of some affliction in his life. He asked for relief from his thorn in the flesh. But God’s grace did not come in the form he asked. It came in another form. Christ answered, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Here we see grace given in the form of Christ’s sustaining power in unrelieved affliction — one grace given, we could say, within the circle of another grace denied. And Paul responded with faith in the sufficiency of this future grace: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
God often blesses us with a “grace given” in the circle of “grace denied.”
For example, on a beastly hot day in July, the water pump on our car stopped working, and twenty miles from any town we were stranded on the interstate in Tennessee.
I had prayed that morning that the car would work well and that we would come to our destination safely. Now the car had died. The grace of trouble-free travel had been denied. No one was stopping as we stood around our car. Then my son Abraham (about eleven at the time) said, “Daddy, we should pray.” So we bowed behind the car and asked God for some future grace — a help in time of need. When we looked up, a pickup truck had pulled over.
The driver was a mechanic who worked about twenty miles away. He said he would be willing to go get the parts and come back and fix the car. I rode with him to town and was able to share the gospel with him. We were on our way in about five hours.
Now the remarkable thing about that answer to our prayer is that it came inside the circle of a prayer denied. We asked for a trouble-free trip. God gave us trouble. But in the midst of a grace denied, we got a grace supplied. And I am learning to trust God’s wisdom in giving the grace that is best for me and for unbelieving mechanics and for the watching faith of eleven-year-old boys.
We should not be surprised that God gives us wonderful graces in the midst of suffering that we had asked him to spare us. He knows best how to apportion his grace for our good and for his glory.