Either Or

There used to be a 7-hour drive separating me from going back home to visit my family. However, by the grace of God and the low costs of a free market economy, a cheap, 2-hour flight is all that stands in my way of visiting home.

However, while this plane is monetarily cheap to fly on (tickets sell for as cheap as $39!), there is a high “cost” of flying on this little one-propeller airplane – turbulence… and LOTS of it. Because this 9-passenger airplane is so small, the wind and air pressure often toss the small aircraft up and down like it is attached to a Yoyo during the two-hour voyage back home.

For some superhuman people who have iron stomachs, this isn’t a problem at all. For others with weaker stomachs (i.e. me), the turbulence can quickly turn the flight from pleasant to painful within minutes. Knowing this is the case, I have a choice to make before we take off – I can either have a full stomach but risk feeling woozy during the whole trip or I can skip a meal in efforts to avoid feeling nauseous during this short flight home.

Just like we learned in English class growing up, I find myself in somewhat of an “either-or” situation. Either I can have a full but unsettled stomach, or I can have a hungry but non-nauseous stomach. I wish I could have a full stomach while simultaneously having a happy stomach on this flight, but often times I must choose between one or the other.

In a similar fashion, Paul describes an “either-or” decision we all must daily make in 2 Corinthians 12. In this well-known passage we learn that the LORD allowed Paul to become afflicted by what Paul described as, “…a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me” (2 Corinthians 12:7, NIV). Though Paul pleaded with God to take away this “thorn” that was causing him so much pain, the LORD responded to Paul’s pleas by saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV).

Before we continue on, let’s be sure that we all see the pattern that Paul just laid out for us – a “thorn” (We’re not sure what this “thorn” was in Paul’s life. Perhaps the LORD allowed that to remain a mystery so we can all relate to Paul when we go through our own various trials.) was introduced into Paul’s life which brought discomfort. This discomfort brought about a weakness which in turn resulted in God’s strength working in and through Paul. Or to put it even more plainly: thorns (“discomfort”) points to human weakness, which points to God’s power.

Because this is the formula of receiving God’s power into our lives, we must be mindful that the inverse of this equation is also true – a life that is absent of thorns (“discomfort”) leads to human strength which in turn forfeits the presence of God’s power working in a believer’s life. In other words: comfort (absence of a thorns) points to human strength, and an absence of God’s power.

That being said, just as I have to make an “either-or” decision every time I fly back home on that little plane, we all have a daily choice to make: we can either live a life that is marked by power or we can live a life that is marked by comfort. The two cannot exist at the same time. You cannot have a life that is marked by personal comfort while simultaneously possessing a life that is marked by God’s power. We must choose to pursue one or the other.

When Paul recognized this was the case, he went from pleading with God to remove the thorn from his life (2 Cor. 12:8) to praising the LORD for these thorns – “…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 Corinthians 12:9-10, NIV).

Paul went from pleading to praising. The thorns he once so despised were now viewed as the very avenue through which God’s power might come upon him. While Paul clearly wanted to be healed of whatever this “thorn” was, he had an even greater desire to abide in God’s power. Because of this, he gladly sacrificed a life of comfort so that the LORD’s strength might rest on him.

Which do you desire more: a life of comfort or a life of power? Honestly answer that question. Don’t let the “Sunday School” answer that you know you are supposed to say cover the true desires of your heart. Do you really want a life that is marked by God’s power more than a life that is marked by comfort?

This is certainly a humbling question for me to reflect on because my true, honest answer so often is that I would rather live in comfort than in power. I spend so much of my prayer life praying and pleading for the LORD to remove or protect me from thorns so that I can preserve my comfort. “Heal me… protect me… deliver me… take this difficult situation away from me… change their heart… provide more than enough money… etc..”

What this proves is that, unlike Paul, I so often fail to see my hardships as golden ticket invitations into Christ’s power. And isn’t that what 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 tells us that all trials really are – invitations into our weakness so that we might rest in the strength of Christ? Our choice, therefore, is to either accept these invitations joyfully as Paul did, or to mope around and complain every time we are inconvenienced by a difficulty. We can either have a life that is full of power or a life that is full of comfort. The choice is ours.

Are you choosing to live a life that is marked by comfort or power?

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