In the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul goes from a great height to a terrible depth, and then ascends to an even greater height.
We find that in 2 Corinthians 11: 28-12: 10.
He speaks about this successively:
a. His “being carried up to the third heaven”.
b. The thorn in the flesh.
c. The grace and power of God; a victorious life.
What he describes is a vivid illustration of the truth of Romans 8:39, which we find contained in a well-known Salvation Army song in the verse that says, “Neither height nor depth can never separate us from our Lord.”
The faith of God’s children can be tested in three areas.
Each of these areas has its own distinctive experiences.
But the grace of God is more than sufficient for all three.
I would like to briefly discuss these three “tests”.
a. The first test is that of the great, the wonderful.
Paul’s journey to the third heaven was such a wonderful event.
Some of God’s children also have extraordinary visions and experiences. Not many, by the way! They remain exceptions. There are many who think they have experienced something special, but it concerned only imaginations or ordinary nightmares.
It also would be totally wrong for many of us if we were drawn up to the third heaven, for they were going to write space travel books in color print about it.
Such experiences are dangerous even for Paul.
But even if we are not drawn up into the third heaven, many of us have had wonderful experiences, seen mighty answers to prayers.
▪︎ Some preachers rise to heights that create bold headlines.
▪︎ Other believers have “conquered kingdoms, exercised righteousness, stopped the mouths of lions,” etc.
All this is great, but dangerous.
Someone once testified of a preacher (now passed away): “That man was once my greatest inspiring example, but now he is my most serious warning!”
A good Dutch proverb rightly says: “It are strong legs that can bear the wealth”. The thin air of such third heaven heights makes us light and dizzy.
b. The second test is that of the mysterious.
By this we mean the many inexplicable, incomprehensible things that bewilder, disappoint, and sadden us, and that awaken our “whys”.
Things that can make us desperate.
Sometimes God lets His children walk in the dark.
▪︎ Prayers are not answered.
▪︎ Friends abandon us.
▪︎ Loved ones die.
▪︎ Our nerves get us.
Satan plays his sinister game and sows doubt in our hearts.
We imagine that God is forsaking us, or we are doubting our salvation. Some of God’s most excellent servants had such experiences.
Things happen that seem to make faith, prayer, and the scriptures nothing more than a joke! Any attempt to explain fails, and is useless. God Himself keeps the secret until we get to Him. God’s ways are often mysterious, inscrutable mysterious.
After repeated prayers, God finally said “no” to Paul.
It gets even more difficult when He sometimes doesn’t say anything!
All that’s left is to trust Him in silence, convinced that His grace is enough for all circumstances.
We may be in a situation where we have to learn to say, “Our God is able to save us, but if not …”, “We remain faithful, whatever will be.”
We have already mentioned the great overcomers of Hebrews 11.
Well, there are also the “others” who “were tortured”. They too are victors!
However, not in the field of the great, the miraculous, but in the field of the mysterious.
c. The third test: The ordinary, the monotonous, the everyday.
Almost all of us are exposed to this test.
There are the many days that we touch neither height nor depth. Then it is important to continue without slowing down. Sometimes this is the hardest of all.
▪︎ In the height of the great, we are supported by the encouragement, the stimulus that lies within it.
▪︎ The depth of the mysterious drives us to God in our need.
▪︎ But that everyday treadmill! It requires persistence! We do need special grace to continue.
Just before describing the heights and depths of the experience of faith, Paul speaks of it at 2 Corinthians 11:28. Here is the test of the ordinary everyday.
You know that comment from that maid, who was asked if her job suited her: “Oh, fine, but it’s so ordinary, so monotonous.”
Most of us are little people who never have to deal with the great. More often we may have to deal with the mysterious. But certainly we all have a lot to do with the ordinary, the monotonous. And to that surely just as much grace is needed!
▪︎ Grace, to remember that each day is a day that the Lord gave us so that we might rejoice in it.
▪︎ Grace to live with Him and in the power of Him “who is with us all the days until the end of the world”. We need that in the everyday treadmill, “Him with us.”
The mother behind the washing machine and with the nagging children.
The father, on the conveyor belt or with the cows.
The sick in the tough hours on the hopeless sick bed.
Is there a more severe test than that of the ordinary, the monotonous?
But there is grace for it!
Paul had his greatest experience, not in the third heaven or in the victory of his “thorn in the flesh,” but in that the grace and power of Christ was enough for each day.
▪︎ The danger of the great, the magnificent, is that we become haughty.
▪︎ The danger of the mysterious, is that we become faltering.
▪︎ The danger of the ordinary, the monotonous, is that we become discouraged and wearily lay down the burden.
But the grace of the Christ is sufficient for the dizzying, as well as for the deep, or for the ordinary experiences!
With Him, a threefold trial becomes a threefold victory.
He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for strength first manifests itself fully in weakness. Most gladly, then, will I boast yet more in weaknesses, that the power of Christ may come upon me. Therefore I am well pleased in weaknesses, reproaches, needs, persecutions, afflictions for Christ’s sake, for when I am weak then I am strong.
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