But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon 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
You just can’t write something like this unless you really understand hardship and suffering. But I think it’s safe to say the Apostle Paul got it. After all, he was shipwrecked, imprisoned, and beaten several times for the sake of the Gospel. But Paul understood that when we submit to the will of God, at some point that may include suffering. God doesn’t leave us to handle suffering by ourselves, He makes us stronger IN CHRIST. So we are given a deeper kind of strength and endurance that we are not capable of ourselves. So cool!
I’ve been thinking about this lately as well as chronic illness and how to honor God even when we are experiencing pain and weakness. I often think of my grandmother, who went home to be with Jesus in 2003. She died of lung cancer, but she had an ocular disease called macular degeneration and was legally blind the latter part of her life.
However, I remember her determination to study the Bible and keep journals. She was particularly fond of the Psalms and The Sermon on the Mount. I recently spent time reading through her “books.” These mostly handwritten journals bear the mistakes of someone who wrote while using a magnifying glass and holding the pages very close to her face. I remember watching her in fascination. To me, the errors only add more character to pages full of wisdom, humor, and courage.
Now she was just as flawed as the rest of us, but I think my grandmother would love nothing more than for some of her writing to be shared for the purpose of encouraging others. She knew about a dose of Christ’s strength during times of difficulty. The following is a short story she wrote about her understanding of Psalm 23.
A Shepherd’s Day
It is nearly dawn and the gate opens, as the shepherd allows the sheep to pass through. The sheep know the shepherd’s voice and will not go with a stranger. The sheep will follow the shepherd. The flock will rest while the shepherd sets the table. The water in the stream is running too fast. The shepherd builds a wall of stones and pours in water. Now the sheep can drink quietly beside still water. The flock’s energy is restored. The shepherd leads them to higher pastures. They pass through dark valleys, fraught with danger. The sheep do not fear. The shepherd will guide them over rocky places and protect them from their ever-present enemies. He will kill the snakes with his staff. The shepherds also used his staff to guide and check for pitfalls along the path. A lamb is caught in the underbrush. The shepherd will rescue him with the crook of his staff. If a sheep gets too near a poisonous bush, the shepherd will throw his rod at the bush to startle the sheep so it moves out of danger. If a sheep gets injured, the shepherd will anoint the wound with oil. The flock has now passed through dark valleys. Again they are in high pastures.
If animals could talk, they would say…
The shepherd was always near. We were fed. We had quiet water to drink. He rescued us and we were safe. We were not afraid. He guided us through danger. He treated our wounds and they are healing. He alerted us when we strayed. Surely goodness and mercy has been with us. We will dwell with the shepherd forever.
Then one young ram piped up and said, “Wow! Did you get that? When he got that snake right in the gut with his staff, that was cool!”
This is the story of Psalm 23…as I understand it. Guide us Lord, as we pass through dark valleys. Amen.