Losing Heart, Gaining Perspective

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This week I’m particularly drawn to a passage in 2 Corinthians 4. Paul explains our frailty as humans and compares it to the glory of God and the salvation we’ll inherit when our suffering on earth finally ends.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

“Losing heart” indicates deep discouragement that leads us to give up and stop moving forward. I don’t know about you, but I have lost heart to varying degrees during 2020. Why does Paul say he isn’t losing heart? What kept him going through so much trial and suffering? The answer comes in previous verses.

  • In verse 6, he reminds us that God shines light into our hearts – “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Light is shining into our hearts if we are believers in Christ, and that light gives us hope.
  • In verse 7, he paints a word picture: treasures in jars of clay. He’s saying that the absolute glory and goodness of God lives inside these human bodies. God’s design in putting His glory into these frail vessels constantly reminds us that He is the one with all the power, not us. This is good news! We don’t have to muster up the strength to carry on. His power is at work to move us forward.
  • In verse 14, he says he knows …”that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.” The truth of his inheritance spurs Paul forward and encourages his heart.

So Paul does not lose heart. His body is wasting away, but his spirit is renewed every day as he consciously recalls these truths: God’s light shines into our hearts, God’s power is hard at work within us, and God is bringing us home to heaven where suffering will no longer afflict us.

Paul then goes on to say that our affliction is light and momentary. At first blush I feel offended by this statement. I look around and see death, sickness, abuse, poverty and racial discrimination. I have a very hard time calling our present suffering “light and momentary,” and I certainly would never say that to a counseling client or friend who is grieving. What is Paul doing?

This passage is an example of a literary form of comparison in which the author holds one concept up next to another in order to magnify the difference between the two. The comparison lies between our current affliction and the “eternal weight of glory” that’s coming for all those who trust Jesus as Lord. So even though our current affliction is very great, Paul is saying that it will seem minuscule once we’re settled in our eternal home. Paul isn’t saying our suffering is worth nothing. He actually says our suffering is preparing us for the eternal glory that’s coming. In other words, we’re gaining perspective as we suffer.

I am currently standing on the earth. Compared to my body, the earth is massive. But compared to the whole universe, the earth is tiny. My suffering matters to God. Nothing is lost on Him. Psalm 56:8 says God keeps our tears in His bottle. Every moment of affliction is recorded and felt by Him. But He’s preparing us to see the earth fade into a tiny dot. The universe of heaven is waiting for us.

Remembering these truths doesn’t stop us from suffering. It’s not a form of denial. It’s a widening of our perspective. It’s a “zooming out” so that we can understand more fully what God is doing. We’ll never completely understand. Suffering is mysterious. But we can trust that He is with us. Our tears are in His bottle. And glory is coming.

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Reflections on Psalm 23: “I Shall Not Want”

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“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1

Many works have been written about the life of a shepherd and the ways it parallels to God’s care for His children. I won’t go that route today. What I want to explore is the fact that Psalm 23:1 is one sentence. I’m a language junkie – I love words and punctuation. So I pay attention to commas, periods and semicolons. They matter to me. In this verse we see a semicolon. While the Hebrew language didn’t utilize this particular form of punctuation, we find it here because English translators are conveying the writer’s intent: these two phrases are linked inseparably. He means to say, “Because the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

Wanting conveys lack. What do you believe you are lacking today? And what do you do when you sense that you lack something you need? Do you strive to gain that thing through human means? Do you ask friends or family to provide it? Do you jump on the hamster wheel of worry, wearing yourself out with endless thoughts of ‘what if’? The answer is ‘yes’. We all do it.

We all want to be our own shepherds. We want to direct our lives and see success come based on our merit, intelligence and wit. We want to be able to look in the mirror and believe we are enough, all by ourselves. But we were never meant to function in this way. We are designed to be lacking.

We are designed to be lacking.

God created us with holes. We can’t see the future. We don’t know how to do everything. We aren’t able to be everywhere at once. And even before there was sin in the world, humans lacked these things. On purpose. God didn’t want us to be self-sufficient. We were created to be dependent on Him.

When I’m faced with my lack, will I look to the Shepherd? Will I remember that He provides all that I need? that I don’t have to see into the future to believe He’s there and already has a plan? that I can trust His providence and goodness to lead me and keep me and grant me joy in the process?

Sometimes I will. And sometimes I’ll worry and strive and look to the wrong shepherds. Praise His name that, by His Spirit, He’s always leading back to Himself. Always reminding me that He’s enough. Am I listening?

Questions for Reflection:

  • What kinds of things do I most often worry about lacking? 
  • Is there a chance that these things are idols in my life? Is that why I’m worrying about them so much?
  • Was there a time in my life when I believed God wasn’t my shepherd? If so, I need to process that pain and confess it to Him, saying out loud that I do trust Him and believe He is my shepherd at all times.
  • Where else in Scripture does God promise to provide the things I’m lacking?