from JO’s sermon tonight:
we can be blessed in many areas, good health, good family, a good job, but then just have one thing that’s not right, one temptation we can’t seem to overcome, one thing in a relationship that’s not fulfilling, or maybe one nagging health issue; nobody can see it, on the outside we seem fine, but on the inside we’re frustrated. life is full of contradictions: you’re helping other people get well, but you don’t feel that well. your coworkers are all being promoted, you’re working just as hard, producing just as much, but nobody notices you. if we’re honest, we all have these secret frustrations, things that we know God could change; we know He could open the door, He could remove the temptation, He could give us the baby we’ve been dreaming about, but it’s not happening. we have to realize; God is a sovereign God. we’re not going to understand why everything happens. there are some things that God doesn’t remove, some situations that He waits a long time to change. you have to trust that He knows what’s best for you; everything that’s not changing, what He’s not removing, if you’ll keep the right attitude, it won’t work against you, it will work for you. don’t let the contradictions of life cause you to be sour, give up on your dreams.
the apostle Paul wrote over half of the New Testament. he came from an influential family, was highly educated; God used him in incredible ways. but as effective as Paul was, he had this secret frustration; he called it a thorn in his flesh:
2 Corinthians 12:7 (NIV)
7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
scholars have debated for years whether that was a physical condition, some kind of illness, or whether it was emotional, the people coming against him, the persecution. whatever this thorn was, whatever was bothering Paul, he asked God 3 times to remove it:
“Still Paul believes that God sent this unwelcome messenger, so he pleads with God three times to remove it. Why just three times? Why doesn’t he bombard heaven daily with his pleas? Well, it may be because he knows Jesus prayed three times in the garden for the cup of suffering to be removed. Ultimately Jesus surrendered to the will of the Father, and Paul does too: “Grace is enough, Paul. Grace is enough.””
one version says:
2 Corinthians 12:8 (NASB)
8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.
that means he gave it his best argument; “God, You know I’m being my best, serving You, writing all these books; the least You could do is heal me.” if anybody had pull with God, it would’ve been Paul, but what’s interesting is, God didn’t remove the thorn. He said:
2 Corinthians 12:9 (NLT)
9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
is there something you’ve been imploring God to change: a situation in your health, finances, a relationship? you’ve asked again and again, and nothing’s improving? I’m not saying to give up and settle there; what I’m saying is, until God removes it, don’t let it steal your joy. don’t let it sour your life. you have the grace to be there; the right attitude is, “I’m not going to let this secret frustration, this thorn in my flesh, so to speak, frustrate me anymore. God, I believe Your grace is sufficient. I know that at the right time You’ll change it, but even if You don’t change it, I’m still going to be my best and honor You.” you have to make up your mind that if your spouse never changes, if your health never improves, if you have to put up with that grouchy boss the rest of your life, you are not going to complain, you’re not going to use it as an excuse to slack off, you’re going to tap into this grace; it is sufficient for you.
don’t stay focused on the frustration. if Paul would’ve gone around thinking, “God, why won’t You remove this thorn? why won’t You change my child, help my business grow?” if he would’ve stay focused on the why’s of life, he would’ve never fulfilled his destiny. faith is trusting God when life doesn’t make sense. if you’re going to reach your highest potential, you can’t be a weakling, you have to be a warrior. there will be things you don’t understand, things that don’t make sense, but God knows what He’s doing; His ways are better than our ways. He is the potter, we are the clay. when it’s time for it to be removed, He will remove it; until then, did your heels in and fight the good fight of faith. you have the grace you need for every situation.
when Jesus healed the man that had been crippled for 38 years there by the pool of Bethesda:
John 5:6-9 (NKJV)
6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
7 The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”
8 Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” 9 And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.
I believe it was significant that he asked him to take his bed with him; he didn’t need it anymore, but God was saying, “this thing that’s held you back, this thing that’s kept you from being your best for so many years, I want you to take it with you as a reminder of what I’ve done in your life.” even though he could walk, even though he didn’t need the bed, it remained a part of his life. it was a contradiction; “I’m healed, I’m healthy, I can walk, but I’ve still got my bed.” I can imagine him going to help someone else that was struggling, they look at him and say, “how can you help me, you’ve still got the bed? you’re still carrying around that thing that held you back.” he said, “no, it’s not what you think, it’s not a limitation to slow me down, it’s a testimony of what God has done in my life. this bed may look like a liability, but really it’s an asset; every time I see it, it reminds me to give God praise. it reminds me where He brought me from. it reminds me that if He did it for me once, He can do it for me again.”
even though God frees you from certain things, you may still have your bed. you may still be tempted in that same area; the weakness, limitation may not totally go away. one reason God doesn’t remove the bed is not to slow you down, give you an excuse to go back, but rather to remind you of where you came from. that bed is not there to discourage you, but to inspire you. my weaknesses don’t intimidate me; they remind me of my dependency on God. another reason God doesn’t totally remove the bed is because, if you think you can do it all on your own, you’ve got it all figured out, you don’t need His help, before long you’ll be right back to where you were, but if you’ll see the weakness, the temptation, as a reminder to ask God for His help, to show your dependency on Him, then you will continue to rise higher, in spite of what comes against you.
in the Old Testament, God told Moses:
Exodus 3:10 (NIV)
10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
Exodus 4:1-7 (NIV)
4 Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”
2 Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?”
“A staff,” he replied.
3 The Lord said, “Throw it on the ground.”
Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. 4 Then the Lord said to him, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. 5 “This,” said the Lord, “is so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has appeared to you.”
6 Then the Lord said, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, the skin was leprous—it had become as white as snow.
7 “Now put it back into your cloak,” he said. So Moses put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored, like the rest of his flesh.
God was showing him these signs so he would go in with confidence, knowing that Pharaoh would listen to him. but Moses had another concern:
Exodus 4:10 (VOICE)
Moses: 10 Please, Lord, I am not a talented speaker. I have never been good with words. I wasn’t when I was younger and I haven’t gotten any better since You revealed Yourself to me. I stutter and stammer. My words get all twisted.
you would think that since God just showed him these great, miraculous signs, God would simply touch his tongue, make it normal, take away the stuttering. but God didn’t do that; He didn’t remove the problem. He was saying to Moses what He said to Paul; “My power shows up best in weakness. and Moses, if I needed to remove that stuttering so that you could fulfill your destiny, I would’ve removed it.” are you waiting for God to remove something before you can be happy, before you can pursue a dream, before you can finish school? no, if God hasn’t removed it, it’s not an accident. you don’t have to put your life on hold because you have a secret frustration; you have everything you need to fulfill your destiny. scripture talks about:
2 Corinthians 4:7 (KJV)
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
all of us have imperfections in our clay vessels. in other words, there’s probably at least one thing that God is not removing that we could easily be irritated by, live frustrated; “if I didn’t have this back pain, have to struggle with his weight issue, didn’t have this coworker that gets on my nerves, this legal problem.” or how about, “if I hadn’t gone through a bad childhood, the divorce, the hurt, the pain.” whatever your thorn is, God is saying us what He said to Paul; “My grace is sufficient.” quit fighting it, quit letting it steal your joy; when it’s time to be removed, God will remove it. until then, tap into this grace; “God my life is in Your hands. You know what I want, You know my dreams, You know what’s bothering me. I may not understand it, it may not make sense, but God, I trust You.”
if God is not removing it, it’s not an accident; there is a reason. Paul thought that the thorn in his flesh was to keep him from being puffed up, too proud, maybe that was true, only God knows, but that secret frustration may just be a time of testing, where you have to prove to God that you’re going to be content and do your best even though it’s not going your way, you’re going to keep giving even though you’re not receiving, you’re going to keep honoring Him even though you’re not seeing things change. God could be using that to grow you up and develop your character. some things we can only learn through experience; we can’t learn through reading a book, listening to a message. the scripture says:
1 Peter 1:7 (TLB)
7 These trials are only to test your faith, to see whether or not it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests gold and purifies it—and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold; so if your faith remains strong after being tried in the test tube of fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day of his return.
that’s where our spiritual muscles are developed. you can’t get stronger if you’re not put under any pressure; you have to work out, exercise your faith. it may not be comfortable, you may not like it, but if you’ll stick with it, it’s not working against you, it’s working for you; you’re growing, you’re coming up higher, you’re getting prepared for new levels. see, you can’t be promoted without preparation. God won’t give you a 100 pound blessing if He knows you can only lift 50 pounds; if He gave you the 100 pounds, it wouldn’t be a blessing, it would be a burden. it wouldn’t help you, it would hurt you. He’s got to get you prepared. your gifts can take you to a certain level, but if you don’t have the character to match, you won’t stay there very long. character is developed in the tough times, when we’re not getting our way, but we keep doing the right thing.
like Paul, we’ve asked God a lot more than three times to remove it; “God, get this person out of my life that gets on my nerves. God, give me that child. God, change my spouse.” no, while God is changing it, until He removes it, if you will stay in faith, not get bitter, not give up on your dreams, here’s the beauty; even if the situation doesn’t change, you will change. God is growing you up, getting you prepared for new levels of your destiny. your character is more important than your talent; you can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have strong character you’re not going to go very far. we can all trust God in the good times, that’s easy; I’m asking you, can you trust Him with the secret frustrations, the things that are not changing? you prayed and believed, but He’s not removing it; the question is not only, “can you trust God?” but more importantly, can God trust you?
will you pass the test, stay in faith even when you don’t understand it? if you’re not faithful in the wilderness, how can God trust you to be faithful in the promised land? maybe you’re doing the right thing, but not seeing any growth, not being promoted; it’s frustrating. it may not look like anything is happening on the outside, but if you’ll keep being your best, something is happening on the inside; God is changing you, growing you up, getting you prepared. keep doing the right thing. keep being good to other people. keep having that spirit of excellence. too many people let these secret frustrations cause them to get bitter, give up on their dreams, lose their passion; recognize that it’s a test. if you will stay in faith, God will get you to where you’re supposed to be.
in Genesis 29, there’s the story of two sisters, Rachel and Leah. when a young man named Jacob saw Rachel, he fell head over heels for her; it was love at first sight:
Genesis 29:17 (NIV)
1 … Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful
Genesis 29:18-20 (ERV)
18 Jacob loved Rachel, so he said to Laban, “I will work seven years for you if you will allow me to marry your daughter Rachel.”
19 Laban said, “It would be better for her to marry you than someone else. So stay with me.”
20 So Jacob stayed and worked for Laban for seven years. But it seemed like a very short time because he loved Rachel very much.
but Laban tricked Jacob. at the wedding, in those days, they wore very thick veils; you couldn’t tell who was in there. of course he thought it was Rachel, but:
Genesis 29:23 (NIV)
23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her.
Genesis 29:17 (AMP)
17 Leah’s eyes were weak and dull looking
“Leah, whose name signifies languor, weariness, had dull bleared eyes. Probably she suffered, as so many do in that hot sandy region, from some form of ophthalmia… Leah’s bleared eyes would be regarded in the East as a great defect, just as bright eyes were much admired… Yet it was not Rachel, with her fair face and well-proportioned figure, and her husband’s lasting love, that was the mother of the progenitor [Judah] of the Messiah, but the weary-eyed Leah.“
when Jacob woke up the next morning:
Genesis 29:25-28 (NIV)
25 When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”
26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”
28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife.
I’m sure that when people saw Rachel around town, so beautiful, so friendly, they thought, “that’s one blessed woman; she’s so stunning, she has a husband that adores her, she comes from a good family.” but what they couldn’t see was, Rachel had a secret frustration; her dream was to have a baby, but she was barren, she couldn’t conceive, year after year, no baby. I can hear her every night, “God, please give me a child, please remove this barrenness. God, I want a baby.” on the other hand, her sister Leah gave Jacob one son after another, four boys; life was good for Leah, she was seeing a dream come to pass, a healthy family, but Leah too had a secret frustration. the scripture says:
Genesis 29:30 (ESV)
30 So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah
I can hear Leah every night, “God, why won’t my husband love me more?” the point is, everyone is dealing with something. whether you’re a Rachel, blessed in this area, or a Leah, blessed in this area, there will be things that can frustrate you, things that you don’t understand, things that God is not removing. you have to make up your mind that you are not going to let it sour your life. do what you can; trust God to do what you can’t. the right attitude; “if this never changes, if I never have a child, I’m still going to be happy. if my marriage never improves, I’m still not going to be sour. if I see somebody that’s more talented, more beautiful, has more, I’m not going to be envious, jealous. I’m at peace with who I am.” when you stay in peace, not trying to figure out why they could have the baby, why she’s more beautiful, why her husband loves her more, no, let that go. you’re never going to understand it. if you’ll live in peace, God will remove what needs to be removed; He will change what needs to be changed.
this is what happened with Rachel; years later, God removed the barrenness, and she had a son named Joseph. that secret frustration was taken away. whatever secret frustration you’re facing, you have to make this decision that even if it never changes, you’re going to keep believing; we are going to die in faith.
this is what three teenagers did in the scripture:
Daniel 3:4-18 (NIV)
4 …you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up… 12 But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.” 13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego… if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
that’s the key. believe for your dreams, for God to turn the situation around, then take it one step further; “even if it doesn’t happen my way, even if I don’t get delivered, God, I’m still going to be happy. God, if you turn it around, I’m going to give You praise, and if you don’t turn it around I’m still going to give You praise.” you live like that, and all the forces of darkness cannot stop you. don’t let these secret frustrations keep you from your destiny. have a new perspective; you have the grace you need for every situation. if God is not removing it, there’s a reason. don’t try to figure it out; trust Him. if you do this, God is going to change what needs to be changed, remove what needs to be removed. you’re going to rise higher, overcome obstacles, and become everything God to created you to be.