Following on from the last blog about keeping calm and carrying on, there were other times in Paul’s life when God did not say to Paul what he said in Acts 18:9, and Paul went through excruciating suffering of mind – and body.
Paul gave us a list of his “troubles, hardships and distresses” too, in 2 Corinthian 6:5-10, which included “beatings, imprisonments, riots, sleepless nights, hunger, and being regarded as an impostor (a fake).” It seemed the whole world was against him, which he expressed two chapters earlier, about him and those with him being “hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted and struck down,” and it never seemed to end.
He was also “given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan, to torment me” in 2 Corinthians 12:7, which clearly bothered him terribly, but God did not stop it or remove it (verse 8). Put all that lot together and it’s not surprising there came a point when Paul hit the wall, and he came to the end of his rope.
Mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually he was shot, and no way could he “Keep calm and carry on.” Or, as he expressed it in 2 Corinthians 1:8, the hardships he and his companions suffered were so stressful they were “far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.” Today we’d likely call that suicidal, or at best a “major depressive disorder.” Either way, deep down Paul had had it. He was done: “In our hearts we felt the sentence of death,” verse 9.
We know God had his reasons for allowing all these things to happen to Paul, like teaching him and his companions “not to rely on themselves but on God” (verse 9), and that the “all-surpassing power is from God and not from us,” 2 Corinthians 4:7, and in 2 Corinthians 12:7 it was to “keep me (personally) from becoming conceited” because of the “great revelations” God had been giving him. But that doesn’t sugar coat a clear fact we face as Christians, that life now can be tough to the point we can hit a wall too. We can’t just stay calm and carry on. We’ve had it, and we can’t take any more.
I remember saying exactly that to my Doctor when I’d hit the wall too. His advice was to “walk through it,” which has proved helpful, but I’d rather hear it from my spiritual Doc, the Holy Spirit. And true to him being our Comforter he tells us, “for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials,” 1 Peter 1:6, so at least we have someone “up there” who truly understands what we go through, and he also gives us the reason for it. It’s “so that your faith – of greater worth than gold” is being “refined by fire,” so that what we’re left with is “proved genuine and results in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed,” verse 7.
Genuine means it’s real. We’ve reached the point of God being so real that we really do trust him no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in. But how do we reach that point? According to Paul, who must’ve known this from his considerable experience in suffering, it comes from “in everything by prayer and petitions, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God,” Philippians 4:6. We can do that legitimately, which is where the “thanksgiving” part comes in, that we really can take “everything” we’re anxious and worried about to God, because how else will he become real?
That’s our bit in the process, but God then responds too, because in verse 7, “the peace of God, which transcends (our) understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” In other words, he’ll enable us to “Keep calm and carry on,” just as he did Paul. Despite the constant battering Paul got he was never “crushed,” nor did his “despair” and endless persecution leave him permanently scarred or feeling abandoned (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
So God may not actually speak to us to “Keep calm and carry on” like he did with Paul, but he’ll prove it instead through our experience.