November 10, 2008

A Beautiful Mess

Of all the characters in the New Testament, Paul is my favorite. His writings have shown me Jesus in a very real way. Yet, he’s such a conundrum.

When we meet Paul in Scripture he despised Jesus. Yet, claimed to love God.

His knowledge of Scripture was impeccable. He was a Pharisee of Pharisees. A Hebrew of Hebrews. Yet, he eventually delivered the Good News to the Gentiles.

He never knew the “Pre-Easter” Jesus. Yet, his knowledge of Jesus would surpass the disciples.

He approved the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Yet, 13 of the 21 letters in the New Testament bear his name.

He was fueled by pride, self-righteousness and zeal. Yet, he boasted about his weakness.

He breathed murderous threats against Jesus’ disciples. Yet God chose him for a special purpose.

On the road to Damascus, Paul had a plan. But God had a different one. In a flash of light from heaven Paul fell to the ground. And was blinded. For three days. For the first time his pedigree and resume were worthless rags. He became helpless, weak and broken.

When the time was right, the Spirit came and healed him. Paul’s old purpose died and a new one emerged.

And for the first time, Paul could really see.

God saw Paul not for who he was, but for who he would become. Certainly God could have chosen someone more qualified, even-tempered or likeable. He chose Paul. Isn’t that amazing? It amazed Paul. His powerful testimony became his greatest evangelical tool. He was living proof of God’s grace.

Lest he not get too “puffed up” in his divine selection, Paul said, “there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” (2 Corin. 12:7)

No one knows for sure what Paul’s thorn was. Sickness, temptation, even poor eyesight top the list.

But, maybe it was something simpler, more human. Maybe he struggled with loneliness.

Maybe he felt excluded by Peter and the Jerusalem Christians who never really accepted him into their inner circle. Perhaps he regretted words spoken in anger to Barnabus and others; that his temper sabotaged yet another relationship.

While the Christian brothers and sisters he met on his missionary journeys looked up to him and respected him perhaps they were too intimidated to call him “friend.” Maybe he longed to experience physical love with a wife. Or all the time he spent traveling and in prison left him feeling there was really nowhere to call home.

No one knows what Paul’s thorn was; as God probably intended. His thorn could be my thorn—or yours.

I love that God used all of Paul—his strength but especially his weakness—for His good. It gives me hope.

It gave Paul hope too. “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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corin. 12:9)

Paul was a mess. But in God’s capable hands, he became a beautiful mess.

Some days I feel the yuck overshadows the beauty. The thorns prick my side, and I’m tempted to linger and lick my wounds. Self-pity lurks, ready to set up camp.

But then I read Paul’s words and know God’s grace is sufficient for me. And it’s sufficient for you, too.

Because there, in the mess, is the beauty. And power. And hope.

And God.

11 comments:

Kelly from South Carolina said...

Great post Kelli!

Blessings on your writing!

Love,

Kelly

Debbie said...

Kelli,

I like Paul too. I think we can all relate to a portion of his personality. For me, I appreciate this favorite verse you quoted, about God’s grace and how it is sufficient in our weakness. I live my life more weak then strong and I am thankful to have a God that will compliment my weaknesses with His strengths. Embracing the weakness is something Paul did well. He didn’t deny it or wish it away. He acknowledged it and looked to His source of hope and redemption. Praise God for Paul’s’ example in our lives!

Love, Deb

Jen - Balancing beauty and bedlam said...

Amen...isn't our Lord amazing for taking our mess and making it whole.

Leebird said...

What a comfort to know God uses us in spite of ourselves. Thanks for sharing, Lee

Cheryl Barker said...

Oh Kelli, I don't know how many times I've said, "Oh, Lord, I'm a mess. Forgive me." Or "Thank you, Lord, for using me in spite of my weakenesses." I praise Him for His understanding that knows no limit!

Sassy Granny ... said...

Hey there, anyone that's hiked the Grand Canyon (north of me about 4 hours) can't be too big a mess!

Love the thoughts. I've hitched a ride here from Elaine's site and I'm so glad I did. I'll visit again, I can assure you.

Kathleen

Trinity Mommy said...

What a wonderful post!

Sue J. said...

I'm sure Paul thought about seeking the "witness protection program" having his name even changed! What kind of life was God showing him??

He is clearly the most dramatic example of a "new creation" and, as you said so well here, hope in what a life lived for Jesus can be.

I said this on another's blog: Grace is God's unmerited favor upon us. Why would we choose to live apart from His grace?

The more we can see ourselves as "less" the more we place God in the proper perspective, which is the better thing.

He may ramble, but Paul had a passion and a conviction that's tough to find elsewhere in the New Testament--especially from someone who wasn't part of the original 12. What an awesome teacher for us! Thanks, Kelli, for bringing his words to the forefront this week!

Terri Tiffany said...

This was such a wonderful post about Paul and about us. Thank you for it! You did a great job!!! very real and very relatable:))

Peggy said...

Hi Girlfriend,
I know no one who says our thoughts as well as you do.
We all are a mess at times, but the promise God gives us to be our hope, peace and strength are much more that we deserve.
I guess we all have a lot of mess, like Paul in us, but we also have the love of God in us, too.
Blessings and Love....Peggy

Peggy said...

Hi Girlfriend,
I know no one who says our thoughts as well as you do.
We all are a mess at times, but the promise God gives us to be our hope, peace and strength are much more that we deserve.
I guess we all have a lot of mess, like Paul in us, but we also have the love of God in us, too.
Blessings and Love....Peggy