Scripture: 2 Corinthians 1:1-11
We have all experienced stress. When properly handled, stress is not a bad thing by itself. Stress reminds us to identify problems and implement proper problem-solving techniques. At times we were thrown off balance, however. We felt greatly pressured; we felt we could not take it anymore; we felt, hopefully not that frequently or persistently, that even going through life itself was difficult. Regardless of how stress is handled, everyone experiences it at different points in lives.
Even Apostle Paul felt it.
But in his distress he trusted God, and we can learn a lot from how he viewed and handled stress.
Paul is considered the most influential person in Christianity beside Christ himself because of his writings and his missionary trips. He wrote 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament and proclaimed the gospel throughout the known world of his time and to Europe. While Christianity is rooted in Jesus Christ and his teaching, one can also say that it was greatly promoted by the work and preaching of Paul, at least from a human point of view (from a divine perspective, it is all the work of the Holy Spirit, of course).
Despite his great influence on Christianity and on myriad of Christians, Paul was not some super human. He was greatly used by God for sure, but he was also every bit as human as each one of us. As a human being, he suffered physical and emotional stress, pressure, and afflictions like we all do.
In his letter to the Church of Corinth, Paul mentioned some troubles he experienced in the province of Asia. While he did not describe the troubles in detail, he did mention how he and his coworkers felt: “we were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.” (v. 8)
But he did not write to say how desperate he was. He wrote to tell the believers in Corinth that some good came out of the stressful situation. Below are some lessons that we can learn from Paul’s experience (it is best if you could read the whole passage (2 Corinthians 1:1-11) as a unit rather than breaking it into just quotations):
Trust that God is good. (v. 3)
Paul did not complain that he had bad experiences while serving God. Rather, he had deep faith that God was good and was “the Father of compassion” and “God of all comfort.” In this fallen world, difficulties and stress are inevitable, but let us not be deceived to think that God is the cause of evil. Instead, let us trust that God is good and will help and comfort us in moments of stress.
Learn to rely on God. (vv. 8-9)
Paul mentioned that he and his coworkers were “under great pressure, far beyond [their] ability to endure, despaired of life” (v. 8). The feeling was as if they “had received the sentence of death” (v. 9). That is, from human point of view, there seemed to be no way out, no solution, and no hope. Yet he said that “this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God” (v. 9). Inability to control a situation or an outcome is a great source of stress, but if we are in such situation, let us learn to rely on God completely (that does not mean we should/can ignore our responsibility, however).
Experience comfort from God. (v. 4)
Paul shared that the Father of compassion and God of all comfort “comforts us in all our troubles.” While we might not like the experience of troubles, it is good to recognize that through them we experience comfort from God. That should be a very special and valuable experience that we can have in our lives.
Know how to comfort others. (v. 4)
Paul said that the result of being comforted by God was that “we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (v. 1:4). Good things can result from our bad experience. By going through troubles, we can become a person who can empathize with others. By experiencing God’s comfort, we can comfort others in trouble with God’s comfort. Many people who are experiencing stress also feel lonely and isolated because they feel that nobody can understand them. By experiencing stress ourselves, we can become a person with genuine understanding, if indeed we learn from our experience.
Live a richer life. (v. 5)
From the experience of great pressure that is beyond his ability to endure, Paul testified, “just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (v. 5). Amazingly, we do not sense any complain, distrust, or negativism from Paul! Rather, his sharing sounds very touching, deep, and even beautiful. Let us remember then, that through the most difficult or stressful situation, our life can be made rich and abundant.
As we start a new year, I wish you the best and hope that your days be bright and happy, but if you ever run into some difficult or stressful situation, do not despair. Have faith in God! Trust that God is good; rely on Him; learn how to receive comfort from Him; take the stressful situation as an opportunity to learn how to comfort others in the future. And remember that this stressful experience will make you a deeper person and your life richer, even though you might not see it this way right now.
May our Father of compassion and the God of all comfort be with you today and throughout the year.
David Soemarko received his M.A.T.S. degree (Master of Arts in Theological Studies) from Moody Theological Seminary – Michigan. He had served as a teaching elder for nearly 15 years. He has also taught the Bible in different levels (from Sunday school classes to theological classes) for about 30 years. David is also a computer/electrical engineer (with a M.S. degree from University of Michigan). He enjoys a wide range of hobbies including computer applications, drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, music, piano, gardening, and science of cooking and baking.
David blogs at on bible and bible applications.