Thrive. /thrīv/ v.
“To grow vigorously” Merriam Webster’s Dictionary says.
Every new year commences on January 1st like a brand-new beginning for all to behold. Dreams loom ahead. Goals lie in waiting. Resolutions and aspirations liven our spirits once again, as we ponder the potential of what’s yet to unfold.
We hope for this in a new year.
Every year I also join in the dreaming.
What could 2018 reveal? What story is yet to be written?
The whole world joins in the revelry of the New Year’s beginning as we consider what’s yet to come and welcome new opportunities to change…to grow… to thrive.
This year it’s going to be better… we say. This year I’m going to … we proclaim. And it’s okay. To dream and plan and resolve to do the things we know we can and want to. Life spins on the cycle of seasons & new years, awakened dreams, and expectations of what’s ahead.
But this year I find myself reluctant to dreaming.
Reality of life overshadows.
Struggle after struggle has painted the past several years.
And I don’t know if I can speak resolutions and dream lofty hopes like I did last year, and the year before and the year before. Last year I was hopeful too, and yet trial after trial came my way… difficulty after difficulty… test after test… and I don’t know if I can go through it all again.
Have you ever been there?
Have you ever experienced the pain of life stealing joy from your future?
Have you ever doubted that you can thrive?
Maybe you struggle to believe this year could be “the year” of something good. Maybe you’re worn & weary from life and hesitant to hope again. Maybe the trials you’ve experienced are so drastic that not even the restart of a new year can restore that.
You’re not alone.
Together, we’re going to look at the life of the apostle Paul who knew the agony life can bring, yet continued to hope in God anyway.
Paul learned how to thrive despite his circumstances.
And you can too.
As we look at the life of Paul, my goal is that we would learn how to thrive no matter our circumstances and believe that whatever this year brings, God is for us. And we can thrive because He is Lord. Our lives are held in the hands of the Almighty both this year, last year and forevermore.
In the Bible we read about the apostle Paul, a man enflamed with a passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ in radical conversion story. Once a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin and a murderer of Christians, Saul met the risen Savior on the road to Damascus and his life would never be the same. Thus, his named was changed to Paul. A new life given. A new beginning unfolding.
“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank…”
-Acts 9:1-9, 13:9 (emphasis mine)
Paul met Jesus.
Then he chose to believe in this Lord who met him on the road to Damascus and his whole life changed. Paul travelled relentlessly throughout asia minor (what is now Turkey) and regions to the east (what is now Greece and Italy) sharing the good news of Jesus whom he encountered.
This newfound purpose permeated his whole existence.
Yet this same man with a renewed purpose in life for preaching the gospel is the same man who speaks of great suffering. We read about this in his second letter to the Corinthians, years after his conversion to follow Christ.
“Five times I received 39 lashes from Jews.
Three times I was beaten with rods by the Romans.
Once I was stoned by my enemies.
Three times I was shipwrecked.
I have spent a night and a day
in the open sea.
On frequent journeys, I faced
dangers from rivers,
dangers from robbers,
dangers from my own people,
dangers from the Gentiles,
dangers in the city,
dangers in the open country,
dangers on the sea,
and dangers among false brothers;
labor and hardship,
many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst,
often without food, cold, and lacking clothing.
Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my care for all the churches.”
– 2 Corinthians 11:24-29
How can someone with such zeal and passionate drive also experience such grievous torment?
Though Paul’s whole life changed for the better as he started to follow Jesus and tell of His salvation, Paul became a target for endless trials, difficulties and sufferings. Those around him who didn’t believe in the gospel of Jesus wanted to kill him. He was imprisoned multiple times. Not to mention the spiritual attack hovering on him from the schemes of the devil who would have loved nothing more than to destroy Paul’s mission to share Christ with others.
We discover that thriving in life doesn’t always mean escaping hardship. Sometimes it makes us a target. And fulfilling God’s calling for our lives doesn’t mean He removes all obstacles in our path. Sometimes it means we face even more obstacles.
I want to encourage you that even in deep pain and suffering, God will provide what you need to persevere for His Name and purpose. God will provide what you need to thrive. He’s still working through you.
Your suffering does not indicate a loss of anointing.
Rather it proves it.
Despite all Paul went through, he was content (Philippians 4:11).
When we understand that painful experiences are used by God for His purpose and our growth, we can be content despite it all. We can thrive in every circumstance.
For Paul, this wasn’t the last of his misery.
We go on to read more from Paul in chapter 12 as he tells of a specific agony tormenting him that he calls a “thorn.”
“A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.”
– 2 Corinthians 12:7b-8
Paul never tells us what this thorn is.
But considering Paul cries out to the Lord repeatedly to remove it, when he didn’t do that before regarding his travel sufferings, we know that it this thorn is much more serious than all of the suffering he went through before. This time, Paul experiences deep agony. And anguish. Paul is being attacked by the devil. And I’d go so far as to speculate that it’s more-so a mental/emotional, temptation-type thorn than a physical thorn. Sometimes mental and emotional anguish is far more excruciating than any physical infirmity. And what the devil schemes against us can be torturous. For he knows where we are weak and capitalizes on it. However, God is greater than even the most well-devised scheme of the devil. God always wins.
“But He [God] 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
– 2 Corinthians 12:9
Paul had a thorn.
But grace was bigger.
Paul suffered anguish.
But God empowered him through it.
“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
– 2 Corinthians 12:10
Paul is resilient.
He withstands the attack.
He endures despite the thorn.
Paul finds a way to thrive, even with the thorn.
What’s your thorn?
That thing plaguing you?
Highlighting your weakness…
Tormenting your peace…
I know mine. Still, no matter how many times I ask God to take it away, He won’t take it away. Yet I am convinced that the same God who lavished grace upon grace to the apostle Paul is the same God here right now, waiting to lavish grace upon grace to you and to me.
We can thrive.
Like Paul, we learn how to follow Christ with the thorn.
We learn how to live a life of purpose even with the thorn.
When we surrender our weaknesses to God, He enables us to thrive in the sweet spot of His grace, strengthening us from the inside out, and He will get the glory for it.
Still, I know life here can be difficult. We’re far from Eden and eagerly awaiting the New Heaven & New Earth. There’s a resistance here and a spiritual warzone on earth that wants to destroy any chance of productivity here. And we can’t let it win. We can’t let it destroy our hope any longer.
Through the power of Christ, we must choose to hope against hope.
Believe in the wake of unbelief.
Persevere in the face of doubt.
Endure in the pain of tragedy.
For God is our almighty victor and He will fight for us!
“The Lord is a warrior, the Lord is His name.”
– Exodus 15:3
“Then I saw heaven standing open, and there before me was a white horse. And its rider is called Faithful and True. With righteousness He judges and wages war.”
I don’t know what hope has been stolen from you…
But it’s time to let it go and hope again.
I don’t know what torment has plagued you…
But it’s time to embrace God’s grace and surrender again.
I don’t know what fear has halted you…
But it’s time to face it and be brave again.
In Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, I found another definition for thrive. Is says this: “to progress toward or realize a goal despite or because of circumstances.”
You may not realize it, but you are moving forward. You are making progress. Year after year, month after month, trial after trial, pain after pain, you are gaining wisdom that cannot be gleaned otherwise. For God teaches us the most in our deepest struggles of life.
Be encouraged dear friends that your thorn…your weakness… those things trying to discourage you from the excitement of a new year…. that thing you think is keeping your from God’s plan for you… it will not overcome you!
Like Paul’s thorn became a conduit for God’s power to flow through him, your suffering welcomes God’s power too.
May we thrive in His grace.
For this is the place of power.
This is the place of strength.
For power is perfected in weakness.
If we want to thrive in the new year… truly thrive… may we embrace the difficulties inevitable and yet be hopeful that God is still at work, both gracing us with strength and renewing hopes and dreams despite. God is here.
I pray for you in this new year that you would find hope through what you’re currently facing and have already experienced. Longsuffering is never overlooked by the Lord. And He rewards those who seek Him. May this year be a year of closeness with God like never before as He leads you on a journey of purpose for His Name. May you thrive in the grace of the Lord.
“The Lord is the strength of His people; He is the saving refuge of His anointed. O save your people, and bless your heritage; be their shepherd, and carry them forever.”
Questions for Today:
- What are my expectations and hopes for the coming year?
- Can I still thrive in life despite my circumstances?
- How can my weaknesses becomes strength?
- What welcomes the power of God?
- What’s my next step in my relationship with God?