“Hi. You’re the chaplain aren’t you?” I honestly didn’t recognize the person who turned to me to say those words. Familiar, yes – but a name and where we had met wasn’t coming to me.
After some conversation and apologies on my part for not being good at recognizing people out of context, memories started to come back along with recalling the trials this person had faced – surgeries, months of treatments, seeming success followed by months of setback. The struggles had taken a toll – mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. There were times when the outcome wasn’t clear – even whether that illness would take the person’s life.
Somewhere in the midst of our time together, conversation about the Apostle Paul had come up. We had talked about Paul’s struggles and prayed for the kind of divine help that allowed Paul to make it through. Paul was an amazing individual and an indomitable spirit to boot. My Study Bible has maps of where he traveled on his three missionary journeys. Look at a map like that for yourself and consider the scale of miles / kilometers. Fit-Bit fans would have no trouble making their “step total” if they had followed the Apostle Paul around. Paul called it being “constantly on the move” (2 Cor. 11:26). Hardships - he was no stranger to those. In 2 Corinthians 11, we get a sampling of other trials he faced in summary form – imprisonment, flogging to within inches of his life at least five times, beatings with rods, shipwrecked, going without food and warm clothing – not to mention the pressure of being concerned for the churches.
The Apostle Paul was an amazing man to have endured all of the things he did in order to share the Gospel message. His accomplishments were incredible, but he was also honest about his struggles. When Paul faced an affliction that he called “a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me,” (2 Cor. 12:7-10), he pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away.
The Lord chose not to take away the Apostle Paul’s “thorn.” However, our Lord did give him a priceless gift – a treasure – exactly what Paul needed to make it through in spite of it all. Do you remember how Paul put it? “But [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I [Paul], will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9, NIV). Christ’s grace is what allowed Paul to press on.
“For when I am weak then, I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10, NIV) That is how the person I met that day described life since our first meetings. Christ’s grace is what allowed the person who stopped me that day to keep pressing on. God’s power had brought restoration in spite of it all. Indeed, Christ is our strength. Thanks be to God!
(Note: The above story depicts the kind of interaction that a chaplain may have with an individual. It is not based on an interaction with a specific individual.)