Of the thirteen letters that came from the pen of the theologian of the New Testament, Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, none is more personal and intimate than the letter in our Bibles known as 2 Corinthians.
In this letter, Paul opens his heart with a vulnerability that reveals all the stress marks of living on the edge. He admits, “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). His was not the attitude of “Poor me!” Or “Look how much I have suffered!”
He writes, “Let no one take me for a fool,” yet he points out that life was not always easy. “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one,” he says, continuing, “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in dangers from rivers, in dangers from bandits, in dangers from my own countrymen,” and so forth (2 Corinthians 11:16, 24-26).
How much does it take to stop a person dead in his tracks? Whatever the answer, it took more than that to cause Paul to quit. But the question is, “Did this man have a corner on God’s strength?” And if he did, are there some insights that can help us when we feel driven into the corner by the circumstances of life?
In this same letter, Paul uses a phrase twice, “we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1,16). The phrase, to lose heart, is an interesting one. Used only one other time in the New Testament, it defines what discouragement is: losing heart. The same word was used in an old first-century manuscript when a woman is in labor in childbirth and despairs of ever bringing forth a child.
Webster defines discouragement as that which causes one to weaken, to give up, to despair. What causes people to lose heart today? Three things which can be described as (1) Physical causes, (2) Emotional causes, and (3) Spiritual causes. Briefly let’s consider them.
First, whenever a person struggles with his health, with physical weariness, with sickness which persists, that individual may lose heart, wondering, “Will I ever get well?” Then when we are disappointed, a marriage begins to fail, your finances are in shambles, you think you face a hopeless situation, you begin to lose heart, and then finally, there are times when Satan opposes the child of God who strives to do right, and you begin to wonder if it is worth the effort and begin to lose heart.
O.K., we can identify with the problem. What’s the solution? In this same passage where Paul says he does not lose heart, he gives it to us. In two words, the answer is renewal and perspective. Here is how he put it: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Renewal, the great secret which God taught us through the seasons, means time in the Word, time alone with God, time to regain strength and perspective, keeping the main things of life the main thing. This is the only solution, the only way you can say with Paul, “Therefore we do not lose heart.”
Resource reading: 2 Corinthians 4:1-6