Seldom does a writer really open his heart and reveal his soul, yet there are times when individuals pull up the window shades and let you see within, where their stark naked thoughts reveal struggles and conflicts that are not readily apparent. The closest thing to an autobiographical picture of himself is what Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians. Some have called it the “heart of Paul.” Anyone who has ever been involved in any aspect of Christian work—whether it is as a Sunday School teacher, a janitor, or a full-time worker—can relate to what Paul wrote.
I’m thinking in particular of the fourth chapter of that letter where Paul describes the dark side of what he was doing. Here’s how he put it: “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair [another translation puts it, ‘confused but not confounded’]; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8,9). Was Paul having second thoughts about the way he was earning his living? Would it have been easier to go back to his former occupation as a rabbi, or even as a tentmaker?
Not for a moment. Twice he says, “Therefore … we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1,16). The word that Paul used is found three times in the New Testament. It’s also found in his letter to the Ephesians, where it is translated “to be discouraged” (Ephesians 3:13). Secular writers used this word of a woman who was in childbirth, who despaired of ever seeing the child born alive.
So 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 4:18
There is one thing for sure. Paul’s confidence was something that most of us don’t share today. Scores of people are pushed to the limit of their endurance. “Discouragement,” says Webster’s dictionary, “is that which causes one to lose heart.” And it is the condition of a vast army of over-extended, nearly- burned-out people today.
Had Paul learned something that we need to learn today, something noticeably missing in our lives? I’m convinced he had, but it is there for us to learn as well. His secret was two-fold: Renewal is the first part, and staying focused is the second. Explaining why he could write “Therefore we do not lose heart” he said, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).
Underline that phrase “day by day.” He didn’t say that renewal came weekly, as he commuted from the world of business or commerce to the quiet of the sanctuary where he got a spiritual shot in the arm that carried him through another tough week. He learned that the only way to survive the battles of life is a fresh encounter with God’s mercy and help each day.
The second part of his secret was staying focused on what really counted. Here’s how he put it: “So 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 4:18).
A friend of mine often exclaims, “It’s all gonna burn, so don’t worry about it!” A hundred years, or ten years, or possibly even ten days from now, much of what concerns you won’t really matter, but some things will continue to be of paramount importance tomorrow, next year, and for eternity.
Sifting the trivial from the important in life is part of the answer that enables you not to lose heart. Paul referred to his troubles as “light and momentary,” which can’t be compared with the eternal glory that outweighs them.
The love of a wife, the camaraderie of a friend, the self-esteem of your integrity, and your faith in God are all commodities that are unseen, but these make the fabric of what counts for eternity. Make a note of what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4, and check it out for yourself.
Resource reading: 2 Corinthians 4:1-18