In my recent trip to Nigeria, I looked around and saw obscene poverty brought upon by Government greed, but in the eyes of the people I saw hope.  The people of Nigeria were not willing to just sit back and die.. they worked hard.  Everywhere we drove, venders filled the streets. They literally risked their life going car to car hoping to sell a loaf of bread or bottle of water. The indomitable spirit of the Nigerian people is a great reminder that with the right attitude and determination anyone can turn defeat into success.

Turning Judgment into Success

Have you ever been around a Christian that made you feel defeated or inferior because you lacked a certain “experience”?  I have.

I remember during my first week in Seminary a woman came up to me and asked, “why do you wear glasses?  Don’t you have faith that God can heal you?”  At another time in my life, that kind of statement would have broken me.  This women had no idea of how much I prayed for healing when I was a little kid.  I even remember calling the 700 club when I was 13 to ask for prayer.  I cried when God did not heal me and wondered why I did not deserve the healing like the other people on TV.  As I grew older, and more mature, in my faith I came to peace with God’s decision not to heal my eyes, but there are many people who would prefer to use these circumstances to speak judgement against me.

That is what the false Apostles in Corinth were doing to Paul. They were using his own physical ailments and trials to “prove” that he was an inferior follower of Jesus.  Paul had many wondrous experiences with God, but he never used them to belittle the faith of others and he never boasted.  Instead, Paul chose only to take pride in his actions of service and love toward others.

2 Cor 12:5 …on my own behalf I will not boast, except about my weaknesses.  For even if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I would be telling the truth, but I refrain from this so that no one may regard me beyond what he sees in me or what he hears from me…

Turning Trial into Success

Have you ever felt defeated because of hardships in your life?  We live in a culture that equates the “pain-free” life with success.  We are told daily that riches will keep you from suffering.  Pharmaceuticals will soothe all your pain or even the mildest discomfort.  In truth, these things only turn suffering into denial. Sometimes we must travel through suffering before we can achieve greatness.  Sometimes we must experience trials before we can truly be healed.

Jackie Chan is one of my favorite filmmakers and martial artists, but few people know how he came to fame.  At the age of seven, Chan was sold into forced service to a Chinese entertainment company.  He was forced to work 19 hour days and suffered many beatings with a cane.  After ten years of virtual slavery, Chan was able to turn his skills of acting, acrobatics, mime, and martial arts into an amazing career. Jackie Chan turned himself from a abused-child into one of the most successful Chinese actors/directors/stuntmen of all time.  Without suffering, Chan would never have achieved so much.

It is interesting to see how the Apostle Paul dealt with his own physical suffering. Others used his trials to try and show how Paul was weak, but Paul turned that argument around.

When vexed by a physical illness, Paul persisted in prayer, one, two, three times… but the “thorn” remained.

2 Cor 12:7b Therefore, so that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me – so that I would not become arrogant. 8 I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
The thorn was sent because God did not want Paul to be prideful? Why didn’t God just take away his pride?

Paul’s own experience reminds me of Jesus’ life.  Jesus persisted in prayer, one, two, three times… but the cup was not taken away.

2 Cor 13:3 since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak toward you but is powerful among you. 4 For indeed he was crucified by reason of weakness, but he lives because of God’s power. For we also are weak in him, but we will live together with him, because of God’s power toward you.

Sometimes, trials or attacks that people use to defeat us, are the very thing God turns into a means of success.

Romans 8:28 when he declares that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

Success for Jesus was not not the removal of his suffering, but the acceptance of his passion on the cross.   Success was Paul’s overcoming Satan’s temptations, overcoming his own pride, and the glorification of Jesus among the churches.

Turning defeat into success means…

  • Pain turns to Joy
  • Hardship turns to Kindness
  • Weakness turns to Encouragement

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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