"For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead." (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
Though we do not know what trial Paul endured in Asia, the Corinthians knew, and what we do understand is that he was "utterly burdened beyond strength." The man was at his breaking point, unable to endure, feeling his last ounce of strength evaporate. Paul trudged through great pain in his years, but this was the last straw. He felt he could take it no longer. He said, "We despaired of life itself."
Perhaps you can relate to a season such as Paul's, one where life itself seems impossible, unendurable. Make no mistake, Paul was not an overly dramatic person. When he said, "We felt that we had received the sentence of death," you know something severe and despairing had unwrapped itself. The claws of death and misery had Paul in their evil clutches and, for his part, Paul saw no way of escape.
Then, his light bulb moment: "But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead." There it is, an explosion of grace and faith. Grace, because God broke through to his despondent mind. Faith, because he began to trust God afresh. Where his strength ended was where God's power began.
Paul felt the trial which caused him such despair was one which could teach him to rely not on himself, but on God, the one who raises the dead.
1. Don't Rely on Yourself
First, Paul learned not to rely on himself. This lesson is paramount for the servant of Christ, for the child of God. Too quickly we believe the battle is ours for the taking, but instead, we should say, "the battle belongs to the Lord." If everything in your life is manageable (and I'm sure that's only your perception), perhaps you haven't gone far enough into the obedience of Christ to experience the impossible situations for which only God's strength will do. He, of course, knew what it meant to trust God's power, for he was a force in the early Christian missionary effort, but he needed to see it anew. Self-reliance had to die, and Paul went to a new place of dependence during this trial.
2. Rely on God
Second, Paul learned to rely on God. He saw how self-reliance could not end without something new beginning. Reliance and trust in God had to grow. For each year that passes in these lives of ours, brand new opportunities to trust God will unfold. In those new moments, we must rely on God. He has a throne of grace where he dispenses mercy and grace to help us in our time of need, but we must come to him with confidence (Hebrews 4:14). We must run to our Father and call out to him for his power and might.
3. Remember God's Resurrection Power
Third, Paul remembered that God raises the dead. Here, the resurrection of Christ, which makes possible the ultimate resurrection and renewal of the dead, is in view. Paul took those truths and applied them to his current situation. If God is so powerful as to have the ability to raise the dead, then my situation, one which might need a little resurrection experience, is also within his grasp. God is not overwhelmed. God is able. Trust him and his resurrection power.
Who in your life requires resurrection? Have you allowed despair and hopelessness to overwhelm your heart? Don't. Believe and trust in the God who raises the dead.
What responsibility in your life needs a resurrection? Has deadness and dryness overtaken the vitality which once existed? Go to God, the one with resurrection power.
What burden in your life cannot be lifted without the resurrection power of God? Has God placed a people or project or church or ministry on your heart for which only his power will suffice? Run to him, the great resurrector, and trust in his ability.
Time and time again, we must learn, as Paul did, of God's resurrection power, that we must trust him and not ourselves. These trials and pains and pressures and burdens? They are "to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead."