Paul was writing to some friends in a church he knew. He was letting them know about some of his own pain and a moment when “we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.”
I’m not glad for Paul’s pain. But I am grateful for his honesty in describing the feelings. Because often I am in conversations with people in their most difficult moments and they apologize for their tears or their lack of strength or their bluntness. In those moments, they are feeling crushed by the accumulation of catastrophe. A diagnosis has just been given. The two RNs just confirmed that the heart stopped.
(I’d keep listing, but you can fill in your own experiences.)
What is remarkable in Paul’s account is that he does not offer details. He does not tell us what happened or what illness he was fighting. Because of his language, we don’t know whether he was facing a literal death sentence issued in a court of law, or a metaphorical death sentence issued by a doctor. All we know is that he sensed that he was about to die.
And he couldn’t find the strength to survive.
What happens next is God. God gives him strength. And, in Paul’s words, “He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.”
So why is he telling these friends about this? Because he attributes to their prayer God’s actions.
I don’t understand the math of this, how much prayer of what kind leads to what deliverance. I’m sure that it isn’t math. Instead, Paul is making it clear that pain isn’t always because of wrongdoing, and relief sometimes comes from requests being made to God.
Two truths that are worth noting to be more prepared when we despair of life itself.