16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
I’m not a great Scripture-memorizer. But this passage is one that I can’t shake out of my mind. I’m thankful that an old pastor friend preached this passage for an entire summer – making us recite it from memory before he’d begin. It’s lodged in my brain and can’t get out. I’m thankful because it’s helped my soul come through many hard times.
Paul was going through tough times and didn’t mind letting the Corinthians know. A good example of vulnerability for us all! But as discouraged as he may have been, as weary as he may have been, he didn’t forget the importance of those hard times and what they were doing positively for him. What does he teach the Corinthians (and us)? What are we to do in difficult seasons?
1. Don’t lose heart. Don’t give in to discouragement and let it rule you. Don’t lose hope. Don’t be defeated. These are great words of encouragement but they are no mere pep talk. Pep talks – whether they are given a Christianese glaze or not – are rarely really helpful. His encouragement is powerful because of what follows…
2. Know that outward suffering can do good work for your inner life. Even though the outward self – the circumstances, trials, tests of character – seems to be put through the meat grinder, it is not the only thing going on. When people are asked what was the most growing time of their lives, they almost never tell you about a time when everything was rosy. No, they’ll tell you about a hard time where they were truly changed. We have to know that outward difficulties are when our souls are given the greatest opportunities for growth. That’s a promise. What isn’t promised is that it is easy. We have to look to what God is doing in us.
3. Look past the present and into the future. Whatever is hurting us now, whatever keeps us from sleeping, whatever we’re going through… Will not last forever! That’s a fact no matter how small or great the trial. But Paul isn’t just giving us some pat answer that anyone could give – he’s saying look beyond the present into a specifically Christian future hope. A far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. In eternity, our lives will shine. What we go through now, and how we go through with the Lord, will make for a greater glory to come. We have to look forward into the future.
4. Don’t be distracted by what is in front of you – look to what is unseen. Circumstances might seem like the most real thing to us but they are not. Every season, trial, hardship, will pass away. But what won’t? What is true about your life and hope that will never pass away? Look to that with the eyes of your heart and everything comes into perspective. What do we do in difficult times? We have to look at what we can’t see with our eyes, at the invisible spiritual realities which will never pass away.