Message 9: Truth About Circumstances

Sept. 28, 2018 Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Session Transcript

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: We want to talk tonight about the truth about our circumstances. Now there’s no way to cover all the circumstances that we are facing. “Circumstances,” the dictionary says, “are events that change your life over which you have no control.”

Now sometimes . . . I hate to take issue with Webster’s Dictionary, but sometimes the circumstances in our lives are things over which we have control. We make choices, and then we have changes in our circumstances. But many times there are incidents, events, issues, relationships, things that change our lives over which we have no control.

We may not be able to control our circumstances, but, by God’s grace, we can control how we respond to our circumstances and whether we let God use our circumstances to change us and to make us more like Jesus.

This thing of circumstances that makes life difficult or makes it feel like they are spinning our life out of control, they really go back (as we have been taken many times this weekend) to the Garden of Eden.

In the beginning all was well. You read those first couple of chapters of Genesis, and it’s just full of blessings, goodness. God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good. No crashes. No brain injuries. It was very good.

God was taking care of His creatures. He planted a garden. He made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. Then God created a river that flowed out of Eden to water the garden. God made the circumstances beautiful, blessed, and good. Then God made Eve for Adam, and Adam delighted in the wife God had made for him. They were one flesh, intimate, and they were naked and not ashamed.

I mean, we cannot even imagine a world such as the one that Adam and Eve experienced in Genesis 1 and 2. But we ought to think about it because God is redeeming this broken world. One day He is going to recreate it and take us, not just back to Eden, but to the New Jerusalem, to that new garden where a river runs through it, and the Lamb of God is at the center of it, and all tears are wiped away. There is no more death or mourning or sorrow or weakness or sinfulness.

But in the meantime, we don't live in Genesis 1 and 2, and we don't live in Revelation, the last couple of chapters there. We live right here and now in what is sometimes the ugly in-between.

So in Genesis 1 and 2, we have blessing and goodness and beauty and abundant provision and needs met and intimacy—vertical with God, horizontal with others. There is no shame. There’s no guilt. There’s no fear. There’s no trauma. It’s blessing.

Then in Genesis chapter 3—you know this—because this is where we live. Enter sin. And now you just read in Genesis 3, 4, and on through those next chapters, you find now there is tension in the marriage relationship. Where once there had been intimacy and no shame, now there is shame and self-consciousness and blame, like throwing each other under the bus. Right? That’s all a consequence of the Fall.

There are broken relationships now. There is enmity. There is violence. “He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise His heel,” God said to the serpent (see Gen. 3:15). There are strained relationships. The first two sons born to Adam and Eve, there is a strain between them. There’s estrangement. Cain kills Abel.

The first parents, the first children, and all of a sudden they go from blessing and enjoyment and goodness and fullness to deprivation and hardship and animosity and violence. How fast those circumstances changed.

We have pain. “I will multiply your pain in childbearing,” God said to the woman. “In pain, you shall bring forth children” (see Gen. 3:16). And every biological mom said, “It’s true!” Amen! What He said would happen has happened.

We have competition in marriage. “Your desire shall be for or against your husband, and he shall rule over you” (see Gen. 3:16).

To the man God says, “The ground will be cursed in pain you shall eat of it, by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (see Gen. 3:17). It is hard, hard, hard now.

And there is death. “You are dust and to dust you shall return,” God says to Adam and Eve (see Gen. 3:19).

There is exile. “The Lord God sent him out of the garden. He drove out the man. He placed a flaming sword to guard the way to the tree of life” (see Gen. 3:24).

And here we are, in a broken world. A world that groans and travails in pain. There is corruption. There is brokenness. There is betrayal and disappointment and violence and hurt and oppression and drunk drivers and brain injuries.

Life doesn't work today the way God intended that it should. And that’s because the man and the woman, the human race, chose to go their own way rather than God's way.

And so you're facing circumstances. Or you’ve faced some recently. Or maybe your life just seems to be going really well, but I can tell you, before long, you will be facing circumstances, events that change your life over which you have no control.

There was a woman who wanted badly to be at this conference. She had signed up. She had registered. And then she wrote us recently and said that her husband was filing for divorce.
She said he's involved with another woman and has decided to abandon our marriage.
So I can't come because I'm afraid while I'm gone he will put me out on the street and change the locks.

There are women in this room who made it to the conference, but there are stressful, painful circumstances in your life, in your marriage, with children, in your health, in your finances in your workplace, in your church, there are hard, hard circumstances.

Now, God's grace is so rich, and He gives common grace, and He spreads . . . There are still blessings. We see glimpses of the goodness of God and the blessings. And not every day feels the way I just described. But as you map the course of your life, there are, there have been, and there will be things that are just hard to deal with.

And so, for some perspective on that, I want to take us tonight, before we hear from Dr. Mason, and I’m so looking forward to that, but I want to ask you to turn in your Bible to 2 Timothy chapter 4. You can turn in your Bible, or you can scroll on your phone, and if I can get a little more house lights so people who would like to read their Bible can follow along, if we can do that, thank you so much.

This is the last letter written by the apostle Paul. It’s about 67 AD. This is during Nero’s persecution of the church. Paul is in prison in Rome. By the way, he spent roughly, approximately 1/4 of his missionary career in prison. Not very glamorous. A lot of painful circumstances.

Let me read to you what Christian History Magazine says about Roman imprisonment. It says that,

It was preceded by being stripped naked and then flogged—a humiliating, painful, and bloody ordeal. The bleeding wounds went untreated as prisoners sat in painful leg or wrist chains. Mutilated blood stained clothing was not replaced even in the cold of winter. Most cells were dark. Unbearable cold, lack of water, cramped quarters, and sickening stench from few toilets made sleeping difficult and waking hours miserable. Because of the miserable conditions, many prisoners begged for a speedy death. Others simply committed suicide.

Pain. Hardship. Paul was likely in the Mamertine Prison, which was a massive network of dungeons under the city's main sewer. The Mamertine Prison was usually used for high-profile prisoners who were awaiting execution.

It was known for its cramped, miserable conditions. There was city sewage running through it. And condemned criminals were lowered into this underground pit through a hole. There was no way to escape. There was no hope of coming out alive.

Now, I read that just because sometimes they say. “Oh, yeah, Paul was in prison in Rome,” and we don't think about what he was going through. Paul was considered a criminal. He was treated like one. And he knew that he was not going to get out, that he was soon to die.

In fact, in chapter 4, verse 6, just before the passage we’re going to look at tonight, Paul says, “I'm already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come.” And, according to tradition, Paul was beheaded not long after writing 2 Timothy.

Now, here’s a letter that was written to Timothy, his son in the faith, to encourage Timothy in his calling and role as a pastor in Ephesus. And, to me, it’s just amazing, as I read through this book, and I consider the backdrop. I consider the context in which Paul found himself, and I realize that, throughout this book, there is not a word of complaint. Not a word of discouragement. Not a word of fear in this letter. To the contrary, the tone is encouraging and joyful and Christ-centered.

And I read this, and I think, How little it takes to throw me and to give me a really bad day—or to make me think I'm having a really bad day and to get me out of sorts and in a critical or negative or foul mood, to get me discouraged, to get me afraid, to get me feeling insecure.

Circumstances. So often, I let them control my life, rather than finding the beauty of Christ and trusting His control in my circumstances, which then gives me the grace to, not only be encouraged in my own soul, but to be a means of grace and encouragement to others—as Paul was, not only to Timothy, but as he is to us tonight. He wrote that letter, and in those circumstances, so that we can be encouraged.

I wonder, 2,000 years from now, should the Lord tarry, who may be writing a letter or an email or a text thread that we wrote or an Instagram feed that we wrote in our adverse circumstances, and who might find hope or encouragement or grace?

Forget about 2,000 years from now. How about two days from now? Or two months from now?
The way we’re reacting in our circumstances is either pointing others to Christ or it is pointing others to ourselves and our discouraging circumstances.

Now, the closing paragraphs of this letter are so personal and warm and human. And you think of the apostle Paul who wrote that amazing Romans chapter 8 we heard recited so beautifully earlier tonight, you think of Paul the great theological and Paul the great church planner. But in these last paragraphs of 2 Timothy 4, we see a very human Paul. A Paul who is in debilitating circumstances. He gives us a glimpse into some of the circumstances he was facing and how he responded to them.

So I want to read in 2 Timothy 4, beginning in verse 9. He says, “Do your best to come to me soon.” Now, we’re going to read through the whole passage, but let me just skip from verse 9 for a moment down to verse 21 where Paul says, “Do your best to come before winter.” So he begins and ends the letter by saying to Timothy, “Hurry up! I need you! Come to Rome!”

Paul knew that he didn't have long to live, and he missed his dear friend and disciple. It was great to be able to have letters between each other, but for Paul, that wasn't enough. He wanted to see Timothy. He wanted to be with him. And with winter coming, he knew it would soon be impossible for Timothy to sail to Rome. So he said, “Do your best to come before winter.”

Then verse 10,

For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia. Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. And when you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm. The Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself for he strongly opposed our message.

At my first defense, no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom, to him be the glory forever and ever, amen.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus. Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all (2 Tim. 4:10–22).The Apostle Paul wrote masterpieces from the misery of a Roman prison.  If he could do that, what could God do through you in the middle of your tough circumstances?  

I see in this passage three categories of need, of types of circumstances the apostle was facing.

First, there were personal and practical needs.

“When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments” (v. 13).

Paul may have had to leave Troas quickly. He may have had to leave everything behind, it appears. Winter was coming, and that cloak would double as a blanket in the cold winter in Rome.

And he wanted his books, which would be papyrus scrolls, probably the Old Testament scriptures, and the parchments—these would be animal skins. They were, perhaps, material for writing. The apostle Paul didn’t want to wile away his time in this prison. He knew time was short, and he wanted to be able to read, to study, to write. “And don't forget the cloak. I want to stay warm.”

So he had personal and practical needs. And then he had relational needs.

For various reasons, most of the people that Paul had looked to for help and comfort were no longer there. They were gone. There were many different reasons. “Demas,” verse 10, “in love with the present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.”

Now, in the book of Philemon, Paul calls Demas a fellow worker. Demas had once been a trusted friend and partner in ministry. But Demas’ heart had been drawn to this present world, literally, the now age. Perhaps Demas was embarrassed. He didn't want to be identified with Paul in this shameful criminal condition. For whatever reason, he had defected. He had turned away from Paul as his heart and affections had been turned away to this now age.

But there were others that Paul had counted on. Some he had to send elsewhere because they were needed for the ministry. “Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus.”

Paul had to go through hard things alone. Verse 16, “At my first defense”—this would be when he stood this mock trial in Rome—“no one came to stand by me.”

You see these famous publicized trials, and often you’ll see the mate or a parent or the close friends of the accused standing by for encouragement, for support, even with guilty criminals. But Paul says, “No one stood by me. All deserted me.”

Imagine having no one to stand by you. No one to encourage you. No one to be there to pray for you, to touch you, to say, “God is going to get us through this.” No one.

Paul was a godly man. You think? But he was a man. He was human. God made us for relationship. He was lonely. He was longing for friendship, for companionship. So he had personal and practical needs. He had relational needs. And then there was opposition to his ministry.

Verse 14, “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm.” Verse 15, “He strongly opposed our message.”

There are always people, no matter what God is doing, no matter how great the work of God is, there are always people that are opposed to it. They withstand it. They buck against it. They resist you. You’re pouring out your life to serve the Lord or to serve your family or to serve others, and then there are those with the critical spirit those who try to undermine you, those who try to sabotage you. And Paul experienced that opposition.

Now, can I just make a note here? Let me just remind us that you can be really, really godly and still have crummy circumstances. Sometimes our circumstances are just the natural by-product of crummy choices we’ve made. But sometimes you’ve been walking with the Lord, you’ve been waiting on Him, you’ve been trusting Him, you’ve been trying to serve Him, you’ve been trying to be faithful to Him, and yet you still have these really miserable circumstances.

Paul had been a faithful servant of the Lord. Now he’s at the end of his life and ministry, and you’d think maybe he’d have a chance here on this earth to get some of the reward of his ministry. But he understood the reward is not here and now. The reward is there and then. In the meantime, he was going to have God’s view of his circumstances and his life. He was a servant of the Lord. Whatever it was that God had for him, he was going to receive.

Now, I want to go back briefly through this passage and make . . . (I don't know if I should tell you how many observations. I’m going to tell you how many, but just breathe, because I’m going to spend a short time on these.) I want to make ten quick observations about these verses, just to get you so you can dig further into it.

Okay, if I didn't tell you how many it was, I’d be on number three, and you’d think, When is she going to be done? So I’m just telling you, it’s ten, and then you can go back and focus on these more.

These are how Paul responded to pressure, how he survived. But it’s how he did better than survive, how he thrived, and we can do the same in adverse circumstances.

Number one, it just strikes me, as I look at this overall passage, how simple Paul's needs were. How simple. He didn't have to have a lot to be okay. Just a coat and some books. You see, he had learned in whatever state he was to be content.

Isn't it true that our wants often become . . . We they say they're our needs, and then they become our demands.

Paul said, “Just bring me coat. Just bring my coat and some books so I can keep studying the Scripture, so I can keep writing letters.” Simple needs. Contentment.

Number two, he was grateful for the people God put in his life. (These are observations I have been making as I have been meditating on this passage over the last days.) He was grateful for the people God put in his life, and he stayed as connected to them as he could. Even when it was hard, he tried to stay connected.

Look at verse 19. He says, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus, Erastus, Trophimus, Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, Claudia, all the brothers.” They weren’t with him, but he knew they were part of his eternal family, and he was grateful for these people. Even though they're not right there with him, he stayed as connected as he possibly could to them under the circumstances.

When you focus on what you don't have, on those who’ve wronged you, on those who’ve left you, you become bitter. And how destructive is that? It steals joy.

But in the apostle Paul, we don't see this bitterness. We don’t see his joy being stolen. We see him being grateful for the people that God has put in his life.

And sometimes, the people that God puts in our lives are not the ones we would think would be that great of a blessing. Look at verse 11. (I'm still on number two here.) Paul says, “Get Mark and bring him with you for he is very useful to me for ministry.”

Now, you remember in the book of Acts that Mark had blown it twenty years earlier in Paul's early ministry. Mark had no doubt changed in those years, but I think it’s likely that Paul had also become more generous-hearted, more grace-filled. And so even Mark . . . You’d think he could have said, “I don't need Mark. He blew it.” He said, “Bring Mark with you. He is very useful to me for ministry.” He had grown up and was welcomed. And he was grateful for the people God put in his life.

Number three, he refused to take vengeance on his offenders.

“Alexander did me great harm. The Lord will repay him according to his deeds. He strongly opposed our message” (v. 14).

He left his offenders in God's hands. This coppersmith did great harm, not only to Paul personally, but also to the gospel, to the message, to the ministry. But Paul said, “It’s not mine to deal with. The Lord will repay him according to his deeds.”

And as we think about what we were talking about earlier today, with sins that had been committed against us, how important it is, as we deal with those, that we leave vengeance to God. We leave judgment to God, who is merciful and gracious and wants even those offenders to repent. But if they will not, God will repay them. We don't have to do that.

And then number four, not only did he leave the vengeance in God's hands, but he also extended forgiveness.

Verse 16, “At my first defense, no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them.”

You see, that's the heart of forgiveness. It’s giving up the right to exact payment. That's what Jen and Linda have done with the young man who was driving the car the night their family's lives were drastically altered.

That’s what Steven did as he was being stoned.

That’s what Jesus did as He was dying on the cross. “Father, forgive them.”

When Paul was abandoned, when he was mistreated, he refused to become a debt collector. He refused to hold this sin against them. “May it not be charged against them. I’m not going to be a debt collector. I’m not going to hold this against him, against this man, these men who’ve neglected me, who’ve deserted and abandoned me.”

Listen, we’ve talked today about people who’ve wronged us. And I sense, in the singing tonight, in the stories I’ve been hearing, the people I’ve been talking with, that God has been in a beautiful process of setting captives free. It’s been a sweet thing. And I want to tell you, if you keep walking in freedom, then you’re going to need to keep walking in forgiveness, leaving these matters in God's hands.

Now, there may be steps that need to be taken, for safety reasons, for getting the law involved.
I'm not saying just sit there and take it and do nothing. But I'm saying, in your heart, you have to release the right to exact vengeance or payment. This is what Paul did. “May it not be charged against them.”

Number five, when all others failed him, Paul knew that God was still faithful.
He says in verse 16, “No one came to stand by me. All deserted me, but,” verse 17, “the Lord stood by me and strengthened me.”

“When all else fails, when all else gives way, He then alone is all my hope and stay. God stood by me. When no one else would stand by me, God stood by me, and He strengthened me for the trial.”

The Lord never ever leaves or forsakes His own. I want you to remember that, some of you who are going back into desperately difficult situations and circumstances. The Lord never ever leaves or forsakes His own. He will stand by you, and He will strengthen you.

Number 6, Paul shared God's priorities. God's mission was his mission. What mattered to God was what mattered to Paul.

Look at verse 17. Paul says, “The Lord stood by me and strengthened me so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.”

Think about Paul: End of his life. He knows he’s going to be executed. Don't you think he’d like to be having a little bit of a pity party? “Let’s focus on me. This is about me. How can I get my story out? How can I get my story told? How can I get people to help vindicate me?”

No. Paul says, “All that matters is that through me, the message (the message, what’s the message? It’s the gospel.), the gospel of Christ might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.”

Most of us in this room are Gentiles, and we’re hearing this message this weekend because Paul stayed in that prison. He had no choice. But instead of having a pity party, he wrote a letter and told how the Lord stayed by him and strengthened him. He told how his goal was that the message might go out, that God's mission for his life might be fulfilled.

Listen, God's purposes and His plan for your life can never be thwarted. He has a plan for your life regardless of what difficult circumstances you may find yourself in. And God will do whatever it takes to fulfill His redemptive purposes in this world, even if that involves, for a season, suffering on the part of the people of God.

Our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world realize this. And they gladly suffer for Christ's sake so that through them, the message might be fully proclaimed, and others might come to faith.

As you struggle in your circumstances, is your agenda God's agenda? Is your mission to get just solely, primarily, out of there or to get vindication or to get repayment made? Or is your mission God's mission that He might use you as an instrument of grace and the gospel in other's lives.

Jen said when she got thyroid cancer, “Now I can tell more people. God’s going to expand my ministry.”

I mean, if that’s what a brain injury does to you, then we need all brain injuries, because most of us . . . I think she’s the one whose brain is working the best, really, because our brains are damaged when we say, “This is about me.” That’s when we let self-pity take over our lives.

Jen said, “God’s going to expand my mission, my ministry through these circumstances.” He wants to expand your ministry through your circumstances.

Number seven, ultimately, no enemy, no matter how powerful, can prevail against us.

Paul realized this. Verse 17, he said, “I was rescued from the lion's mouth.”

Listen, Paul was no match for lions. We don’t know exactly what the lion was. It may have been Nero. It may have been the Roman government. It was whatever these powerful circumstances were. You feel so helpless against a lion. Paul said, “I was rescued.”

Ultimately, no enemy, no matter how powerful, can prevail against the people of God.

Paul was in mortal danger. Satan attempts to destroy the children of God. “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” But Paul says, “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.”

And in God's way, and in God's time, God will rescue you from every mortal danger.

And that relates to number 8, and that is that our ultimate deliverance is guaranteed. Our ultimate deliverance is guaranteed. It is not dependent on what anyone else does but only on what God does.

Verse 18, “The Lord will rescue me. The Lord will rescue me. I was rescued from the lion's mouth. Now the Lord will rescue me, ultimately, from every evil deed and bring me safely into His eternal kingdom.”

The best is yet to come. That's a promise. God will rescue His children. It’s guaranteed. And it doesn't depend on what anyone else does.

Listen, Nero thought he was in charge of the world, and in some temporal sense, he was. But in the eternal sense, Nero was a pawn in the hand of God. In God's time, and in God's way, He will say, “Checkmate. It’s all over.” God wins. The King wins, and He will rescue us from every evil deed and bring us safely into His heavenly kingdom.

Cling to those promises. They're so precious. But that didn't mean Paul would be spared a painful imprisonment or a gruesome death. And it doesn't mean we’ll be spared from painful or difficult circumstances.

But rather than seeing his death as a victory for Nero, he saw it as a victory for Jesus. He said, “He will rescue me.” How is he going to be rescued? By being beheaded. That doesn't seem like a rescue, does it? But he realized that, “When Nero thinks he's snuffing out my life, snuffing out the people of God, actually, that’s a victory for Jesus. That is my rescue and my transition into that great eternal, heavenly kingdom.” Praise God for this ultimate promise.

Number 9, ultimately, Paul realized all that matters is that God is glorified. That's all that matters.

“It’s not that I be believed. It’s not that someone hears my story. It’s not someone comes to my rescue, comes to my aid, that I get out of my circumstances. Ultimately,” Paul says in verse 18, “to Him be the glory forever and ever.”

Bottom line, nothing else matters, really matters as long as He is glorified and His kingdom is advanced and the fame of His name goes out into the world.

And then number 10, to the end, in the worst of circumstances, Paul was Christ-centered and others centered.

And isn't that the opposite? For me, when I get in painful or difficult . . . Circumstances much less than what Paul was involved in, much less than what some of you are experiencing . . . You know, it’s just that gnats can destroy my day, and I become self-centered.

But here we see Paul in excruciating torment and persecution being Jesus-centered and others centered.

Look at verse 22. “The Lord be with your spirit.” The “your” there is singular. He’s talking to Timothy. “The Lord be with your spirit.” He’s ministering grace to his son in the faith.

You say, “You’d think he’d want to say, ‘Can you come minister grace to my spirit?’” But he says, “No, the Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.” That’s plural you—you all. Who is you all? That’s everybody reading this letter. That’s us. “Grace be with you all.”

Your prison is an opportunity to encourage others with the presence of Christ, “the Lord be with your spirit,” and to be a channel of grace to others.

When Paul needed grace the most, he was a channel of grace and encouragement to others.
When you most need grace, God wants to use you as a channel of grace and encouragement to others.

We have the presence of Christ and the grace of Christ. What more could we need? Is that not enough? It was enough for Paul.

Robert and I have just finished writing a book that will be released sometime next year, Lord willing. It’s our first book together. It’s called, You Can Trust God to Write Your Story. For writing this book, we interviewed and had conversations with a lot of dear friends who are in some really crummy circumstances—some challenging, painful, difficult circumstances:

  • People who are experiencing a painful marriage, an unwanted divorce, or loneliness in their marriage.
  • People experiencing unfulfilled longing to be married.
  • Deep loneliness.
  • Adult children making sinful choices.
  • Chronic health issues.
  • The death of a child, the death of a mate.
  • Dealing with the husband's pornography addiction.

Then we had the sweet, bittersweet privilege and honor of interviewing John and Tammy Wreford, longtime friends and fellow servants in our ministry, three weeks to the day before John was taken home to be with Jesus after dealing with cancer for many months. We sat in the living room of that couple.

We had phone conversations with others. We had email exchanges. Again and again and again, we heard people say, “The presence and the grace of Jesus is enough. It’s more than enough.”

We heard joy. We heard contentment. We heard ministry mindedness. We heard people who were more concerned about us than they were about themselves. In fact, it was so stark, so striking that many times, after we would finish those conversations, we would just turn to each other and say, “You know, we want what those people have, but we don't want to go through what they have been through to get what they have—the trust in Christ, the joy, the sweetness and fullness and surrender to the providence of God.”

But you know how they got to that place of trust and the grace and the presence of Christ? They got there because they trusted God to write their story, to take them through the circumstances, car wrecks, death, loss, prodigal children, health issues. They trusted God to write their story.

So Paul says, “The Lord is with you. His grace is with you.”

Paul knew the Lord was with him, and the grace of Christ was with him, and that’s how he was able to write a letter like this and to be a means of ministry and grace to our lives tonight.

Would you bow with me for prayer? I just want to give you a moment to reflect on what God’s been saying to you. Maybe there’s one of those points tonight you say, “That’s the one I needed to hear.”

What’s the hardest circumstance you are facing right now? Would you just name it to the Lord in your heart there? You know what it is. You’ve been thinking about it while I've been talking. And would you just say, “Lord, I trust You to write my story. Thank You that if all others fail me that You will stand by me, and You will strengthen me, and You will give me grace.”

Is there someone you need to forgive? You’ve been holding this against that person. You’ve been wanting for them to be repaid. Could you just lift that person or that circumstance up to the Lord and say, “Lord, I am releasing it to You? I’m giving that person, I'm giving that circumstance to You. I'm not going to be defined by this any longer. I want to be defined by Your grace, by Your peace, by Your presence.”

Lord, I pray that You would continue, in each of our hearts, even through the rest of this evening, and then, as we leave this conference and go back into those real-life circumstances. We pray that we would experience the presence of Christ and the peace of Christ and the grace of God in every moment, in every circumstance so that we can say, “God is good. He can be trusted, and all that matters is that to Him be glory.”

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.