by Tom Rainwater
Have you ever felt frustrated — I mean really frustrated? Have you ever let a difficult or undesirable circumstance ruin your mood and sour your attitude toward the day? I imagine everyone of us has felt some degree of frustration this past week over something. I wouldn’t be telling you anything new if I said that frustration is a part of life. You already know that, and you probably already know the answer to life’s anxieties is Jesus Christ. But before we get to that point at the conclusion of the article, I want to illustrate frustration for you from the life of the Apostle Paul.
When we generally think of Paul, we do not picture a frustrated man. We envision someone with super-human faith, totally undaunted and unaffected by the hardships of life. We see him as someone who walked ten feet off the ground, never getting discouraged nor feeling down. Well, if that is our view of him, then we do not know the real “Saul of Tarsus”. We know he was indeed strong in the faith, and the reason he was strong was that he knew how to deal with frustration. His life was full of fear and trembling (1 Cor.2:3). His preaching brought him frequent beatings, cursings and imprisonments (2Cor.11:23-28). He remained strong in spite of those things — things probably more serious than what typically frustrates us today.
Paul’s frustration as a new Christian
After Paul (Saul) first became a Christian, what happened? The unbelieving Jews of Damascus, angered that he was now preaching Christ, persuaded the Gentile authorities to search for him so they could kill him. Watch was posted throughout the city and especially at the gates. They were determined that he would not leave town alive. He escaped by being let down the city wall in a huge basket at night. (Acts 9:23-25; 2 Cor.11:32-33).
After running for his life, Paul probably was excited about going to meet the brethren in Jerusalem and finding encouragement among them. What he found there were people who didn’t want him around because they feared him, knowing his past reputation as a persecutor of the saints (Acts 9:26-28). Had it not been for Barnabas’ insistence in bringing Paul before the apostles to prove to them his conversion was genuine, Paul might never have been accepted among the brethren. Do you think he felt any frustration then?
Rejection doesn’t feel very good, does it? Have you ever been made to feel unwelcome, being put in a position of having to prove yourself? Someone, at the first, saw Paul and ran away or slammed the door on him. It’s all because of his own past reputation – his own doing. Paul felt frustrated not just because the brethren were slow in recognizing his conversion, but because his own former sin, though forgiven, brought less than comfortable consequences. Is your frustration due to the sin of your past life and the lingering consequence of it?
I personally know people who committed sin, were forgiven of it in Christ, but still had to deal with the physical consequences of their sin afterwards. Indeed, the important thing to do is find forgiveness in Christ to cleanse and save the soul. But afterwards, for them, came the test of dealing with either an unwanted pregnancy, to do is find forgiveness in Christ to cleanse and save the soul. But afterwards, for them, came the test of dealing with either an unwanted pregnancy, a drug addiction, or a jail sentence. In the back of Paul’s mind, he never forgot that he murdered many Christians out of misguided zeal before his conversion. He always felt unworthy of his forgiveness and his apostleship. But, again, what type of person do we think of when we think of Paul? We think of someone faithful and strong — a spiritual leader! In Christ, you can be that, too, regardless of your past, and regardless of any frustration that your past might bring you!
Paul’s frustration as an Apostle
God chose Paul to be an apostle. I wonder how many times people told Paul, “You know something…you’re not one of the original twelve.” When Paul had to be firm in dealing with sin among the brethren, I imagine some of the less-faithful brethren responded this way. “Who are you to exercise authority? You aren’t one of the twelve. What right do you have to preach to us? You used to kill Christians. The original twelve never did that. Peter never did that. John never did that.” We know people doubted Paul’s apostleship because of his responses to his critics in 2nd Corinthians and Galatians. I wonder if Paul felt any
frustration when he had obviously spoken to these people by inspiration, had performed the signs and wonders of an apostle, had passed on the gifts of the Spirit, and still some of them questioned whether or not he was “good enough” to be an apostle.
Have you ever felt frustrated when people won’t listen to you teach from the Bible? Have you felt frustrated when they make you the issue as to why they won’t listen? Some might look down on your age and say, “You’re too young (or old) for me to respect what you say. Who are you to tell me what I should do?” Or they may turn up their nose and say, “You’re not from around here, are you?” Or they may think you’re inadequate to help them because, “You don’t understand my troubles. You haven’t gone through what I have.” People have a million excuses why they won’t listen to you teach them the Gospel. What I say is: keep teaching the word anyway, and when they say things like that and frustrate you because they won’t listen, know you are in good company with Paul.
Paul’s frustration about something he could not change
Paul had risked his life on many occasions preaching the gospel from Asia Minor to Macedonia and Achaia, establishing churches in nearly every province he traveled. Yet, in the meantime something was really bothering him: a “thorn in the flesh.” (2 Cor.12:7-10) That he describes it as a “thorn” shows his frustration. We do not know what that “thorn” was, but we do know that it bothered Paul a great deal since he pleaded to God three times in prayer that it be removed. We can also deduce that it wasn’t something that Paul himself could change.
Paul healed many people of their infirmities and cast out demons by the power of God. Yet he could not cast away whatever this “thorn” was that was bothering him. Do you have anything in your life that frustrates you, yet you have no power to do anything about it? I know a preacher in Kentucky that is going completely blind. Is that a hindrance to his work? Yes! Is it a source of frustration for him? Most definitely! Is there anything he can do to correct or change it? No. Does it seem fair that a preacher, who could do so much more for the Kingdom, is about to completely lose his sight? No. You may have a bodily infirmity, disability or disease that you are powerless to control. Or maybe you have some other kind of problem that will not go away. I want you to know that you are just like Paul. Paul was able to deal with his “thorn” when he finally accepted these two facts: (1) that the “thorn” was there, and it wasn’t going to go away, and (2) that he, in his weakness, would be able to encourage you to do the best you can in the Lord. God wants you to see that if Paul could be faithful with a “thorn”, then you can, too! If you have a “thorn in the flesh”, you have something other people don’t have: a bond with the Apostle Paul! Glory in that, my friend!
Paul’s frustration about a lost friend
Later in his preaching, Paul was arrested and brought to Rome twice. The first time he was put under house arrest and then released. The second time, he was treated like a condemned criminal who would soon be executed. Paul awaited the end. Yet that is not what bothered him the most. Demas, once one of Paul’s trusted co-workers (Phi.24; Col.4:14), had turned his back on both Paul and the Lord (2Ti. 4:9-10). Demas had become worldly again, and Paul knew his soul was in great danger. Paul cared deeply about others, and the fact that Demas left at this crucial time would have added frustration upon frustration.
It is indeed discouraging when people we’ve known to be faithful to God for years, leave Him for the vain pleasures of sin. Have you felt frustrated when that happens? I have. I imagine Paul felt that
frustration many, many times. When we feel it, our hearts are
saddened alongside of Paul’s. We can do like Paul and find encouragement in those who hold to their faith, so we can deal with the disappointment of those who don’t. Paul found so much comfort in the faithful at Philippi, Ephesus, Corinth, Colosse, Thessalonica, Rome, and other places. We must also look to those who hold fast the confession of their faith. But even if all men were to fail us, there is Jesus Christ who will never disappoint us.
Paul’s frustration in his loneliness
At the time Paul was in prison awaiting his death, only Luke was with him (2Ti.4:11a). I can imagine a lonely Paul seeking comfort from Luke, requesting this of the Gospel writer: “Brother, tell me again about the time that Jesus walked on the water. Tell me about Jesus sending out the seventy.” While in prison, Paul wrote Timothy to come and bring John Mark before he died (2Ti.4:11b). Paul was no longer skeptical about John Mark as he had been years earlier. John Mark had matured into a reliable worker. In fact, John Mark also had written a book by God’s inspiration: the Gospel of Mark. I can imagine Paul, in preparing himself for death, saying: “John Mark and Luke, I’m about to die. Tell me about the time when Jesus died on the cross.”
Friends, Paul was frustrated and bothered and hindered the entire time he was a Christian: from conversion to death. You know that the presence of problems and frustrations did not make him any less of a Christian. Please apply this to yourself if you are a Christian, and know that the presence of frustration in your life does not demean or lessen your blessings in Christ. In reality, life’s difficulties give you greater opportunities for your light to shine! What if Paul had never suffered, or had never been persecuted? Would we be as impressed with his faith as we are now? No, we wouldn’t. What if nothing had happened to Paul to test his perseverance? Would we be encouraged as much to persevere in life? No. Like Paul, your own frustrations can be a way to teach others. If they see your hardships and your faith as you stick it out, they will be encouraged to continue in Christ through your example.
Jesus Christ is the answer
Yes, Jesus Christ is the answer. He is the answer to the problems of sin, discouragement and death. All are solved through Him. How are they solved? When we obey Him, He forgives our sins, gives us sources of encouragement, and eventually raises us from death to walk in eternal life.
This article could have been a lesson on the frustration in Jesus’ life. Remember that He was not accepted by His own people, and was betrayed by one of His own disciples. Picture His sorrow in the Garden of Gethsemane, His arrest, His trials, His scourging, and then His crucifixion on the cross. As Paul looked to Jesus’ sufferings for strength, Jesus looked to His Father for strength. We can get encouragement from all those places.
Will you please resolve to be strengthened in these ways: (1) by becoming a Christian and receiving all spiritual blessings in Christ (Eph.1:3), (2) by recognizing the bond we all share together as Christians facing the same frustrations (1Pe.5:8-9), and (3) by finding strength, comfort and hope from the same source: the source above.