We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. . . . But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
Why did Paul suffer so much? Because he was a bad guy? Because he did foolish things? Just unlucky? All of these are reasons that a lot of people suffer, but Paul experienced “hardships” and was “under great pressure” because he was courageously serving God. He did not live to be comfortable, and he seemed quite willing to make choices that would bring him greater pressure and suffering if it meant serving God better.
Most people live their lives to decrease their “hardships” and “pressure” so they can be safer, richer, and more comfortable. Ah yes . . . comfort! A comfortable job, a comfortable car, couch, clothes, church and a comfortable Christianity is what we look, work, and yearn for.
But Paul knew what all real servants of God Almighty know. There is something that feels even better than worldly comforts, and that is God’s grace. But we never experience this miracle of the “rescuing grace” of God because we’re not even attempting something for Him that would cause the kind of fatigue, pain, or pressure we would need to be rescued from. We can “rely on ourselves” instead of “on God” because we’re not doing anything we really need God for.
The prophet Jonah said, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I . . . will sacrifice to you” (2:8-9). Our personal comfort is one of those “worthless idols” that will keep us from ever experiencing the miraculous kind of grace that God promises those who are “far beyond” their “ability to endure” because they are radically and sacrificially serving Him.