Tony Evans — Empowered By Grace
I wanna talk to you today about being Empowered by Grace. I want you and me and us, individually and collectively, to get a new experience of divine infusion, of power due to what grace has to offer. In 2 Corinthians chapter 7, the apostle Paul is speaking, and he's got a problem. He is dealing with what he calls in verse 7 a thorn in the flesh, a thorn in the flesh. The Greek word for the word "thorn" refers to a splinter or a needle, something pricking you. Now, Paul does not tell us what his thorn is. There are a number of possibilities. For example, the Bible tells us Paul had an eye problem, so it could have been an eye illness. We also are told, since it says there were messengers of Satan, that there were people who irritated Paul, who constantly travel behind him undermining him, and he couldn't get rid of them.
Whether it was a person, place, or thing, it was an irritation, a splinter. I wonder if there is anybody here right now that's got a thorn in your flesh. Maybe you're living with a thorn in your flesh. I don't know, but it's a irritating situation that won't leave you alone. It's driving you crazy. Maybe it's an emotional thing driving you nuts. Maybe it's a financial debt that won't go away. The bill just keeps on coming. Maybe it's a physical thing that is driving you crazy, and maybe there is someone on your job, who won't get fired, who is driving you crazy. That's a thorn.
Not only is Paul saying he has a thorn, he says this thorn came from the devil. He says it's a messenger of Satan. It is a satanic prick that he is experiencing, watch this, that was allowed by God. It was a satanic prick that was allowed by God. Let me put this parenthetical statement in so that you get it. The devil can't do anything to you that God doesn't allow 'cause even the devil is God's devil, and when God has a spiritual purpose that he can use the devil to accomplish in your life, he will even allow the devil to do it in order to fulfill his purpose. He's got a thorn that's ticking him off, an irritation that's driving him crazy, a messenger of Satan, and he says God gave it to him for a couple of reasons.
Number one, he says because of the revelations in verse 7. That is, God gave him a thorn because of God's plan to use him. God's plan to use him caused God to let Satan irritate him, because God would get better use of him after the irritation than without it, because of the revelation. Now, you have to understand Paul had some opportunities that no other Christian had. He got to see Jesus on the Damascus road. He got to spend time with Jesus in the Arabian Desert. He's the only one, according to the first three verses of 2 Corinthians 12, the only person in history who ever got to go to heaven, see heaven, and come back to talk about it. So, because of the revelation, because of the anointing, because of God's purpose and usefulness of him, God says, "I've gotta give you this thorn".
Now, let me flip the side, 'cause he says, "The other reason," verse 7, "that God has given me this thorn is so that I don't get the big head". Notice what he says in verse 7. He says, "To keep me from exalting myself". So, one reason God gives you thorns is to keep you humble, to keep me humble, because it's easy to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think. Easy for me to do that, you to do that. It's easy for people, so to make you remember you're still human, so watch this. God allows what he's getting ready to call weaknesses through thorns, even though it's caused by the devil, so you can see what extra-strength God feels like. God allows weaknesses to give you a greater experience of the power of his grace, so if you are seeking to live for the Lord and there is something that won't go away, then you are a perfect candidate for grace being unleashed in you, to you, through you, and on you.
Notice what he says in verse 9, "And he has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient'". The word "sufficient" means adequate for every scenario. A couple chapters back, in chapter 9, verse 8, this is the greatest verse on grace in the Bible. It says, "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good work". He says there is so much grace out there, that you can't come up with a situation that grace can't address. It says and not only is there so much grace out there for every situation, there is so much grace out there for every situation, that when you use the grace you need, there'll still be grace left over. He says there is an abundance. "Abundance" means more than enough.
Let me tell you how much grace is out there. If you've got multiple thorns, multiple challenges, God has power strips so that he can handle each one of those things by grace. Why? Because he says in verse 9, "'My grace is sufficient, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, shall I boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me". Guess what grace has? Power. It has power strips. So, you say, "I got this problem". You say, "I got an outlet". "Well, I got three problems. Well, I got a three-problem power strip". There is power strips in grace. He used the word "power" twice in that one verse, but he's talking about the sufficiency of grace, and he says there is power, divine provision, that comes with grace.
How do you know when you're getting this grace? You know you're experiencing grace when you're being strengthened in the midst of your thorn. Watch this now. He allows the thorn to give you the need for the grace, and you know the grace is working when he is strengthening you even though the thorn may still be there, 'cause Paul's thorn hasn't disappeared yet, but he's getting power. When you get fresh strength to handle the circumstance, the negative circumstance you're dealing with, it is God's grace at work in your life.
That's why I love Isaiah chapter 40, verses 29 to 31. It says he gives new strength to the weak. He gives new strength in three ways. One way, the verse says, he takes you out of the situation. That's the one we want most. "Get me out of this". That's one way, but then he says he has a second way. He says you will run and not get weary, okay? The second way he gives new strength is you run, so you still are dealing with it, but he gives you a second wind. He gives you a third reason of new strength. He says the third reason, in those passages in Isaiah 40, he says the third reason is you walk and don't faint. The third reason: nothing changes, he changes you, changes you. You're too tired to run, you can't run. He says but you walk, and you do not faint. He says that this grace gives new strength, so you know you're getting new strength or grace when his power is operating.
Now, let me tell you another way you know. Verse 10, "Therefore I am well content". You get new strength, so, that's the power of grace working, and the second indication you are experiencing God's grace is you're at ease where you are, until you get to where God wants you to go. So now, the question is how do you get this grace? Verse 8, "Concerning this I implored..." To implore means this is a serious prayer. This is not just throwing up something light. This is like begging, "God, please". Anybody ever gone to God and said, "Please"? In other words, this thing is deep. This thing hurts. To implore means, "Come on, God. Come on, God. Do something". He said, "I implored the Lord three times," so I wanna deal with the theology of three.
So, he says, "I implored three times". Three is somewhat like the number seven, with a little nuance difference, is the number of fullness, okay? Fullness would be a way of using the theology of three. It involves a beginning, a middle, and an end. Three: beginning, middle, and end, okay? So, it's where you start, it's in the middle of where you are, and it is where that fullness comes, where it ends. For example, Jesus died on Friday. On Saturday, while his body was in the grave, he went and preached in hell and brought the saints to heaven a host of captives. On Sunday he rose from the dead, so when they describe Jesus, they talk about the three days and three nights. When they talk about Jonah being in the belly of the whale, three days and three nights. When they talk about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness, Jesus quoted the Scripture three times to Satan before Satan left him, so you find this concept of three regularly throughout the Scripture, to speak of God's fullness.
So, when he prayed, he prayed three times. That is, he prayed until there was fullness, okay? Now, stay with me here. That raises a question: how do I know when there is fullness? How do I know when I've hit the third time in terms of the theology of three? How do I know? 'Cause we're told to pray without ceasing, but how do I know when I've hit this three? Because I need this help because of what I'm going through. Well, actually, he tells you. Look at what he says. "Concerning this I prayed three times that it might leave me". Verse 9, "And he has said to me". There it is. There is your answer. You have hit fullness when you hear God's voice.
You say, "But how do I hear his voice"? Oh, you hear his voice a number of ways. Sometimes you may be in church, and it looks like the sermon was just for you about the thing you were dealing with. You just heard his voice. You may have another believer come speak into your life prophetically, and when they speak into your life prophetically, it was just the Word that you needed to hear from God, and that prophetic Word was hearing God's voice. You can hear God's voice when you're reading the Bible, and God the Holy Spirit lets a verse jump out at you, and you know that verse was what you needed at that moment. You can hear his voice when you're listening to a song on the radio, and God makes that song come alive, and it speaks into your life.
The key is you are hearing the voice of God. The problem is most people aren't listening for it. He implored God, but Paul had such a relationship with God that he could tune in to God's voice. "And he said..." The problem is many times God is talking, and he's really speaking into our thorn, but we're not tuned in, so we don't hear him saying. All we do, we're just imploring, imploring, imploring, and we don't hear him say, "I'm not gonna change that right now," see? 'Cause if we heard him say, "I'm not gonna change that right now," we'd be stopping and answering him to change that right now, 'cause he just told you, "I'm not gonna change that right now".
So, that's what he told Paul, so let me put another parenthesis. This is why the pulpit should never lie to you and tell you God's gonna always fix it. See, that's not true. That's illustrated here. God told him, "I'm not gonna fix it right now". God said, "No, but I'm gonna do one better for you, I'm gonna give you some grace," and with grace he says you get power. With grace he says you get power in your weakness, okay?
So, the first thing is you wanna pray until you hear God's voice. That's what James 1:5 says. It says, "If any man lacks wisdom, let him ask of God," and the context is the context of difficulties and trials. Any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, and God will give it to him when he comes to God for it without doubting. Now, watch this. He did something else. Yeah, yeah, I agree. He says, "Most gladly..." Now, you're not gonna like this part of the verse, but please pay attention. "Most gladly, therefore," somebody say "therefore," "I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ might dwell in me".
Wait a minute. You mean to tell me you're not gonna complain about your weaknesses? You're not gonna fuss and cuss about your thorn? No, Paul says, "Guess when I got the power? I got the power when I boast in my weakness. I bragged about what was wrong". Wait a minute. Wait a minute. That doesn't make sense. I'm hurting. I'm depressed. I got a thorn in me. I got thorns around me. I got debt. What am I supposed to be bragging about? Please notice what he says. "I boast about my weaknesses, and then I got more power". How did you get more power? Because he began to look at what was wrong spiritually and not merely circumstantially. That's why the Bible says, "In everything give thanks". I'mma boast about your grace 'cause I have a thorn, and your grace is sufficient for my thorn, so I'mma brag on Tylenol, I'mma brag on grace, I'mma brag on God, and when he bragged in the midst of his weakness, he says he got more power. He got more grace. He got more of the substance of God working to him and through him and for him. It turned things around.
When a car has broke down, you call AAA, and you see the power of a tow truck. When it's broke down and can't go anywhere, and the tow truck pulls up, and there is a hookup. Christ who dwells in me. There's a hookup. There's a spiritual connection. Christ who dwells in me. The answer is already in you. Christ dwells within me, and Jesus Christ pulls up his grace truck, and the grace truck hitches up to your brokedown-ness. What does the tow truck do? It lifts the front tires off the ground, and even though, watch this, watch this, even though the car is broke, the tow truck still takes it from where it is to where it needs to go until it gets fixed.
You're not stuck any longer when the tow truck shows up. I wish I could tell you, "Go to God, and it will disappear". Sometimes it will, but even when it doesn't disappear, Jesus has a grace truck, and that grace truck can take your brokedown-ness and pull it. And so, you know what I do with the time my car broke down? My car broke down, I was out there, and I pulled out my AAA card. I'm broke, but I got a card in my wallet. The card had a 800 number. I dialed the 800 number. The 800 number did not fix my car, but in my broke-down weakness I praised and boasted on my card, 'cause my card had a hookup, with a solution that could meet me to take my brokedown-ness from where I was to where I needed to be, until my car got better. God's got a grace truck, and he can meet you where you are. So, even though you can't brag about your weakness for being weakness, you can brag about the grace card you got in your soul, 'cause he says, "It's Christ who dwells in me".
So, when we conclude in a minute, I wanna give you the privilege to go to God and implore that it leaves you. Yes, implore God to get rid of it, but while you wait, ask him to speak. Ask him to speak about his grace, and then brag about how he's gonna use your mess to give you his miracle. You brag on grace, because grace is sufficient in any and every circumstance of life. It is able, like a pole vaulter, to take you higher than you could ever high jump. You can high jump 8 feet. You can pole vault 18 feet, because you got something taking you that's got power to flip you higher than you could ever go on your own, so tune in through prayer. Implore him, because God does, watch this, his greatest demonstration of the power of grace when he breaks us, when he strips us of our self-sufficiency and our independence in order to make us more dependent on him.
The Lone Ranger's horse was named Silver. The Lone Ranger had been injured, and he needed to get out of the canyon, and he ran across this wild stallion called Silver, or his name would become Silver, but it was a wild stallion. The Lone Ranger got on his back and Silver bucked him off. Lone Ranger got back on his back, and Silver bucked him off, 'cause Silver didn't want anybody riding his back. He wanted to be independent and on his own. He was his own horse, and nobody was gonna ride his back. Oh, but the Lone Ranger kept getting on Silver's back, until he broke his independence, until he let it know, "Silver, you ain't gonna run this show. I'mma run this show".
And all of a sudden, Silver, the independent stallion, became a dependent horse, and now the Lone Ranger could go, "Giddy up". And then when he really wanted to strut his stuff, he could say, "Hi-yo, Silver. Away". Silver now became useful for hunting down criminals and crooks and bank robbers. Silver now became useful, and when he reared back on his hind legs under the control of the Lone Ranger, you knew he was ready to ride again.
God sees our independence and knows it's so much a part of us that he has to break us, so he sometimes gets on our back, or even allowing the devil to get on our backs in order to break us of our independence, so that we stop thinking we can do it on our own. And every time you buck him off, all he gonna do is get right back on your back until you finally break, 'cause when you finally break, that's when he can say, "Hi-yo, Christian. Away".