Second Corinthians 1:8–9 has been life-changing for me:
For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead….
Kevin DeYoung has this to say about the passage:
After talking about his crushing burdens and the death sentence he felt, Paul says, “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead”….
It’s an amazing statement Paul makes. When most of us start to suffer we doubt God more. We question his goodness. We wonder what in the world he’s doing. But Paul says, “No, no. We’ve got it backwards. Affliction is supposed to make us doubt ourselves. We are supposed to be questioning our strength. We are meant to wonder, what in the world can I do about this?” And the answer is nothing. When you are utterly burdened beyond strength, what can you do? You could put a 500 pound crate in front of me and tell me to pick it up and bring it outside, and I won’t be able to do it. I don’t care how I maneuver the thing, I am not strong enough to carry that weight. Most of us don’t think, or care to think, that one of the things God is up to when he sends crushing affliction, is breaking our mean streak of independence….
Self-confidence and independence are among the best virtues in our eyes, when divine-reliance and dependence are what God wants to see in us. The verb in the beginning of verse 9 is in the perfect tense instead of the past tense, which may indicate an ongoing sense of desperation in Paul. True, he was delivered, but the experience of feeling that death sentence was still with him…. He knew what it was to be desperate, to be crushed with burdens, to be discouraged, to be anxious, to look death square in the eye.
And what did he learn from it all? That he was not in control. That he could not save himself. That he could not make himself better. That he could not carry on in his own strength. That from here on out, he would rely on God and not on himself.
It’s easy to learn and repeat these words about dependence, but unfortunately, I think this is one of those lessons that can only be truly learned through experience. If you’re feeling helpless, you’re on the right track. God wants us to know that He is the One who is working in the world through us—He is glorified when we recognize this, and His glory is the purpose of all His work. So as long as we think, even a little, that we can take care of things on our own, as long as we fail to recognize our need to seek Him to fill our weak and starving souls, His purpose can’t, and won’t, be achieved through us because we would steal God’s credit for any accomplishments.
So let suffering do its work in us, knowing “He disciplines us for our good.” And when we get to our lowest point, the best news is that God “who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist” can certainly give us new life, as well.