In this excerpt from Endure: Building Faith for the Long Run, Daniel Ritchie reflects on the endurance the Apostle Paul showed in the face of his many trials, and the lessons we can learn from that perseverance.
In this recent interview with Ritchie, he shares how the life of Paul has served as an encouragement and inspiration in his ministry.
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.”
—1 Corinthians 15:1–2
The apostle Paul was a man that God used in massive ways in the founding, establishing, and forward movement of the church. God used him to pen more of the New Testament than any other person. God charged Paul with the establishing of the gentile church, sending him all across the Mediterranean region to lay the seeds of the gospel and plant churches in a number of major cities.
His influence remains to this day. Many pastors and theologians will say, apart from Christ, Paul stands as the most influential figure in their ministry. All sorts of aspects of Paul’s life and ministry can encourage us: the boldness and clarity with which he preached and wrote; the centrality of Christ in everything that Paul said and did. Many people I know love Paul because of the intense love he showed the people of God.
I wholeheartedly agree with all those attributes. My ministry has been shaped deeply by what God did through the life of Paul. I am encouraged and challenged by his orthodoxy and his orthopraxy. Yet one thing above all others has drawn me to Paul: the constant endurance he showed in the face of trials.
Many are encouraged by Paul’s theology, but I am encouraged and challenged by Paul’s pain. His pain at times was an extreme bother to him (his thorn in the flesh), but he continued to press on in view of both the grace of God and the call of God on his life. When others saw brokenness and woe, Paul saw the grace of God present in his life and ministry: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
I have turned to this verse over and over again for the past twenty years of trusting Jesus as Lord. I have often battled the thought that my armlessness is the greatest curse in my life, but the biblical truth is far from that. My disability was not caused by any sort of genetic mutation or accident in the womb. I was born this way by the sovereign grace and design of God.
As I began to view my lack of arms through the lens of the grace of God, everything about my life changed. I no longer moped about my condition or people’s perception of it. I realized that God had given me a gift that few others had. God gave me an external appearance that catches the attention and curiosity of others. As people pause to get a closer look at my armless state, they also notice a hope and joy that I have—and that does not make worldly sense. How could a man that looks like that have a hope like that?
I watch people processing my disability alongside my joy—and so they ask, “Why are you so happy?” In that conversation I get to tell them about the grace of God in my life. The grace that saved me. The grace that gives me strength to endure amid my trials and frustrations. The grace that my disability affords me to have conversations with curious passersby that people with arms never get to have. By the grace of God, I am afforded the chance to enjoy this life He has given me, and I will not let it go to waste. Grace pushes me forward when life wants to drag me down.
The grace of God also pushed Paul forward in the face of unrelenting pressure, persecution, and trial. Grace pulled him through unimaginable circumstances, and it is that same grace that will allow us to endure whatever may come our way.
This post is adapted from Endure: Building Faith for the Long Run by Daniel Ritchie (Kirkdale Press, 2022).