10Distress that drives us to God does that. It turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God are full of regrets, end up on a deathbed of regrets. 11-12And now, isn't it wonderful all the ways in which this distress has goaded you closer to God? You're more alive, more concerned, more sensitive, more reverent, more human, more passionate, more responsible. Looked at from any angle, you've come out of this with purity of heart.
(2 Corinthians 7:10-12)
Paul knew that his letter to the Corinthian church, encountering their lackadaisical approach to sin in their midst, caused them some "distress". That is often the case when sin is encountered in our lives - we find some discomfort in the exposure and we feel "distressed". Distress is often described as that which causes us pain, anxiety, and often sorrow. For that reason, we all have a dread or sense of "mourning" whenever we think about those things that bring distress into our lives.
I would like us to think of this from a different perspective - beginning to see distress as a "signal" that we need help. When a ship or an airplane finds they are in trouble (sinking or unable to maintain altitude), they send out a "distress signal". The hope is that someone will hear that SOS and respond by coming to their rescue. The purpose of the signal is rescue! That is what Paul pictures for us in this entire letter to the Corinthian church. He wanted to bring truth - uncomplicated by human opinion - and then see it do its work in the lives of those who would embrace it.
For those willing to embrace the truth, the result was "rescue". That is the case in our lives, as well. When truth brings exposure of some type of sin in our lives (those small compromises or those outright BIG sins), we have two choices. We can either deny they exist (and go down with the ship in the process!), or we can send out a "distress signal" that acknowledges we need rescue. Paul reminds us that when we choose to admit we are in distress, we find the means for our rescue in Christ.
Distress is designed to drive us toward God - not deeper into depression, distrust, or despair. When a stranded motorist places a flare along the roadside, it is placed there to call attention to both the condition of the car and the need of the motorist. The car needs the "healing" touch of the mechanic - the motorist needs the protection and assurance of knowing that their signal will result in the attention they need.
Paul says we will never regret the pain of distress - but this is conditioned on our using the present distress as a signal we need help, not as a means to become even more resentful and bitter toward God. If we embrace our present distress in this manner, we will be driven toward the one who can help us in the midst of it. If we allow distress to "goad us" toward God, rather than away from him, we will know no regrets. The circumstances that act as those "goads" may not be comfortable for the moment, but they have life-long rewards in the end.
Think of the stranded passenger of an airplane that has "gone down" in the wilderness. As the distress signal is repeatedly sent, their expectation is turned toward their rescuer(s). They trust that the signal will be heard - in turn, they will soon be rescued. Sometimes we send up our "signal" of our distress, and when our rescue is not immediate, we waiver in our trust that the signal is being heard. The "wilderness" is a trying place - it tests our faith. We are brought to the end of our trust in "self" and are exposed to new depths of learning to rely on another to do what we cannot do for ourselves - rescue!
The moment we realize that we are never alone in our distress (our signal is indeed being heard "loud and clear") - we will change our perspective about that which is giving us that distress. We will no longer see it as a thing that creates anxiety, sorrow, or fear. Instead, we will think of it as something that is stretching our capacity for hope, encouragement, and joy. In other words, we are allowing the distress to drive us toward God!
You might be sending up the flares today in your own lives. If so, stand firm in your hope! Those flares are being acknowledged - your S.O.S. is seen and heard. Your help is on the way - the things that are moments of distress today will be memories of glory tomorrow!