Perhaps you feel crushed with the burden of providing for a family. Maybe you feel exhausted trying to please a persistently disappointed mate. It might be that you feel buried in duty, unglamorous tasks, anonymity, and the terrifying reality that when you look ahead, you don’t see anything changing for a long time.
You pray to God for change, for deliverance, for anything to be different than what it is.
He remains silent.
Your spouse doesn’t change. Your kids don’t change. Circumstances don’t change. And you feel crushed.
If that’s your situation, the apostle Paul can relate. The first chapter of 2 Corinthians is shocking in this sense: the hero of the New Testament freely confesses the extent of his suffering, pain, and turmoil to the point that he “despaired even of life.” (2 Corinthians 1:8)
The champion of the New Testament Holy-Spirit inspired living; the man who wrote that we are “more than conquerors;” the apostle who seemed to have an answer for every question and a biblical assurance for every doubt found himself in a situation in which he felt he was being torn apart so much so that he despaired even of life.
He had been attacked; betrayed by those he thought loved him most; his loving motives had been questioned as a lack of concern or cowardice; he had to speak a hard truth to a people he loved a whole lot, knowing it would cause them great pain; he felt like the entire world was being pulled away underneath his feet.
Have you ever felt the pain of betrayal? Have those closest to you recently questioned your motives—not just what you did, but why you did it, as if you deliberately wanted to hurt them? Kids do this to their parents all the time; sometimes, spouses do it as well. Do you find yourself growing weary having to speak the “hard word” again, to the same loved one, because you know that no one else will?
What we discover—what Paul discovered—is that more than God wanted Paul’s situation improved, God wanted Paul improved. And not just “improved”—transformed. As we’ll see in just a moment, He ultimately wants him to smell differently.
There is something about a cauldron that produces a depth of faith that releases a certain Christ-likeness. Nothing else matches it. Jesus, the suffering servant, releases Himself into His own suffering servants.
I’ve seen husbands and wives on the doorstep of despair. They feel like they are being grinded down by the weight of life, the heaviness of family, and the obligations of love. Sometimes they use the word “suffocating.” What these believers usually don’t see is what Paul saw. N.T. Wright writes, “God is leading us in Christ through pain, through the valley of the shadow of death, through apparent despair, then somehow, strangely as we look around, we discover that God is spreading in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him (2 Cor. 2:14-15), and we become the people through whom the sweet smell of God is actually being wafted to and fro.”
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing…A fragrance from life to life.” (2 Cor. 2:14-15)
God doesn’t just want you to believe in Him or even just to act like Him. He wants you to smell like Him. Wright: “Paul’s point is that when people are in the presence of Christians, they should sense the presence of God. And it is part of the deal that, for at least half the time, Christians themselves are unaware that this is happening.”
Some will see the drudgery of your life, your acceptance of your daily duties and responsibilities as particularly unappetizing. They’ll say to themselves, “If that’s true faith, I don’t want it.” They want a formula that will fix their problems instead of transform their hearts, because the process of transformation isn’t easy, comfortable, or happy.
But there will be others—called of God—who will look on your quiet life, your persistence, your faith, your resignation toward God, your surrender, your perseverance in love and they will smell…Him.
Deep calls to deep. Superficial tends to call out superficiality. Seriously—look at what many young adolescents focus on, what they think really matters, and how because others value such silly things so much, their entire group (and those who want to enter their group) begin valuing those same silly things out of all proportion.
We cannot “argue” someone out of their superficiality. All we can do is pursue the depths and see if, when they “smell” God in our lives, God gives them the grace to follow.
So, if you feel crushed, forgotten, ground down, just know this. It’s not about how you feel right now. It’s about how you’re going to smell tomorrow. God is doing something. He’s seasoning you. Trust Him.