I have written before about the inspiration I derive from the example of the Apostle Paul as a pastor of people.

He was a man of very strong conviction concerning the importance of God’s revealed truth and the danger inherent in departure from it.

His strong personality, reinforced by his training in the school of the Pharisees, and the dramatic way God brought him to faith in Christ (Acts 9), made him a formidable force when it came to theological debate.

He was a man who was not afraid to stand his ground, even if it meant standing alone (2 Timothy 4:16-17). The amazing thing is that it is rare to find someone with such firm views to be, at the same time, someone with such a soft, caring, pastoral heart.

Perhaps the key to this enigma is the fact that he himself was called on to undergo such pain, suffering, opposition, persecution and misunderstanding for the cause of Christ.

Probably the best example of this is the way he begins his letter that appears in our Bibles as 2 Corinthians: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

“For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

“If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

“If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.

“Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us.

“On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” (1:11-13)

Three things encourage and challenge me about this passage.

Firstly, it gives meaning to all our suffering. We are so often confused about the inexplicable bad things that happen in our lives and in the lives of people we love.

But God knows what he is doing, he has a purpose in these things, and he will use them for our benefit and the benefit of others. Paul was such a loving, caring, understanding pastor because he knew what it meant to suffer.

Secondly, it makes me more aware of Christ’s suffering for me. Paul was a good pastor because he knew that he too was a “sinner saved by grace” (cf 1 Timothy 1:15-16).

Thirdly, it encourages and challenges me to pray more for those who are suffering.

Paul the pastor knew the power of prayer - the sort of prayer that unites the hearts of God’s people as they pray with and for each other.

Let us give thanks for our school community and continue to support one another before the throne of grace.