“We would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8). The Greek word for pressed in this passage means “heavily burdened, grievously crushed.” Paul was telling these saints, “Our crisis was so serious that it almost crushed me. I thought it was the end for me.”
When Paul says he was so burdened down that he despaired of life, we can know he truly was at rock bottom. In other passages, he downplays his sufferings. You may recall how he simply shook off a poisonous snake that had attached itself to his hand. He was shipwrecked three times yet he mentions this fact only in passing, to make a point. Paul was beaten, robbed, stoned, jailed—yet through it all he never complained.
In this passage, however, the apostle was at a point of total exhaustion. I believe this “trouble” he endured was mental anguish. We cannot know exactly what Paul's trouble was but 2 Corinthians 7:5 gives us a hint: “When we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears.”
I believe Paul was referring to pain caused by the sheep he ministered to. False teachers had risen up in Corinth and had tried to turn the people against him. Now Paul feared his flock would reject his message and follow men who did not have their interest at heart.
He was consoled when Titus arrived, bringing him good news about his “beloved children” in Corinth. Paul writes, “Nevertheless God . . . comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not by his coming only, but by the consolation wherewith he was comforted in you, when he told us your earnest desire, your mourning, your fervent mind toward me; so that I rejoiced the more” (verses 6-7).
I have felt this kind of anguish in my life. At times, the words of people I have loved and helped have felt like knives in my back. I can say with David, “The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords” (Psalm 55:21). In such troubled times, I have most needed “helping prayers.”