“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
(II Corinthians 12:7-10)
Thoughts… Do you ever wonder why God allows you to struggle with certain things? Perhaps there is a physical limitation from which you have asked God time and again to heal you, but to no avail. Maybe there is a limitation in your ability to learn or speak or a lack of confidence in interacting with others that holds you back vocationally or relationally, and you have desperately sought for God to give you victory over it, but to no avail. Perhaps there has been a struggle with a particular sin over the years, and you have agonized in prayer that God would remove it, but your prayers seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
The Apostle Paul had something like that going on in his life, too. He called it a “thorn in my flesh”. He saw it as a direct assault from Satan. And he prayed intensely that God would deliver him from whatever it was. There has been speculation as to what the thorn in the flesh actually was. Many think it was a physical malady. Tradition tells us that Paul had plenty of physical limitations. Some think the “thorn” was a person who was opposing Paul and his work. Then there are a few who surmise that it was a temptation to which Paul was particularly susceptible. Who knows for sure, but what we do know is that it was really bugging Paul—to the point that he felt frustrated enough to get really serious before God about it.
One of the things I appreciate about Paul is his ability to gain an eternal perspective on things. He was able to re-theologize the negative circumstances in his life to where he could see the mighty hand of God aligning things for his benefit. Such was the case here. If God saw fit to leave this pesky thorn in Paul’s side, then God must have a purpose. And the purpose in this case, he finally figured out, was to keep him from conceit, since throughout his ministry he had been given so many unusual experiences in the supernatural dimension that it would have been easy to become spiritually prideful. Paul needed a little humility, and God gave him a thorn to keep him weak, and therefore humble, in a particular area.
But it wasn’t just humility for humility’s sake that Paul needed, God wanted Paul to come into a much more important understanding of how the Kingdom of God works. God wanted Paul to have a firsthand experience of grace. Paul was the Apostle of grace, so through this experience where all he could do to survive was depend on God’s unmerited favor, he learned to hang on to grace for dear life. Paul learned one of the most important lessons a Christian can ever learn: Through grace, our weaknesses are parlayed into God’s supernatural strength, which enables us to achieve kingdom success that results in all the credit going to God.
That’s why Paul could be grateful for his weakness. That’s why he could tolerate his thorn. That’s why he could turn his disadvantage into an advantage. Satan afflicted him with a thorn, but God watered it with grace and it budded into a rose.
Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Soar back through all your own experiences. Think of how the Lord has led you in the wilderness and has fed and clothed you every day. How God has borne with your ill manners, and put up with all your murmurings and all your longings after the ‘sensual pleasures of Egypt!’ Think of how the Lord’s grace has been sufficient for you in all your troubles.”
God’s grace is sufficient—always, It was sufficient for Paul. And because God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and because he loves you just as much as he did Paul, God’s grace will be sufficient for you! Start looking at your thorn from a different perspective. It might hurt a little—or a lot—but God is going to use your present struggle to achieve an eternal glory that will far outweigh any discomfort you feel in the present.
In that sense, go ahead and glory in your weakness, for when you are weak, God is strong.
Prayer… Lord, thank you that in my weakness, I receive your strength! Thorns may pierce me, but they drive me to you, and into a deeper experience of your grace than I would have known without them. In my weakness your sufficient grace is revealed, and I am strengthened to overcome. You bring victory out of defeat in such a way that all the credit goes to you. Therefore I will boast all the more that in my weakness, I am strong in your strength.
One More Thing… “To all who find their days declining, to all upon whom age is creeping with its infirmities, to all whose strength seems steadily to ebb….God seems to take our last things, and as it were, pack them up for our journey. These are tokens that you are approaching land. They are signs that the troubles of the sea are almost over.” —Henry Ward Beecher