2 Corinthians 12:7-9a (NIV)
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.”
Is there a relationship in your life that you would describe as “a thorn”? Perhaps there is a person at work who makes your job miserable or a family member who repeatedly breaks your heart. You may have survived an abusive childhood or marriage but still suffer from the damage done to you. Perhaps you live with the pain of having said or done something that wounded someone else, and you wish you could take it back.
In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul describes his experience with a “thorn.” Scholars speculate that his thorn was a physical ailment of some kind. Whatever its nature, the thorn caused Paul so much torment that he pleaded with God for relief. Interestingly, the answer Paul received to his numerous begging prayers tells us that God is concerned not so much with the thorn itself as with our response to it.
Thorny situations bring us to a testing ground—we test ourselves for our strengths and weaknesses, and we test our faith as to whether the God we believe in is indeed loving and powerful. In such situations, our danger lies not in the thorn itself but in our temptation to respond to the thorn in ways that lead us away from God. If God will not remove the thorn, we may doubt that God cares or is able to act. We may take it upon ourselves to respond to the source of our pain with vengeance or cruelty or passive-aggressive manipulations. We might withdraw from the pain by turning in on ourselves, leading us into depression, anxiety, or substance abuse.
Paul discovered that by leaving the thorn in place, God revealed to him a valuable truth about discipleship. It is not contentment, but rather adversity, that deepens our faith and strengthens our witness. Thorns push us toward spiritual alternatives, either to believe God and trust God’s ways, or to reject God and forge our own path to a solution. Like Jesus in the desert, we face our strongest temptations to sin when we are weak from pain or hunger or sadness or fear. Paul declares that it is in such places that God’s grace is most powerful—to sustain us, to reassure us of God’s loving concern, and to shine God’s glory through us to the watching world.
FATHER, sometimes I long for rescue from a painful situation, and I wonder why you don’t help me. At such times, may the words of my heart be, “Even in this, Lord, I trust you.” Help me to focus my attention less on the thorn that causes me trouble and more on how the thorn affects my relationship with you. Thank you for your grace that sustains me as I surrender myself to your loving care.
Isaiah 48:10; Philippians 4:12-13
Is there a thorn in your life? If so, how does it affect your relationship with God?