…in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh…  II Corinthians 12:7


Have you ever felt plagued by a “thorn in the flesh?”  Paul refers to his thorn as a messenger of Satan.  Scholars debate as to whether the thorn was a physical affliction or a difficult person.  Whatever it was, apparently it was enough of a bother that Paul asked God three times to remove it.

I’ve been fascinated to discover that so many people whom I consider real giants have “thorns” of one kind or another.  As a young person, I was sometimes intimidated in the presence of those giants, thinking them so far superior with super-hero powers and X-ray vision.  As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that we all tend to have “thorns,” brokenness, and areas of imperfection where God is still working and where we still need him.

Look at what God says to Paul in this passage.  Paul has desperately prayed for divine intervention, and God has refused.  He tells Paul that this thorn is for his good.  Paul has been so blessed with divine revelation that his thorn is needed to keep him balanced and free of pride.  Even so, Paul isn’t above spouting off his spiritual credentials (Phil. 3) or reminding the soldiers and sailors during the storm at sea that I told you so (Acts 23).

God told Paul that his thorn was sent to keep him dependent on his Lord and move him away from spiritual arrogance.  His inadequacy and weakness, his desperation, would cause him to cry out to God for the grace that only God could provide.  God’s grace would prove to be sufficient and his power would be made perfect in Paul’s weakness.  Paul’s response?   Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me (II Cor. 12:9).

Can we see that these thorns are intentionally placed in our lives to create desperate dependence on a Father who is waiting to lavish grace upon us and to draw us even closer in our loving relationship with him?  Can we thank him for the thorns?  Everything God provides is given to grow us and to bring him glory.  Accept the thorns, let them be covered with grace, and allow God to weave something beautiful from them.


Father, we fear and dislike distress and any sort of suffering.  Give us your eyes to see that you have a purpose in all things.  Even the little oyster produces beauty by  embracing the irritant in its life.  Give us that kind of grace.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.


…you do not have because you do not ask God. James 4:2 (NIV)

Coming back from my first trip to Uganda after three hard weeks on pock-marked dusty roads in a glorious, yet unfamiliar setting, I was exhausted. We reached at the airport only to be told that our flight would be delayed by about 15 hours because of mechanical problems. We again boarded our mutatu (van) for a return trip to the Namirembe Guest House in Kampala.

Upon arrival, the two guys on the team said they were going to the airlines office to see what sort of compensation they might offer for causing us to miss our connecting flights in London and Detroit. Since this was my first trip and being the newbie on the team, I naively asked if they would see if we could get bumped up to better seats for our 18-hour-plus flights. All five of my companions laughed as if I’d asked for a private jet to take us home. I was determined. “You have not for you ask not,” I reminded the team.

An hour later, the fellows returned, and I asked—expectantly—“Did we get bumped up?”
With barely disguised smirks they responded negatively but allowed that we would all be treated to lunch in a London hotel and our own day rooms. Of course, that was lovely but not what I’d requested.

It was gratifying to have familiar food in London and a hot shower with a nap before preparing to board our transatlantic flight. An airlines vehicle delivered us back to the airport, and we were courteously escorted to our point of departure. Since our connecting flights had all been scrambled, our team was seated in various places throughout the coach section. I sat down with one of my team members, buckled up, and prepared my nest for the next leg of the trip.

As is my custom, I turned on the monitor to watch the progress of the flight as we crossed the ocean – but nothing happened. My companion tried to work the monitor. And then the steward did his best to make the contraption work. “Just wait until we’re airborne,” he assured me, “and I’ll reboot this from our controls.”

However many miles later and after many buttons were pushed unsuccessfully, the steward asked if I minded if he relocated me. “Oh, but I have to bring my friend,” I replied. “Of course,” he said.

A short time later, he reported. “I’ve looked all over the economy seating and can’t find a vacant seat. Would you mind if I put you in business class?” he queried. “Of course, not,” I responded with a huge smile.

As we were being ushered down the aisle, I couldn’t resist reminding my friends in passing, “You have not for you ask not.” It’s a lesson I haven’t forgotten.

Lord, I wonder how many blessings, large and small, we miss because we’re afraid to ask? Help us to remember that you’re a good Father who loves to give good gifts to your undeserving children, and we honor you by asking. Thank you again. AMEN.


I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5 (NIV)

Reggie was a beautiful little four-year-old – curly blonde hair and vibrant blue eyes—a real charmer. Happily, by the time he got to my class, I had a few years of teaching under my belt and was certified to work with “special” children.

In our first parent conference, Reggie’s caring parents asked if I’d be willing to work with the three psychologists who were overseeing Reggie’s developmental and behavioral issues. Of course, I wanted to do what I could to get this little guy on the right track.

At first, it was really easy. With small classes, my aide and I could keep an eye on Reggie, make notations on his chart every five minutes, and encourage him to participate appropriately. For a few weeks and with our guidance, he was a model student.

Then one day it happened. I was teaching, when suddenly Reggie exploded, shot out of his chair, and began jumping on tables and overturning empty chairs. I looked at my aide, and she immediately ushered the other students from the room while I softly talked to Reggie in an attempt to quiet him. Eventually, Reggie calmed down, and I was able to pull him onto my lap to talk.

“Reggie,” I said, “you’ve had so many good days. You’ve been doing so well. What happened?”

Without hesitation, Reggie responded, penitently, “Teacher, I ran out of nice.” Immediately, I understood.

The team and Reggie and I worked well together, and by year’s end there were no more outbursts, and he went on to become a lovely young man. But before then, he had other days when he “ran out of nice.”

I’ve done that. I’ve expended all my efforts trying to do what I knew I should (sometimes like Paul’s quandary in Romans 7) and failed. I’ve run out of nice. And then I remember that there really isn’t any good thing in my flawed humanity but only what Christ produces in and through me. So I have to make a U-turn and get back to the Source, the Source of nice, of goodness, of perfect love. And that Source never runs out.

Father, help me to stay focused on you and to live in you so that what comes out of me is your love, your kindness, your beauty. Remind me that I can do nothing without you, but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. In Jesus’ Name. AMEN.


And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19 (NIV)

Have you heard the predictions about the cataclysm that may be just a few days away? I have friends who are stocking up on food and water, just in case. (I did grab extra peanut butter when I was out shopping.)

In an earlier conversation with my brother, practical person that he is, he pointed out that hungry people would be driven to desperation and would break in to empty out those well-stocked pantries among us. And, on the other hand, wouldn’t it be our Christian duty to share with those in need and thereby show Christ’s love?

Any way one looks at the future, we always come back to one of our core principles: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not depend on your own understanding. Surely, the One who feeds the sparrows and multiplies loaves and fishes is able to sustain his children. And perhaps that will be through those who were led to get extra provisions for just such a time. (I’ve got peanut butter to share.)

Father, help us to never yield to fear no matter how desperate our situation. Help us to remember all the saints for whom you provided, knowing that you are the same God yesterday, today, and forever. Help us to keep trusting you. AMEN.


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

How many times have you heard or read the above words and yet crumble at the first sign that the hoped-for raise isn’t coming? Or that the proposal you expected is nowhere in sight? Or that the dream that seemed almost within your grasp has failed to materialize—again?

Could it be that what we call “disappointments” are really “his appointments”? That he has something even better that you had planned or expected? Look back at the times in your life when a door was closed, one that you’d really wanted to enter. Do you remember that later God presented an opportunity that you’d never imagined but that was definitely his doing and his gift? Stir up your memory to remember God’s faithfulness during those times you felt let down, when your plans didn’t materialize.

During times of disappointment, we need to do three things: remember God’s faithfulness, trust him, and wait. Disappointments are really excellent opportunities to simply WAIT to see God has coming. It’s going to be good because God is good. All the time.

Father, sometimes we bend and sway with the slightest breeze when you want us to grow into oaks of righteousness. Use our disappointments to turn our eyes and hearts to you in trust. We commit ourselves to waiting on you. In our Lord’s name. AMEN.


God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1 (KJV)

“Stand on your own two feet” is a phrase many of us learned growing up. Essentially, it meant that we were to grow in independence, develop our skills, and become self-sufficient. We do a pretty good job of that until we begin to encounter some of the rough patches of real life.

The storms that are essential components for maturity buffet us as relationships unravel, as cherished careers disappoint, as finances fluctuate, and as any number of unanticipated events rock our world. In our disillusionment we suddenly become clear-sighted; we discern there’s a missing element; that we are not enough. We just can’t stand on our own two feet.

We discover the God who has been there all the time, but now we need him. We are not sufficient to ourselves. He has been waiting for us to realize this; he has waited for our epiphany. We gradually, tentatively, begin to rest on and in him. He is there, and he is enough.

Dear Father, thank you for always being Emmanuel, God with us, and for your incredible patience. Let us rest ourselves in you. Let us lean on your everlasting arms. In Jesus our Lord. Amen.