…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.