Lessons from the Thorn

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Lessons from the Thorn

5 June 2024 Hits:977

In last week’s blog, I explored the context of 2 Corinthians 11 and 12. I specified the nature of Paul’s thorn in the flesh: “I believe Paul’s thorn in the flesh resulted from the harsh experiences, particularly the persecutions he endured for the gospel’s sake.”

Paul’s experiences can teach us some essential lessons, which I’ll explore in this week’s blog. Do you have a thorn in your flesh – a continuous problem or annoyance that makes life challenging? More importantly, like Paul, what can we learn from our experiences?

Prayer

I like the way Eugene Peterson expresses Paul’s words in The Message Bible, “Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees.” When we experience a thorn in our side, does it push us to our knees? Do we pray about it or complain about it? Does it define us and our conversation, or do we Take it to the Lord in Prayer?

A couple of things are worth noting here. Firstly, don’t use the thorn as an excuse not to pray. I’ve heard people say, “It’s just a thorn in my side that I have to bear”—a fatalistic attitude that is the opposite of faith.

Secondly, praying about the same thing more than once is fine. Paul pleaded three times with the Lord to take the thorn away. Pleaded is a legal term “to put forward reasons for a case strongly.” Our youngest daughter, Trinity, who wants to be a lawyer, does this whenever she wants something. She writes a proposal stating why she needs a (rabbit, kitten, new phone, etc) and then asks Christie and me to sit down so she can plead her case. She’s very convincing, and sometimes her “prayers” are answered with “yes.” We can put this same kind of effort into our prayer life until God answers.

Paul pleaded in prayer three times until he got an answer from God. The answer was not what he expected, but it was still an answer. Jesus prayed three times in Gethsemane, “saying the same words.” Jesus prayed twice for a blind man because his sight was only partially restored the first time he prayed.

I encourage you to practice persistent prayer until God answers and then, like Paul, accept God’s answer.

What else can we learn from a thorn in our flesh?

Humility

At the start of 2 Corinthians 12, the apostle writes about visions and revelations from the Lord, of an experience of being caught up to the third heaven or paradise and hearing inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. One can only wonder at these experiences. I’ve had some overwhelming times feeling God’s presence, but nothing like this has ever happened to me.

Paul says, “In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh.” The weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties Paul endured kept him humble. It’s important to note that the degrees of responsibility will equal the depth of suffering. Jesus put it this way: ” Everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” We may be tempted to want the same experiences Paul had, but we must also realise that those encounters and responsibilities led to immense suffering. Do you want that too?

Dependency

Paul learned that his weaknesses were an opportunity for Christ’s power to rest on him. The change in perspective allowed him to delight (take pleasure) in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties. Why? “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” This is an amazing lesson—one I’m still working on.

Paul told the Philippians that his sufferings had helped him learn the secret of being content in any and every situation and that he could do this through Jesus, “who gives me strength.” We can only learn dependence and contentment when we face adverse circumstances. So, discipline your mind to view these things from a different perspective.

Grace

Have you noticed that God invariably answers our prayers in a way that differs from our expectations? Sometimes, God answers before we pray. At other times, God may answer immediately. But more often than not, the answer is “yes, but not now” or, as in the case of Paul’s thorn, “No, but here’s my grace.” God always answers prayer; as I tell my kids, “No” is an answer!

When the answer is “No,” God provides the grace we need to bear the thorn—this is God’s sustaining grace. Eugene Peterson again: “[God] told me, ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’ Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness.”

When facing tough times, I encourage you to change perspective and focus on God’s grace and strength, moving in on your weaknesses. You don’t have to enjoy the hard things life dishes up, but you can endure them. By doing this, you’ll witness God refining your character and providing strength and grace. Learn the lessons from the thorn.

 

Rob Buckingham

Senior Minister

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