Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Gift of Thorns {Remix}

 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:7-10, ESV).

Twice here Paul states the purpose of his thorn: “to keep me from becoming conceited” (v.7, ESV). Granted, the affliction also came from Satan to harass and torment, but even that harassment proved a gift to pierce his pride.

More than a decade of living with chronic illnesses, including the last four years of ever-multiplying areas of chronic pain,  has acquainted me with weakness and feeling harassed. Few days pass now without the slow hiss of punctured pride. I hear it every time it pains me to say, “I can’t do this. Will you please help me?” My private tantrums over unattainable desires, petty or substantial, reveal my addictions to control and comfort. My discombobulation at God’s refusals exposes the areas of life where I still want my kingdom, not His.

Perhaps some people grow accustomed to this weakness, truly "content" as Paul was. I have not yet arrived at that place. As soon as I think I have, some new pain or health problem ambushes me (but not God), increasing the level of difficulty beyond my strength so that I plead with the Lord again for the removal of the thorn that carves out more and more space in me for the power of Christ to dwell.

At this writing I look ahead to surgical repair on torn cartilage in my shoulder and my flesh quails from the thought of several weeks with my dominant arm in a sling, several weeks of the constant litany of asking for help, of utter dependence on others to assist with basic needs. It's so much more comfortable to give help rather than always to need it. More comfortable for my pride, at least.

Every life experiences thorns, none of which are easy or pleasant. Paul’s threefold prayer for the removal of Satan’s tormenting angel indicates his realistic assessment of the pain. This passage challenges our perspective on suffering because Paul does not stop at pleading for relief but opens himself to receive the blessings in the thorn:
  •      Purging the pride that sets us in opposition to God (v.7; James 4:6).
  •      Staging the perfect display of God’s sufficient grace (v.9).
  •      Opening the way through weakness for Christ’s power to reside in him (v.9).
Paul so esteems these blessings that he boasts for Christ’s sake about the tough stuff of life rather than in his heavenly vision.

Lord, thank You for the gift of thorns. We don’t like them and will be pleased for You to remove them as soon as they have accomplished Your work in us. Until then, they are a gift from You, our loving Father. By faith, we thank You and ask that Your grace and power would shine all the more because of them. Amen.


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