Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Gift of Thorns {2021}

pink rose sprinkled with raindrops
Pioneer Spirit rose from Antique Rose Emporium

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 two decades of living with chronic illnesses (including the last 11 years of ever-multiplying areas of chronic pain and 2 cancers) have 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 my chronic pain is mildly on the uptick and a new, odd, uncomfortable autoimmune symptom invites questions and patience with the weeks of healing required. My cancer history requires frequent tests, exams, and imaging which crowd out other ways I'd prefer to invest those hours and that precious energy week by week.

Covidian quarantine wearies the soul. As the nation reopens, Amore and I are still mostly cocooned at home and among a small group of fully vaccinated family members. My autoimmune disease and the treatments for it mean that, though I am fully vaccinated, I am likely far from fully protected from the virus that causes COVID-19. Even in that I must depend on the help of others to protect me through their vaccinations and continued caution while we wait for some sort of safe, effective booster for the 10 million immunocompromised Americans. Or for herd immunity.

Every life experiences thorns, none of which are easy or pleasant. I suspect every life has experienced multiple painful thorns over the last year and a half. Paul's threefold prayer for the removal of Satan's tormenting angel indicates his realistic assessment of his 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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