So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. [2 Corinthians 12:7 (NLT)]
The prayer from The Valley of Vision read: “I am at a loss to know what thou wouldest have me do, for I feel amazingly deserted by thee, and sense thy presence so little…” In the margin of the book, I’d written “I feel this way sometimes!” while adding “I’m in need of grace!” For much of the past year, I’ve pondered the question of, “Where is God when you desperately need Him?” I’ve often felt abandoned and alone as if my prayers for relief were falling on deaf ears.
It’s easier to write about Paul’s acceptance of the thorn in his flesh, taking pleasure in our troubles, and finding strength in our weakness than actually doing it! While usually translated as “thorn” the Greek word used in 2 Corinthians 12:7 was skolops which meant anything with a sharp point that could produce pain—from a splinter to a stake upon which he could be impaled! We don’t know the exact nature of Paul’s thorn but there’s no doubt it caused him more distress than a mere splinter and, by the time he wrote 2 Corinthians, it had afflicted him for fourteen years! Used figuratively, the thorn could have been his poor eye sight, another physical ailment, depression, persecution, or an enemy. His vagueness is purposeful since the verse is not about the thorn’s identity but its purpose and, at some time or another, we all will have thorns troubling us.
Although Paul knew he could only survive by depending on the Lord, he initially saw only two options. Either the Lord could remove the thorn so he could get on with his ministry or the thorn would remain troubling him and hindering his ministry. God, however, offered Paul a third option. God would leave the thorn but supply him with grace enough to continue—not on Paul’s strength but, by the grace of God, on His.
For more than a year, a series of painful physical issues have plagued me. Although I had some temporary relief, now they’re back and brought some thorny friends with them. For the past year, my prayers were about returning to what I called normal, which simply was the old routine to which I’d grown accustomed and liked. Like Paul, I saw only two options and it felt like my prayers fell on deaf ears as I pled for relief. Thinking of myself as sort of a super woman who, with enough grit, could power through every setback, it was pride that kept me from praying the right prayer. Finally, rather than pleading with God to remove my thorn, my prayer was one of acceptance; I asked God for grace enough to meet each day and to show me how to serve Him in what is my new normal. God hadn’t been deaf to me but my pride had caused me to be deaf to Him. Giving the same answer He gave Paul, He reminded me that His power works best in weakness and His grace is all I need. God told me to accept my thorns and to trust in His future grace.
Depending on God’s power and strength, I will continue in this ministry but, in acceptance of my limitations, rather than Monday through Friday, God willing, I will publish only twice each week: Monday and Thursday. Paul’s thorn didn’t stop him and, while mine will slow me down, it won’t stop me either!
O that all my distressed and apprehensions might prove but Christ’s school to make me fit for greater service by teaching me the great lesson of humility. [The Valley of Vision – A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions (Arthur Bennett, ed.)]