by Matt Losee
It’s one of my favorite verses.
It’s also one of the ones I cringe at the most. If you’ve been around church long enough, you’ve probably heard it at one time or another.
Paul the Apostle finishes one of the most exhaustive lists of trials that a Christian could possibly go through in one lifetime. It seems almost unbelievable. And yet, he doesn’t seem particularly phased by it. I mean, it’s a big deal to have gone through those things, but to Paul, it seems like it just became another part of his life.
But there was this one thing…
This is just my impression, but it appears that he just couldn’t stand it, he wanted so badly to get rid of it. He thought about it frequently, Scripture says enough to pray passionately to the Lord on three noted occasions. Not quick “Lord, please!” prayers…deep, lengthy, calculated, stop everything, “I’m begging You, God!” prayers.
Three. Separate. Times.
He called it a “thorn in the flesh“. In other words, something that was consistently bothering him. I have to think that for someone who’d gone through as much as Paul had, this was a pretty serious thing for him to think about it this way. It probably was. Why do I highlight this? Because I have a thing like this too. I think we all do.
It’s the thing you think most holds you back.
It’s the thing you don’t want to rule your life.
It’s the thing you wish God would just take away; the thing you lay awake at night thinking about, praying for a miracle.
It’s the thing that life would be so much better without.
What is it for you?
The reason I cringe so often at this verse I’ve been referencing is because of how the Lord responds to Paul’s passionate cries. To me, it’s the most difficult thing He could say. It pushes the boundaries of spiritual fortitude and intellectual comprehension. It’s a response that makes you sit back and think, “How?” I should probably share the verse with you…
“And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for [My] power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a)
So that thing, that thing that sometimes bothers you so much, that thing you wish would go away because of how you think it holds you back, God says (here) that He may not take it away. For Paul, the Scripture gives the impression that He NEVER took it away. Why? Doesn’t God care? Doesn’t He hurt when we hurt? Doesn’t He want to take away our pain? Of course, God cares. Of course, God hurts when we hurt. And of course, God wants to take our pain away.
And He will, one day…
But right now…in this life…our pain has a purpose. God wants to use our pain for His redemptive plan. God wants to take your pain and turn it into a platform, a platform for displaying His power. It’s His way of displaying His wisdom and glory. God wants to take your thorn and turn it into a trophy, a trophy celebrating God’s undeserved love and favor in your life. Is it possible to rethink how we see “that thing”?
“God wants to take your thorn and turn it into a trophy, a trophy celebrating God’s undeserved love and favor in your life.”
What if, instead of “needing” for things to be exactly as we think they should, we only “needed” God’s grace. That’s exactly what God says, His grace is the only thing we need. It’s enough for us, whether we think so or not.
For me, sometimes I feel really hindered by my chronic illness. I wish it were gone, I hate how it sometimes doesn’t let me do all the things I want to do for the Lord. I don’t like that it slows me down. But God, through it, has positioned me in such a way that I am now able to minister to people I would’ve never been able to before. It keeps me grounded, and it keeps me humble. It has shown me dozens of unhealthy life patterns that I’d been indulging in that were slowly destroying me. I never asked for help. I wanted to do everything myself. I didn’t sleep enough. I was involved in too many things. I thought I could keep going and never stop. I didn’t have compassion for hurting people like I should. I moved too fast in life and didn’t stop to enjoy it. I didn’t rest like I should.
“Be careful, when we wish away our weaknesses and our pain, we may be wishing away the tool that God uses to make us more like Him.”
But God has changed all of that through my thorn in the flesh. Crazy! That is grace. Be careful, when we wish away our weaknesses and our pain, we may be wishing away the tool that God uses to make us more like Him. We may be wishing away our own growth. God’s grace shows up in funny/unorthodox ways, and while I’m still working on it, I can now confidently declare that “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9b)
It’s difficult to stay in that mindset. I so quickly turn my eyes on myself and lose sight of what God wants to do in my life. Let us, with the Lord Jesus, say to the Father, “not my will, but Yours be done.”
Matt Losee is the Youth and Worship Pastor at New Hope Community Church and was the former Assistant Dean of Men at the Bible Institute. To read more from Matt’s blog, click here.