Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!
Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. – 2 Cor 12:7-10
I was reading my bible tonight, and ran across this verse. Who knows how many thousands of times I’ve read it, said it, heard it, remembered it? But this time it was a bit different. I started mulling over what it really meant.
So often we forget that the “heroes” we read about were regular people.
They were real people, just like you and me. We forget that they suffered through the same struggles, habits, bondages, inadequacies, etc that we do, and tend to elevate them to a level rivaling deity, but really, that’s doing them an injustice. They were human, no more perfect than we are, and they struggled through many of the same things that we do on a day-to-day basis.
Paul was super educated… top tier schooling. He was a religious leader, ostensibly the ruling party of the day, for all practical purposes. His status would have immediately elevated him above 99% of the rest of the population based on that alone. Add to that the power of God that was working in him, and the amazing, far-reaching mission field he was given to operate in and the major societal transformations that he saw under his watch, and you know… it’s pretty easy to understand how pride would have crept in.
I thought about the phrase “a messenger of Satan sent to torment me.” Who sent that tormenting Spirit? I started to wonder if God Himself didn’t allow that spirit to torment Paul just BECAUSE of his high likelihood of falling into pride.
Think about those things that nag at you.
The thorns in the flesh, the splinters that constantly ache but that you can’t seem to pull out… they drive you nuts. The pain is constant, the awareness of its intrusion into your skin can’t be forgotten… it gnaws at you until you finally get it out and with it the pain. Could it be that sin does the same to us? That we all have thing we’re constantly battling, things that never seem to leave us alone, things that seem to constantly keep us from all that we are created to be in Jesus Christ.
Entertain this thought with me for a moment, please. Think of that one thing that you can’t seem to shake… maybe its your road rage when driving in traffic (guilty!), maybe its that smoking habit you can’t kick, the foul mouth, the nasty thoughts… whatever it is, it torments you because you know that it keeps you from being really, truly Christlike, and you battle to remove it, you pray about it, you fast, you try to change habits, and yet its always there, lurking in the background… your personal shame, your vice, or your entanglement. What if God, in His omniscience, CHOSE to allow that in your life for reasons only He knows – reasons that He foreknew would conform you to the image of His son Jesus. For ALL things work for the GOOD of those who love the Lord and who are called according to His purpose, right?
So with that thought, I sat down to write and read a cross-reference of the verse from The Message translation… I don’t often use this version, since I don’t often like its paraphrase of scripture, but in this case, I thought it summed it up pretty well. Check this out:
Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then He 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.
“I was given the gift of a handicap” – Do you see how awesome this is?
Paul recognized a few things from this “gift” that tormented him without ceasing. It was a GIFT from God. How, you ask? Well, Paul said that he prayed about it, multiple times, presumably fervently, asking for it to be taken away. And what did Jesus say? He didn’t say no. He didn’t condemn Paul for constantly dealing with it.
Jesus said, effectively, “Hey Paul, quit letting it bug you. I’m allowing it in your life… that pain that you can’t shake? I’ve allowed it to persist because it keeps you JUST where I can use you… broken and humble before Me. See, when you’re in that place of humility and weakness… well, then the fun starts. That’s where I can get the most glory, because then I can work through you, a broken vessel, with My awesome power and truly do a wonderful thing through your life.”
“My GRACE is sufficient.” Jesus knew about the thorn in Paul’s flesh. It didn’t matter much overall… Jesus had enough grace to cover its implications.
“My grace IS sufficient.” All that Paul ever needed to be victorious in the strength of His God was ALREADY PROVIDED by the grace that Jesus freely extended to him through it.
“My grace is SUFFICIENT.” The grace of Jesus Christ covered ALL OF IT. There was no limit to His grace, there was no limit to its effectiveness, its coverage, or its ability to work through the thorn.
Jesus said, in essence, “Yep, I know all about that thorn. I’m going to leave it there to protect you from pride, knowing that it’d ruin your service to Me. So quit letting it hang over you like a black cloud, Paul. Rejoice over it! I’ve sent it, and like the oyster creates a pearl of great worth from the grain of sand that constantly irritates it, so will this thorn continue to perfect you in My power. You’re learning more and more about how incapable you are without My strength, and that’s a GOOD thing!”
In our own strength we cannot achieve anything of worth for God’s kingdom. Our human tendency is to want to try to, though. God, knowing this, allows trials, temptations, attacks… gnawing aches, sins, fears, etc that keep us from exalting ourselves and recognizing that it is purely His power & His strength that is at work in and through us.
I love the conclusion of the verse in The Message: “Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift.”
Here’s my challenge to you:
Reassess those things in your life that gnaw at you, and that God doesn’t make go away no matter how much you pray about it. Consider it as a possible blessing, sent by God to continually keep you in an attitude of humble brokenness before Him. This is the very attitude that releases the power of God through your life and allows you to flourish in every good work that He has created for you to accomplish.
Strength through weakness. Another of God’s great juxtapositions. When we’re trying our best to serve, honor, and obey Jesus with all our might… these things that never seem to go away might be the BEST thing to happen in our spiritual lives! Rejoice, because your pearl of great worth is being formed, right now, in the midst of this struggle and BECAUSE of it. Beloved, do not be concerned by this fiery ordeal that has overtaken you. God’s got you covered. He knows you, knows what He’s allowed in your life, and knows that it WILL accomplish what He desires, which is conforming you to the likeness of His Son, Jesus, making you STRONG through Jesus Christ.
I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty awesome. That’s worthy of some praise. Only our great God can use the hurtful things in our life to make us beautiful and whole.
In light of that, maybe you’ll join me in getting on your knees before the Father and thanking Him for what He’s allowing, and what He’s doing in you, through your faith in His Son, Jesus. I think its worthy of a praise shout, don’t you?
Blessings in Christ Jesus over you today, beloved. Don’t quit, your victory is promised! Keep up the fight and watch and see what great things Jesus does in and through your life.