“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” 2 Corinthians 12:9
A small, older, hunched-over lady greeted us with a glowing smile at the doorway of our little son Matthew’s Sunday school room. She was one of the most effective Sunday school teachers at our church, and Matt loved her. I’ll never forget the time she told me, “Pastor, God made me small and bent over so that I can be right down here where the children are! If I weren’t like this, I couldn’t relate to them so well.” I was blown away by her perspective on her plight in life—her “thorn in the flesh.”
A thorn in the flesh is any affliction in our lives that, if we aren’t careful, can defeat us with a good dose of self-pity and embitter us toward God. But the important thing to know about our thorns is that Satan desires to use them to defeat us, while God is determined to use them for our good and His glory.
The apostle Paul is probably the most famous example of someone who was stuck with a thorn in the flesh. Paul knew right where the thorn had come from. He referred to it as a messenger of Satan. And though Paul never tells us what his thorn was, I think it’s clear that it was a serious problem to Paul. He said: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me” (2 Corinthians 12:8). God didn’t answer his prayer with a miraculous healing, but rather assured Paul that, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
It’s important to know that when God permits a thorn to remain, He gives us grace to accept it and sometimes even the grace to understand the purpose for which the thorn is intended. Paul came to realize that God permitted his affliction “to keep me from becoming conceited” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul was a gifted person and could have easily become proud in his abilities and accomplishments. That proud spirit would have been a disaster to his usefulness for God. So God took what Satan had intended to defeat Paul and turned it into a smashing victory by enabling him to stay appropriately humble and therefore useful.
Getting a grip on why God permits our afflictions, weaknesses, or disabilities to remain has a powerful effect on our attitudes. Instead of shaking his fist at God and grumbling about his thorn, Paul realized that God’s power was being made perfect in his weakness. That insight produced an upbeat spirit of delight and satisfaction. As Paul said, “for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses . . . For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
We normally don’t think of being strong in weakness, but that’s just how God works. He knows that if we think we are strong in and of ourselves, then we will become proud and self-sufficient. And when we feel that way, we are in reality very weak and unable to accomplish much of anything except for thinking how cool and capable we are. God has a better plan. When He needs to accomplish really great things through us, He sometimes needs to get our twisted view of ourselves out of the way. So He takes Satan’s intrusions into our lives and beats Satan at his own game! You may see it as a thorn, but God sees it as a triumph!
You don’t have to be Paul to start seeing what God is doing through your thorn. Rejoice that He cares enough to keep you from getting in the way of the great things that He wants to do through your life!
- Read Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:3-9. What do these passages have in common?
- What thorn is sticking in your side right now? How could God use it to glorify Himself?
- Have you given in to your thorn to the point where it has made you bitter and defeated? How can you reclaim that ground for Christ’s glory?
- Thorns are a mark of suffering. It is no coincidence that Jesus wore a crown of thorns before He was crucified. What does Christ’s suffering mean to you?