II Corinthians 2:9, 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (NIV).
Most of us in the body of Christ know that on at least three occasions, the Apostle Paul pleaded with the Lord to take away his “thorn” in the flesh. We know from scripture that God did not remove Paul’s thorn nor do we really know what the thorn was.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, Paul opens his heart and shares something of the frustration, disappointment and sadness that he endured as a result of not having the thorn removed. Some scholars have speculated that Paul’s thorn may have been an ophthalmic condition after having been blinded on the road to Damascus, or even an autoimmune disease. I believe the Holy Spirit purposefully did not script Paul’s thorn because the grace of God is universal for all conditions physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally.
Nine months ago, I preached a message where I shared with the Saints of the Most High, our struggle as a married couple with infertility. To date, this was the most painful message I have ever shared. My whole life I have taught, heard and pondered on the miraculous healing power of God but secretly lived with overwhelming pain and sadness that even with exhausting medical treatments and countless prayers, God would not remove the thorn of infertility from my wife and me. The truth is, many days I wondered, “Does God even care?” “Why does God hate us?” “Is there even really a God?” On these days, I take solace in the Word of God.
Like Paul, many of us have found ourselves praying for the removal of a thorn usually in the form of illness or bad circumstances, only to see that God has not obliged. Even for believers, this can lead to a strained relationship with God. I cannot tell you of the many times my wife and I have set through Mother’s Day and Father Day church services fighting back tears as we endured the moment when the well-meaning preacher or devotional leader would say, “Will all the mothers (fathers) rise for acknowledgment.” Sometimes the pain was [is] so overwhelming that we skip church on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Many of you reading this now can relate. Perhaps you have wondered how after giving your whole life to Christ’s church and working with young people, your own child fractured the law and is now serving prison time or maybe even strung out on opiates or joined the class of teenage moms.
I wish that I could write that living a life for Christ will exempt us from pain, suffering and mental anguish, but it will not. As believers we should remember that God does not always change our circumstances or respond to our inner most desires; and he frequently allows circumstances we wish he would not. Nevertheless, essential to our faith is the bedrock principle that God is in complete control. This includes the events he orchestrates and the circumstances he permits, including his decision not to remove thorns from our lives.
I am learning to walk in God’s grace in a manner that I may not have if my wife and I were not struggling with infertility. Now let me be clear, God is not the author of sickness. However, when he chooses not to allow healing or relief from a thorn he is exercising his “right” as the sovereign God. As I frequently say, our love for God cannot be based on the old Janet Jackson song, “What have you done for me lately?”
There are many times in biblical history where the enemy of our soul used thorns to try and kill the people of God literally and physically but the grace of God flipped the proverbial script.
Joseph experienced betrayal when his brothers sold him into slavery, and later sustained a serious miscarriage of justice when imprisoned for committing no crime. In the end, he realized that the Lord had mercifully and graciously used those circumstances to rescue his family from a severe famine. Consequently, we learn, God develops our character and dependence on him, as we deal with our thorns. Moreover, God often works through trials to bless us and others around us. Because my wife and I do not have children of our own, we have been blessed to be godparents and mentors to children we never would have developed relationships with, if we had our own children.
Despite your pain, know as I have come to know, we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8) and in grace we stand sure footed. (Romans 5:2). Grace girds our salvation and helps us overcome thorns, fleshly desires, and aids us in enduring suffering and pain. II Corinthians 12:10 assures us “for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (NIV). Agape.