Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Stuck by a Thorn

"To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassing great revelations, 
there was given me a thorn in my flesh, the messenger of Satan, to torment me. 
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 
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. 
That is why, 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."
2 Corinthians 12:7-10

God gave His Apostle, Paul, visions of things to come. Those visions were so wonderful Paul found them impossible to describe. Visions could have become a source of pride, but God allowed Satan to give Paul what he called a "thorn in his flesh." We assume that the thorn was a weakness that was designed to keep him humble. We can better understand this passage by looking at the definitions of two key words. The first definition of a thorn is "a sharp stake used for torturing or impaling someone" which could imply that Paul's "thorn" was a physical pain, causing him great stress. The other word is "torment" which comes from the word "buffet" which means "to beat, to strike with the fist." When Paul was feeling the affects of his affliction, he literally felt like he was being pounded with a sharp stake. This description would indicate that Paul found it uncomfortable experiencing his human weaknesses. Other's believe his thorn was a weakness in his flesh. This makes sense, too, for when a person loves God like Paul did, besetting temptations are painful to the soul and can come upon us so quickly we feel we are being punched in the gut by pressure to sin. 

Sometimes we suffer because of our sin and at other times we suffer because of the sin of others. We may suffer because of God-allowed or God-orchestrated trials. We want to remember God uses trials to build godly character. My grandfather used to polish rocks to make jewelry. He put them in a tumbler with some water and sand and the rocks tumbled over each other and the sand for weeks. When he took them out they were no longer just ordinary rocks. They had become shiny, smooth rocks full of beautiful colors that weren't observable before. This life is God's tumbler and the sand is the various trials we experience in life. He is breaking away all that is not lovely or holy as trials and other people bump into us. As He wears away fleshly parts, it can hurt because He's deflating pride and putting us in the position to see how much we need Him. We want to remember difficult circumstances are always an invitation to intimacy with God, who delights in us and desires to bless us. One of the most significant blessings is His Grace, which doesn't just remove difficulties or just forgives us of sin. Grace is also the promise that God is and will continue to purify us from the inside out. 

Paul asked God to deliver him from his "thorn" three times, but the answer was "No"! However, God promised Paul His grace would be sufficient. Amazingly, Paul knew God had not deserted him. Maybe because of his heavenly visions, he understood this world we live in is a temporary home and would include pain and suffering. Paul didn't sin by asking God to remove the thorn; he obeyed Him by casting his cares upon him and asking others to pray for him. He had churches to visit, missionary journeys to take, letters to write, dangers to face, counseling to accomplish, sermons to write, and conflicts to settle. We can't blame him for wanting to be free of his “thorn.” However, maybe it was his " thorn" that commanded his continual dependence on God and intimacy with God that flowed from it that allowed God to manifest his power in Paul's weakness. Out of his dependence on God, Paul's letters were penned and those letters would not have been as rich and full of God’s mercy and truth had Paul not depended on Him. His sermons would not have had the same impact on the early church had he not been transparent in his walk. Paul’s words would not have had the same comfort for those suffering had his life been trouble free. Paul understood "thorns" served a purpose, while knowing the same God who can heal or remove them is the same God who has the right not to. Paul recognized in his weaknesses, he experienced God's glorious power. He faced weaknesses, insults, hardships persecution, and difficulty. 

I can so relate this to difficult relationships I've had. I can relate it to painful circumstances that left deep wounds now turned to scars. I can relate it to painful memories of failures that occasionally still haunt me. I can relate it to the times people misunderstood my heart and my motives and accused me of things I never thought of doing. I can relate it to the ever presence of an eating disorder that still at times beacons  me to follow it instead of God who I know loves me. I can relate it to the pain that rises in my bones that is a constant reminder of painful breaks and isolated months of healing. 

But this I know...when my body hurts, it is an invitation to receive God’s strength. When I am feeling depressed, it is an invitation to hang on to His joy, so that I don't despair. When I am feeling stressed, it is an opportunity to let Him give me His peace. When I am grieving, it is an invitation to let God turn my mourning into dancing. I know I when I struggle with physical weaknesses or with spiritual temptation, I can let Him walk me through it with His strength. God's power and peace and grace can only be comprehended in the backdrop of weaknesses, trials, and need. I am so thankful for intimacy with the all-powerful, holy, and exalted God who has invited me to call Him Abba—Daddy! I am thankful He is true to His Word.

Prayer: Father, suffering is so hard to write about. For me, it has been an invitation to intimacy with YOU! I am also fully aware that others suffer in ways I have not and in ways I never will. I don't want to be pretentious or discount pain, but I want them to know You are there. You promise You will be sufficient for them. Please wrap your arms around those who are hurting. Please open the eyes of those who are hungry to be loved to your pure and holy love and teach them to receive it and be satisfied with it…even during the briar patches of life? For those who serve You and struggle with the flesh, will you draw their minds to you when they are tempted so they experience victory? Please comfort those who are weeping and speak hope into their hearts. Teach us to glory in our weaknesses, to turn to you to be content in Your Grace and Your comfort. Amen.

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!