Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a 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.”
This passage has been something of a mystery. The application is relatively easy to understand, but the affliction that Paul called “a thorn in my flesh” has caused considerable disagreement among Bible scholars.
If we allow ourselves to focus on the thorn and not the benefits, we miss out on a great spiritual truth. So let’s get the thorn out of the way first.
The thorn could have been a physical ailment, especially if the word flesh was to be taken literally. Some have suggested eye trouble, malaria, and even epilepsy. If the word flesh referenced the fallen nature, then the thorn may have been temptation. Paul certainly had more than his share of opposition and persecution. So it could have been that “flesh” was to have been taken figuratively.
Whatever the thorn, it was deeply troubling. Paul blamed it on “a messenger of Satan.” And he addressed the concern as any devoted follower of Christ would handle it. He prayed about it — three times, but the Lord did not grant his request.
Paul’s prayer has an interesting parallel in the earthly ministry of Christ. In Mark 14:32-41, we read an account of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, in which the Lord prayed three times for the Father to spare Him from crucifixion. As mentioned in yesterday’s devotion, Jesus also added, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (v36)
In both scenarios, for Paul and Jesus, the Father gave sufficient strength to withstand their ordeals. In each, God was glorified as His higher purpose was realized.
I speak often of the prayers God has answered in my life. That’s what we want to hear when we’re needing encouragement. But I would be doing a disservice to you if I failed to tell you that sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers as we expect.
Radio jobs were seldom secure and often hung by a thread due to format changes, ratings deficiencies, change of ownership, or conflicts with management. Often I prayed fervently and frequently. Sometimes those prayers were answered the way I prayed, but on other occasions they weren’t.
Any pastor will tell you that there are more than enough thorns that arise in ministry. I certainly had my share. Some of those prayers didn’t go my way either.
Just like you, I’ve prayed for family concerns, health issues, relationship conflicts with co-workers, career advancement, and things I considered to be monumentally important at the time. All of those prayers didn’t end the way I prayed.
Unanswered prayer is not always due to lack of faith, not praying expectantly, or praying with enough sufficiency. Sometimes, God says “no” or “not yet.” But He is always right. God’s will — over our will. Like Jesus taught in the Lord’s prayer. “Thy will be done.” (Matthew 6:10)
Paul could see how his troubling situation benefitted him personally. The thorn was keeping him from becoming conceited after receiving “surpassingly great revelations,” including a trip to heaven and back. (2 Corinthians 12:2) His theological insight was unsurpassed. It would have been easy for him to get, as we used to say back home, “the big head.”
If God gave us everything we asked for, we wouldn’t need Him. If we have nothing to trust God for, then there’s no need for faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6)
It has been my experience that God always leaves something big for me to trust Him for. When one trial passes, something else pops up to keep me on my spiritual toes.
Paul learned a valuable lesson about dependency on the Lord. God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
You sing, “To God be the glory,” and NOT, “to me be the glory.” We rely on His grace, His sufficiency, and His power to handle the thorns that won’t go away.
For more on this topic, check out this article: God Protects and Vindicates His Children
Reprinted from The Forever Notebook, Book 3 (July – September) Get your copy here: Paperback and eBook/Kindle formats.