In 2 Corinthians 12:7 Paul is talking about having a “thorn” in his flesh. He describes it as “A Messenger of Satan” that was sent to “harass” him. He begs God to take it away from him multiple times, yet God does not (2 Corinthians 12:8). The Bible is not clear on whether Paul’s “thorn” was a temptation or physical limitation. Regardless, we all have a thorn that we wish we could get rid of.
Webster’s defines a thorn as “something that causes distress or irritation.” Your particular thorn might be an addiction, insecurity, chronic illness, domestic issue, or physical limitation. For me, it’s the thorn of anxiety and depression.
I was diagnosed in 2008 with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Anxiety makes the simplest of tasks “seem” impossible. I can recall countless days and nights lying in bed with tears streaming down my face, pleading with God, as Paul did, to remove this thorn. I had faith God could heal me, but I couldn’t understand why He wasn’t. For seven years, I allowed this thorn to consume me with despair. I quit my job, I closed myself off to the people around me and the promises God had instore for me. I was convinced this was all there was to my life and my purpose could not be fulfilled because of my thorn.
In 2015, while attending a church service I heard God whisper to me, “it’s not over, keep fighting!” I made the decision to keep believing for my healing, but made a resolve in my heart. If my thorn was going to remain, I had to come to accept that God’s purpose and plan for my life was far greater than any thorn I was facing. Like Paul, my attitude changed from “God, deliver me” to “God, your grace is sufficient.” I exchanged despair for determination. I have learned three lessons from my thorn:
- My dependence on God.
When things are going well we are tempted to forget how dependent we are upon God for anything and everything. Our thorns remind us that we are in need of a Savior and refine our trust in God. Through hardships and suffering God teaches us things we would have not otherwise learned through a book, seminar, or through comfort and prosperity.
Paul was a gifted person and could have easily became proud in his abilities and accomplishments. God permitted his thorn to keep him humble and from becoming conceited. Paul’s thorn brought him to the realization of his reliance on God. Have you considered that your thorn is what actually keeps you running back to Him?
- God’s grace is enough.
Let’s be real. I don’t know anyone on the planet who would say, “Yes, God I’ll take some distress with a side of hardship. Hit me with some more!” I, for one, try to avoid pain of any kind as much as possible. Clearly, Paul had the same feelings about his thorn. My flesh would have rather stayed in my despair and bitterness. I had to consciously make the decision to accept the exchange of my weakness for his strength.
Though Paul never confesses the nature of his thorn, he does tell us God’s answer to it: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). I like how specific God is when he says “My grace is sufficient for you.” He knows our thorn and He gives us the exact amount of grace that we as individuals need.
Paul found consolation in knowing that God’s grace is sufficient and through infirmities, insults, hardships, persecutions, perplexities, and distresses God would be glorified (2 Corinthians 12:10). I can now take pleasure in the knowledge that God is receiving glory through my suffering and hardships. That is to say, He can now perform a good work in my life to demonstrate his love for me.
- God can still use me.
A thorn can leave you feeling helpless, inadequate, and useless. I don’t know about you but I tend to allow the comparison trap to get me. I will talk myself out of doing things the Lord is calling me to do just because I do not feel good enough. Been there? I am learning that God doesn’t require perfect, just available vessels to accomplish His purpose. I want to remind you that you are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) and that includes any affliction or weakness you perceive to have.
Once I got a grip on why God was permitting my thorn, I was able to see that my thorn could help me connect with others who might be facing the same thing. Paul said, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). When we are vulnerable, people will find us relatable. Vulnerability allows people to see they have access to the same power God is producing in us. There’s something about knowing you’re not the only one facing a particular thorn. Whatever our thorns in the flesh may be, the Lord has determined to use them for His good purposes.