"a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
2 Corinthians 12:7b-10
Our church is starting a series on how to persevere when healing or answers are not coming. How to move forward in the faith when you are continuing to suffer. Continuing to face hardship or adversity. Continuing to feel like a certain prayer has not been heard.
Our pastor is looking to answer the question, when your pain and suffering seem to be constant, and God's healing may not come in your desired timeframe, what can you do?
It's an important series, because there are so many people suffering. So many people that are hurting and have been hurting for a while. Fighting through cancer treatments or facing an untreatable disease. Parents praying for their kid's safety and protection, but unable to help them through addiction, or other difficult life choices. A community reeling from the sudden loss of a beloved member.
There are times when we do see miraculous healing. There are times when it all can make sense.
But there are also those struggles where we never know the answer. We never see healing. We never understand.
Our study focused on Paul's thorn in the flesh, the weakness he struggled with and prayed to have removed repeatedly, to no avail. Paul, seen by many as the paragon of Christian living, struggled through this thorn for his lifetime.
But Paul came to understand the affect if not the purpose. Paul recognized that his weaknesses allowed God's strength to shine through. The cracks in his life allowed God's grace and mercy to pour out.
It's the miracle of a family being able to forgive the killer of one of their members. It's the patient having joy through a cancer battle, to the end. It's someone continuing to show up, continuing to believe, continuing to pray, though they may never see healing this side of eternity.
Those are modern miracles. God shining through in an impossible situation. Superhuman strength of character, superhuman belief, superhuman joy.
We were given four reminders or affirmations to get through when there seems to be no answer, seems to be no healing.
First, we are reminded that God will heal us entirely, in time. It may not be until eternity, but it will be healed. After all, earthly healing is temporary, like the earth itself. We will still all need eternal and complete healing.
Second, we are reminded that our pain will be used for a purpose. That in all things, God works things out for the good. We may not know the purpose, we may not see it play out, but it will be used for a purpose. That can be unsatisfactory in the moment. And we're allowed to struggle with it. But we can still look for it to be used well.
Third, we are reminded that God longs to sustain us through our suffering. Paul sums this up from Jesus's words - "My grace is sufficient for thee." God will see us through whatever comes. He wants to be beside us, to walk with us, and will never leave us alone. He knows what suffering is and will be alongside us through it all.
Finally, we experience power when we trust God with our pain. God's Strength and Our Pain is greater than Our Own Strength and No Pain. His power is made perfect in our weakness. We don't like this one, because no one likes pain, not really. We try to avoid it and minimize or eliminate it. We should be turning it over.
We should be reminded of these as we struggle with situations and hurts beyond our understanding. I think we can also look at Paul's thorn as a reminder of our struggle with sin as a new creation.
There is a reminder in Paul's passage, an indication of what purpose our struggles.
In the lead in to verse 7, Paul explains why he has the thorn in this flesh. "So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations" that he has seen.
Paul is given his thorn to keep him humble.
Given the volume of the New Testament Paul is attributed as writing and the influence Paul has in spreading the gospel, it becomes easy for us to put him on a high pedestal and could have been easy for Paul to elevate himself there.
Prior to his conversion, Paul was a Pharisee, the cream of the Jewish religious elite. The ones who set the standard for living in Jewish religious circles. The ultra-observant. They observed every jot and tittle of the law. But sadly, keeping the letter of the law, just not the spirit. It made them haughty and pious in their observance.
They lacked humility.
Paul could have easily returned to form. Especially as his experiences as a leader in the way grew, to include surpassing great revelations.
His thorn, though, kept him from becoming a "Pharisee" again. It kept him relatable to the ones that he was conversing with and walking alongside. It allowed him to understand and empathize with the struggles of those around him.
Do we still today have our struggles so we can relate to those around us? Do we have our struggles with particular sins so that we can support others who are facing the same ones?
Could the purpose of our thorns be to keep us humble? And to keep us looking for ways to help others avoid our hurts?
This idea of a thorn can cover so much and has been interpreted in many different ways. The reminder to us, is that God wants to use us, thorns included, for His purpose.
Let's be open to that.
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