2 Corinthians 12
The Apostle Paul faced many trials and tribulations during his ministry. He was repeatedly put in prison, beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked. Under constant fear of death, Paul was flogged countless times. He was often hungry, thirsty, and cold. Yet even with all of this, God allowed him to be broken further. But instead of giving in or giving up, Paul drew closer to God. And in the process he learned that there is strength in weakness.
After Paul spoke to the Corinthians about his visions and revelations, he told them about the “thorn in the flesh” given to him by God and the reason behind it. “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given to me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me…” ( v. 7)
The visions Paul had received were so magnificent that he could have easily boasted in his own glory. To keep him humble, God allowed a thorn into Paul’s life via a messenger of Satan to torment him. And in response, Paul did just as he instructed us to do in Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.” And so Paul fervently prayed that God would remove his thorn. When nothing happened, he prayed again and again. But God’s answer to Paul’s prayer didn’t come in the form of healing. Instead God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (v. 9)
Although we aren’t told specifically what Paul’s thorn was, we can relate to the suffering he endured. For whether it be emotional, physical, or spiritual, each of us have our own thorns to bear. Thorns for which we have pleaded with God to remove. And sometimes He will do just that. But what happens when His answer is no? What if instead He wants us to endure? Paul tells us we are to rejoice in our sufferings. For although the thorn may remain, God is at work strengthening the one under it.
“Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (vs. 9-10)
Instead of becoming bitter, angry, or frustrated, Paul embraced the thorns in his life. He understood that it was in his weakness where Jesus would be glorified, and where he would most experience God’s grace. For it’s often in our lowest times when God can do His greatest work.
When we are broken, helpless, and weak, with no where else to turn; when we are at a place of complete humility with no room for pride, only then are we truly able to receive God’s grace. And through that grace we can see that everything good in our lives comes from Him, and to Him alone goes the glory. Although we might not understand why God allows suffering into our lives, we can rest in the knowledge that when trouble does knock at our door, He will be there with the love, strength, and grace to see us through. For as Paul reminds us in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.“