In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about having a “thorn” in his flesh. He describes it as “a messenger of Satan” sent to “harass” him, and he says that he begged the Lord to take it from him multiple times (2 Corinthians 12:7-8). I’ve always wondered what the thorn was. Was it a certain temptation? Was it some sort of mental or physical problem?
Regardless, the point is that Paul had a thorn he couldn’t get rid of, and so do each of us. For me, it’s the thorn of anxiety and depression. For others, it’s a chronic illness, a physical limitation, an addiction, or insecurity. What all thorns have in common is that they threaten to displace Christ as Lord in our lives. They try to overwhelm us with their bigness and scare tactics…or in some cases, their appeal.
Lately, my thorn has been acting up at a “messenger of Satan” level. And instead of taking it away, in his goodness the Lord has reminded me of a few things — a few truths to comfort, strengthen, and convict regardless of our particular variety of thorn.
Remember How Small You Are
We can all agree that Job was very familiar with affliction. He had many thorns for a time. In his suffering he was tempted to despair, to doubt, and even to take his own life. What God says when he finally answers Job’s condition is striking:
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? (Job 38:4)
He spends the next four chapters reminding Job of how big he is. He works to bring about repentance and a righted perspective in Job.
As big as our own affliction and temptation can feel, it’s important to remember that it is nothing compared to what our Lord endured to save us. Thorns (in the literal sense) are small, but when they are the focal point of our perspective rather than Christ, they cast a big shadow. It’s really a comfort to remember that it is our Lord who is big, not our suffering. We are actually very small — just pieces of his vast and unsearchable will. But we can rest knowing that in his will, he has purposed all things for good, including affliction and weakness.
Remember How Loved You Are
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is 2 Samuel 9. Out of his love for Jonathan, David gives Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, a lifelong invitation to dine at the king’s table and restores his inheritance. Mephibosheth was “crippled in his feet,” a condition that undoubtedly brought him pain and shame — so much so that this was his response to David’s offer:
What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I? (2 Sam. 9:8, emphasis mine)
This is such a beautiful picture of the gospel. As relentless as a thorn in the flesh can be, God’s love is more so. Over and over, he invites us, though we feel like dead dogs in our sin and suffering, to eternally dine with him at the Lamb’s supper. He offers us a share in Christ’s inheritance rather than the inheritance our crippled bodies and minds deserve. David knew that Mephibosheth was weak and deformed before he extended the invitation, yet he did it anyway. Our perfect Lord sees our every defect and weakness, yet he still longs for us to spend eternity with him.
Remember How Covered You Are
Though Paul never confesses the nature of his thorn, he does tell us the Lord’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)
That’s incredible. It’s all covered. The Lord’s grace is sufficient in answer to any weakness or hardship we might experience. Not only that, but he says his power is perfected in it. So what, then, was Paul’s response? He said,
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 12:9-10).
He boasted in and was content with God’s grace and its ability to cover his shortcomings and circumstances.
In living with my thorn, boasting and contentedness are not always — almost never — my response. It’s much more tempting to give in to despair, give up, or again resort to begging for its removal. But think about the kind of fruit that could be produced in our lives if, instead, our response was to praise God for these thorns because they are evidence of his power being perfected in and through us.
Whatever our thorns in the flesh may be, the Lord has determined to use them for his good purposes. However, that requires us to submit to the all-sufficient grace of Christ that covers our weaknesses with strength. We have to forsake the temptations that come with the thorns. Whether it’s self-pity, anger, entitlement, or giving in to the temptation itself, we have to persevere in nailing them to the cross of Christ.
And who better to trust with our thorns than Jesus? In his love for us, he wore a whole crown of them.