“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, 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.” (2 Corinthians 12:7–9, ESV)
Our Church property has several wooded acres. I will sometimes take my sons for an adventure through the woods. They like to call it the “spooky” forest. There are no trails, so we blaze a trail. As we make our way through the undergrowth, we will often happen upon a thorny bush that causes problems. It will scratch our skin, it will snag our clothes, and it will cause us to alter our course.
The thorns are problematic. It would be great not to deal with the thorns, but if we are to have the adventure through the woods there is no way to avoid them. Life is like that. If we live life, we will happen upon the thorns.
The Apostle Paul shares how he was given a thorn in the flesh. We don’t know what the thorn in the flesh was. There are different theories. But it was something Paul would have desired to avoid. It is a good thing that Paul does not directly name the thorn in the flesh. Many of us can relate to the idea of a thorn in the flesh. We all have challenges we face. The challenges hinder us from being more effective and able to do God’s work.
Paul talks about how he pleaded with God to take away this impediment. He didn’t want the thorn. He wanted it to go away. But God’s response was: “My Grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
It may not be the response we want to hear. But the challenges help us learn to lean on God. They bring us back to him. The thorns remind us that we need God. As much as we think we can do it on our own, we cannot do one thing without his empowering. Who is it that gives us the air we breathe? Who is it that gives us strength in our muscles? Who is it that gives us a mind to think? The thorns teach us it is God alone.
A rose bush is beautiful. But beware the thorns. I like to think about the thorn in the flesh like I think about thorns on the rose bush. The thorns are there, but the thorns do not define the rose bush. When you think of a rose bush, you think about the flower.
In the same way, the thorns in life are there. But our lives are not defined by the thorns of life. They are defined by the beauty of God.