Today’s thoughts relate to a particular message I heard several weeks ago … it is one I have spent time pondering before, and it is one I continue to grapple with.
“And lest I should be exalted above measure … a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.”
II Corinthians 12:7
The concept of a thorn in the flesh – presents a number of ideas to me. A thorn is painful, one that has broken off is even more painful than one that has been removed. Even once removed there is a sensitivity that remains for some time afterwards.
I would say for a number of years I have contemplated this verse and wondered; what does it mean? What classifies as a thorn?
For Paul, the thorn is “a messenger …. sent to buffet me lest I be exalted above measure”. The definition of buffet is interesting to read too..
For me it is clear, that the thorn is something more than a minor disturbance. It’s not a flat tyre, it’s not struggling to find a car park, it’s not accidentally leaving your lunch/wallet/phone at home and it’s not a traffic jam on the way to work. Neither is it a difficulty that has entered your life as a result of a poor choice or a bad decision or an act of disobedience against God. It is something that afflicts you, once again look at the definition- it is a very strong word. It is something that you, yourself, can not remove. It is difficult to categorise because for different people it will come in different forms, it might be an illness, a financial issue, relationship, or any number of other circumstances, concerns or situations. It is something that is persistently pestering, and bothering you.
The thought that I heard expressed was, often we ask God to remove these troubles and difficulties that we consider to be a thorn in our flesh, from our lives, but sometimes, more often than not, they remain.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul’s explanation as to why the thorn remains in his life is clear. It is there to serve a purpose and that purpose is to prevent him from becoming exalted above measure.
The thorns are there because their presence is designed to bring about a greater Christlikeness in our lives.
Perhaps the thorn is there to remind you of your propensity to; move in pride, to be selfish, to try to move independently of God. I know my thorn is there to draw me closer to God. My nature tends towards independence and yet I find myself in a life where much of what occurs, far exceeds my realm of control. Perhaps I have previously been unresponsive to God’s desire to remove this from my life, heart and mind and this now is the most effective way to capture my attention. Perhaps the same could be said of you.
God whispers to us, in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
The thorn I contend with in my life with some regularity (or tedious monotony) stops me from heading back to my life of independence. The thorn is there to prevent me from deciding that God is there as my back up guy when I can’t handle things myself. Through the existence of this thorn in my life, I am reminded, time and time again, that God’s purpose for me may not be the same as my own.
It’s not incredibly deep or insightful today and I’m sure that many of you have learned this lesson long ago. With some of these things I’m a little slow. I need to feel that thorn, to remind me of who I am.
The conclusion I reached a few weeks ago is that if God at any point wants the thorn to be removed, He’ll do it. He isn’t, as my behaviour has suggested up to this point, waiting for me to come up with the perfect, fool-proof, equitable and sustainable solution to the thorn removal. He’s waiting for me to lean further in, to wait on Him, to trust in Him more, to rely on Him more completely and to be less exalted in myself and in my own thinking.
If it never changes, then Paul is very clear about the reason for that – it is for my good and at the end of the day, it is to prevent me from becoming someone I am not meant to be.
In the meantime, when you feel that you are being buffeted and I know some of you are — don’t give up, continue to pray about the thorn in your flesh. God knows it is there, He’s allowing it to remain. Pray that He will use it to bring about the change that it is meant to achieve.