“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” (2 Corinthians 12:7)
Most have heard of Paul’s thorn, but what do we really know about it? There are many speculations about what the apostle may have suffered. I tend to believe it was something of a physical nature as it was “in the flesh.” I’m also of the conviction it was a source of nagging pain, as most thorns are. This would also explain why Paul was so desperate to have that poker removed. Perhaps he suffered an injury from a stoning or beating. Who really knows? All we can do is guess. No one can really say with certainty what ailed Paul. For whatever reason, he kept his thorn under a tight lid. He never shared what it was or where he might have hurt. All he offered was why. He states the reason twice: lest I should be exalted above measure.
It appears that the Lord didn’t want others to make too much of the infamous apostle. People do seem to prop up God’s anointed, especially those with popular ministries. Certainly Paul was a celebrated figure in his day. In spite of how all the stuffy religious folk felt, Paul had risen to prominence as leader of the world’s fastest growing movement. Lest he be idolized, the thorn served as a steady reminder that God uses ordinary people. To be sure, Paul’s thorn also prevented his own head from swelling up like that of a rock star. Scripture does attest to his humble nature. The way I see it, we have the thorn to thank for that.
Paul knew better than to blame God for his thorn. He accused Satan of sticking it to him. Paul graciously conceded that the Lord allowed the thorn, and for a good reason. The Lord intended for Paul to stick it right back at Satan. This is why God allows thorns in your life and in mine. He wants us to stick it back to the one who sticks it to us. The way we do that is by allowing God to use those thorns for good. If God doesn’t use them, the devil surely will. Ultimately, the choice is ours. Fortunately, Paul looked to the Lord in his season of suffering. And let us never forget how blessed the church is because he did. That’s the whole point of the thorn.
Thorns become like crosses in a way. Neither one is anything anybody would ever ask for. Because they are associated with pain, we ask for them to be removed. Paul did three times. Jesus prayed a similar prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. As the cross drew closer, He prayed three times, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.”* In the same breath He uttered, “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” For God to accomplish His good purpose, there was no getting around the cross. It just wasn’t possible. And though the cross was painful, it produced a world of good for all of us.
Similarly, it was after the third prayer that Paul quickly realized he was stuck with the dreaded thorn. God assured Paul that he was stuck with His abounding grace as well. Seeing firsthand all the good produced as a result of God’s grace, Paul declared, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9b) Though the thorn was painful, God used it powerfully in Paul’s life to accomplish a mighty work.
I’ll admit I’m no Paul, but I do desire that God would use my thorn to accomplish a world of good. Should you find yourself stuck with a thorn, you would benefit from making that your desire as well. Firstly, you must accept that God wants to accomplish a great work in your own life. He is more interested in our character than our comfort. And sometimes He needs to cause some discomfort in order to build our character! For Paul, the issue was pride. God used that rascally thorn to keep him humble. Now, that may not be God’s purpose for your thorn. Perhaps he wants to develop you into a more compassionate person. It could be He wants your prayer life to deepen. Maybe He wants to stretch your faith a little. Or maybe He just wants you to lean on Him more. The possibilities are endless. The important thing is that you remain open and teachable to whatever it is God is trying to show you.
Once you allow God to use that thorn in your own life, He will surely use it in the lives of countless others. But do you see why you must first allow the Lord to do a work in you? Unless that happens, the thorn will only be a source of misery, and it won’t be of any value to anyone else. It is your response to the thorn that determines how it will be used, or who gets to use it – God or Satan. Once you hand that nasty thorn over to the Lord, great things will happen. You begin to marvel at what God is doing in your life. You marvel at how God uses you to touch the hearts of others. That’s when you can glory in your infirmity as Paul did. That right there is a powerful testimony. When pain turns to praise, people listen. It inspires them like nothing else can.
I don’t know how long I will have my thorn. It could be a few months. It could be years. But for however long I’m afflicted with it, I want God to use it. I want God to be glorified by it. Therefore, I’ve dedicated my thorn to Him. I guess were both stuck with it – at least for a while.
Excerpt from my latest book “Pain in the Offering”
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Calvary Chapel of Austin Church
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