I Was Given A Thorn in My Flesh to Torment Me
2 Corinthians 12: 7–10 — “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
I wonder what was this thorn that Paul was given. Obviously it was something terrible because it tormented Paul an apostle and ambassador of Christ. Was it a physical ailment or a spiritual ailment? It was referenced as a messenger of Satan so that leads me to think it was a demon spirit that pestered Paul. We do not know exactly what it was because scripture did not make that clear. It was more than likely some kind of human weakness that afflicted Paul. It could have even been a compelling temptation that he had to constantly battle with. The bottom line is that we all have things we struggle with that could be physical or spiritual. I could also be just mental.
I know of many people who struggle with various kinds of addiction. I struggled for years with various kinds of substance abuse from alcohol to other drugs. At one point I did not want to battle with this ailment because I like how it made me feel. Many struggles with sexual attractions that become somewhat of an addition. You are drawn so strongly to act upon those desires that it becomes a constant battle. Some give in to the temptation because it is a very compelling force. Some struggle with anger management, jealousy, envy, spite, hatred, and the like. All of these things pull us away from the righteousness of God. But, is one less than or greater than the other? Are sins measured on some sort of rector scale?
I personally know of many things that I struggle with that I would consider being a thorn in my side, a messenger of Satan that torments me. Now that I have accepted Christ they are still there but I have good days and there are weak days when I lose the battle. When I lose does that mean that God no longer forgives my sins? That is not how I interpret the scriptures but there are some that feel unworthy of God’s love and grace because they feel that they cannot overcome the thorns in their side that they constantly wrestle with. Little do they know that they are not alone in their struggles? There are people in the clergy that struggle with weaknesses and even fail as well but they get back up and ask for forgiveness again and again, and again and God comes to their rescue.
As I look back at very significant souls that preceded me I feel almost worthless. Many fought until death to make it possible that I might stand here before you a free man. Free to choose the God I serve and free to make a life that I could only dream. Look at Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Dubois, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and the many souls that fought the good battle just so I can be in the here and now. There are so many names that you would never have heard of that made it possible for the names that I just mentioned to do what they did. So how do we justify our thorns, our cross to bear, and compare what we face with what real soldiers faced? My little thorn seems to be only a splinter compared to the logs in their eyes. What is my cross to bear? What is the thorn in my flesh that make my time on earth meaningful? What can I offer to the big picture as my one brick to build a solid wall for God?
It was our Lord that told us: “Pick Up Your Cross and Follow Me” — Matthew 16: 24–27: Mark 8: 34–38 — Luke 9:23–26 — What do you suppose He meant in saying, “pick up your cross?” Knowing now what He went through literally on the cross His burden was the ultimate suffering for all of mankind. Are we willing to just do our small part to advance God’s plan here on earth? I keep going back to this image of a thorn in my flesh and I know that I have many faults and shortcomings but should I allow them to keep me from doing that what I could do? It is so easy to take the coward’s way out but to stand for Godly principles takes character. My thorns are the excuses I use to stop me and that is what the enemy knows, it serves as a messenger from Satan telling me no, you can’t do it so don’t even try. If we feel defeated we stop trying.
Just a few days ago I was speaking with one of my favorite nieces that I so love and adore. She has accomplished so much by being in the navy, serving as a medical professional, and raising two daughters. She came out and told everyone that she was gay and actually married another nice young lady. You might imagine the response she receives from her family of Christians. The initial response is shock, then you really don’t know how to respond but the very last thing you should do is turn your back on such a person. You should turn to them and continue to love them even more. Turning your back on them is like turning the Spirit of Christ away from them pushing them into the darkness. They just came out of the closet and we push them back in with no help. It dawned upon me that her thorn in her side was different from mine and her cross to bear was different from mine but the love I have for her should never change regardless. Perhaps she will not think too lowly of me for being straight and a sinner indeed?
Christ commands us to love one another and do not judge anyone. That means to love people who are different from you and accept the fact that their thorns are different but we all wrestle with those messengers from Satan. Some times we win and some times we lose. Love keeps us coming back and facing our Savior in spite of our imperfections. We are made whole by His stripes and not because we are worthy. I was reminded of just how much I love my niece and that will never change regardless of her choices that may differ from mine. I don’t think she will mind me saying this in a public format.
I realize that most of us are a piece of work in progress. There is much work to do in us and our Lord is constantly improving on the work He started in us. My thorns are sharp and even painful at times but I have to live with them because God knows they are there and for some reason He allows them to stay there. Though it is hard to say this, I delight in my weakness because they keep me on my knees attached to Christ seeking His grace. Christ says to me also: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” If that was good enough for Paul I guess it is good enough for me. Selah!