2 Corinthians 12:8-9 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
In this letter to the church in Corinth, Paul speaks of a “thorn in [his] flesh”. It is not clear what this thorn was; some commentaries suggest the thorn was a physical ailment while others believe it was opposition from enemies. Whatever the actual thorn was, what is clear is that it was a considerable challenge for Paul as he called it a “messenger of Satan” that was intended to “torment” him. We can learn some important lessons from Paul and this portion of his letter as we look at his reaction to this “thorn”.
Firstly, Paul went straight to God with his problem. In our self-sufficient world we are often tempted to go to the world first for resolution to our illnesses or our inter-personal challenges. While there is a real place for the physician, the human counsellor, we must be quick to recognize who the ultimate physician is “who heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:3) and who the “wonderful counselor” is (Isaiah 9:6). In an Old Testament account, God was displeased with King Asa as he did not seek out God, but rather only his physicians. “Though his disease was severe, even in his illness he did not seek help from the Lord, but only from the physicians.” (2 Chronicles 16:12).
Secondly, Paul was impassioned and persistent. He makes it clear that he “pleaded”. In the Greek the word is parakaleō which means to beg, to beseech. It is good to cry out to the Lord if we do so with the right attitude. “6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6). And Paul didn’t just ask once, he said he cried out three times. If you read the parable of the persistent widow, Jesus doesn’t paint the picture of an annoying woman sounding like a tiresome drip, but rather he commends her. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? (Luke 18:7).
Finally, Paul accepted and embraced God’s decision not to remove the thorn and recognized God’s greater purpose in allowing the thorn to remain. Mature Christians, true disciples, welcome trials because they recognize that this “testing of their faith produces perseverance” which must “finish its work so that you may be mature and complete” (James 1: 3-4). In another of God’s great dichotomies, Paul recognized that God’s power is “made perfect in weakness”.
As an athlete, injury and opposition is the last thing you desire as you strive to reach your goals. If you are facing these challenges in your life today, consider Paul’s “thorn” and his reaction to it. Don’t be afraid to persistently plead to the Lord for a removal of this “thorn” in your life, but also be prepared to accept the response, especially if it is not the outcome you desired. Like Paul, learn to “delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties”. Scream a declaration into the heavenlies: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
There is an immature and dangerous teaching that says God doesn’t want hardship in your life, and if you are facing it, you can simply pray it away. Anyone who believes this must dismiss Paul’s writing in 2 Corinthians 12. God wants us to come to him to request that he take away challenges and sickness, but his greater desire is that we accept his answer to us. There is no better example than Jesus, as he approached the intense burden of the cross, saying: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42).