“Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,
for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself,
there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me
—to keep me from exalting myself!”
2 Corinthians 12:7
Boy, have I had a rough couple of weeks battling my adrenal insufficiency. Many of the days the restlessness, fatigue, anger, and general weakness just left me feeling hopeless. This health issue has been a giant thorn in my side. Sometimes the thorns in our side can not only leave us hopeless, but they can also leave us feeling alone in our suffering. After awhile our suffering can wear on those around us, making us feel even more isolated. I definitely know I was putting a weight on my family’s shoulders these past few weeks.
Do you have a trial or problem that seems to be sucking the life out of your days?
“We count those blessed who endured.
You have heard of the endurance of Job
and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings,
that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.”
If you are in this boat with me, consider Job. He suffered beyond what most of us could ever imagine. At first his friends were extremely supportive, but after awhile his closest friends and even his wife started wrongly judging him and giving bad advice. Yet, even without a support system Job remained steadfast in the faith. Although, no where in scripture did it say that he endured with a smile on his face and a skip in his step. None of us will be able to endure a real trial without downtrodden moments. Scripture describes Job responding by tearing his cloak, shaving his head, and he spent at least 7 days on the ground mourning his children, his health, and his livelihood.
“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him.”
In my walk this is where I trip up a lot. I find myself arguing with God, wondering why He isn’t taking these health issues away from me. Yet, the Holy Spirit always reminds me that God is sovereign. He knows what I do not. He is in tomorrow, when I do not even know what five minutes from now will bring. He is, always has been, and always will be. The picture is far greater than I can see. The story is far greater than my momentary suffering… His will be done.
Trials come into our lives for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they are our own doing, and sometimes they are beyond our control. Sometimes they are short, and sometimes they last a lifetime. Regardless of their length or weight, trials can be used for good. God can use them to draw us closer to Him and to strengthen us.
In 2 Corinthians Paul describes a thorn in his flesh that he begged God to remove on three separate occasions. Each time the answer was no. So what did Paul do? Well, first off, he recognized it for what it was. In 2 Corinthians 12:7 he describes his problem as a messenger from Satan. Sickness is not from the Lord, but He does allow it in our lives. In that same verse Paul also describes how God was using that message from Satan for His glory. God was using it to keep Paul from exalting himself. God is all powerful, so He could have easily kept Paul from suffering any more, but in His infinite wisdom He allowed the thorn to remain.
This passage in 2 Corinthians is written down in my prayer book, because I can definitely relate to Paul in the thorn department. With one autoimmune disease and a pituitary disorder, I know all about thorns remaining in my flesh. Big, fat, never ending thorns that can sprout other thorns depending on the day.
Have you ever had an actual thorn in your flesh? Like a splinter or thorn from a plant – the real deal. If so, think of how that felt. Not only does it hurt in the tiny spot where you are poked, many times the flesh around it swells and aches as well. That tiny little piece of wood can really do some damage. If you get a thorn in your foot, it can keep you from walking. One in your hand can render it partially useless. Even after it is removed it takes a bit for the sting and swelling to go away. If you do not remove it, depending on its size, you risk infection. Thorns can alter the way you live.
It is easy to compare a real thorn to a spiritual one. Just one little thorn can swell up a host of problems – anger, jealousy, problems forgiving, a hardened heart. If we do not continually bring that thorn to the Lord for treatment these spiritual problems can really cause an all out infection in our walk. And unlike with a wound that is infected in our earthly body, the spiritual infection is contagious. Our spiritual health affects the people around us – our spouse, children, family, and friends. When we lash out because our thorn is aggravating us, it can have a ripple effect.
So why does God allow these thorns? If He loves us and is all powerful, why does He allow us to hurt? As I said earlier, I find myself asking that question, even this far into my walk. The answer for me always comes back to Paul’s response on repeat in 2 Corinthians 12:7 – “… for this reason TO KEEP ME FROM EXALTING MYSELF, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, TO KEEP ME FROM EXALTING MYSELF.”
Why does God allow these health issues in my life? To remind me that it isn’t about me, it is about Him.
There are days on a full night’s sleep where I can barely roll out of bed, say a shot gun prayer, focus on one Psalm, and get a pre-packaged breakfast on the table. Seriously, on Monday I was pretty pleased to go an entire day without feeding my children a Lunchable. Then there are other days on minimal sleep where I can get up at 6 a.m., read several chapters in the Bible, have a good conversation with God, crank out a blog post, read a bit of a book, and then cook (not open) a semi-healthy breakfast for the kids. What is the deciding factor in how my day will go? God’s grace for that day. Sometimes I receive just enough grace to survive the day, and other times He gives me an extra large amount to thrive in the day. He is the difference.
So why doesn’t God just give me the extra large doses of grace EVERY day? Imagine the things I could accomplish for His glory. See the “I” standing out so boldly in that sentence? God doesn’t give me super natural strength and good health every day, because He loves me. He is helping me not exalt myself. He loves me enough to remind me every day that it isn’t about me, and that I need Him. You see, I have a very self-sufficient personality. (I imagine Paul had this problem as well.) I don’t like to ask for help, and that can be extremely unhealthy for my spiritual walk. At this point in my walk, I need my thorn to remind me daily that I need God, and I am learning to be good with that.
Are there days, weeks, sometimes a whole month where I get stuck in self pity mode and whine about my thorn? Absolutely. Believe me, my thorns are uncomfortable enough that I know they are there every day, and most days I struggle responding to them in holy ways. My thorns are reminders that I still need Jesus, every single day. Reflecting keeps me from exalting myself. It reminds me that I am not awesome, but God is.
On days like today, when God gives me just a little more grace to think clearly and have more energy, my thorns help my reflection go a bit differently. There are no inward thoughts. It isn’t about something I did different that made today awesome, it is what God did. There is no where else for praise to go, but upward. Everything I am able to accomplish is because of Him. All glory and honor are Yours, Father.
I pray you can find the light in the darkness of your trial as well. I pray we all look for that light every single day, because it is all too easy just to lay back in the shadows and wallow in self pity, anger, jealousy, and resentment.
If you aren’t going through a trial, I pray this can encourage you to spiritually prepare for the trials that will come.
All need grace and all is grace, friends