Out of everything in these chapters, there is one passage that has spoken to my soul more in the past and continues to speak in the present to my condition more than any other. It is this….
Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)
What was Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”? Several suggestions have been offered by commentators: persecution, some form of temptation, some kind of physical malady such as poor eyesight, an infirmity of temper, or even repressed homosexual desires. The fact is: we do not know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was because he does not tell us. And perhaps that is a good thing. Because Paul does not tell us specifically what his thorn in the flesh was perhaps many more people have been able to identify with this passage down through the ages.
Many of us have experienced something similar. Most Christians have probably experienced something that they feel is limiting them in their service for the Lord. Perhaps the limitation is financial, or physical, or emotional, or intellectual, or psychological, or even spiritual. Perhaps we have prayed for God to remove this thorn from us reasoning that we could thereby serve the Lord better if we did not have this thorn in the flesh.
Many have also experienced the same answer to their prayer that Paul experienced. That answer was simply “No”. Often God does not remove the limitations in our lives that we would like for him to remove. And God’s reason for answering our prayers in this way is the same reason he gave to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.”
What would happen if God removed all limitations in our lives? We would probably not continue to serve God the way God would like. The temptation to do our own thing might become overwhelming. Or even if we were not tempted to do our own thing, we would most likely be tempted to do God’s thing in our own power.
We need to remember that God needs not our strength, our power, or our seeming talent. God’s grace and God’s power are the essentials to accomplishing God’s purpose. And that grace and power, Paul tells us, works best in weakness. This does not mean that we should try to be weak, or seek mediocrity. We should offer our best to God, but we should do so always realizing that the essential ingredient to success is God, not us.
These verses should encourage us to see that our weakness is no limitation to God. God will work through those circumstances that seem limiting to us, to bring about his greater glory and good for us and for others. When God does not answer our prayers by removing our thorn, whatever that thorn might be, we should trust that God is going to use us right where we are, as we are, despite our infirmities, weaknesses, and even in spite of our sins.
Thanks be to God!