In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul speaks of his “thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure,” or as another translation puts it, “to keep me from becoming conceited” (ESV). Theologians have long speculated on what that “thorn” might have been, and remain divide on the issue, but regardless of what it was, we know that Paul asked the Lord to remove it three times (v. 8). However, the answer was not what he might have expected. The apostle wrote, “And He [Christ] said unto me, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness'” (v.9, KJV).
There are at least two very important lessons we can take from this portion of Scripture. First, our prayers, no matter how fervent, are not necessarily answered in ways we would expect; second, whatever God allows us to bear, He provides the grace for us to do so successfully. It is understandable that we, like Paul, would ask God to remove physical, emotional, psychological, or mental challenges, but in His wisdom and as He seeks to shape our lives to conform to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29), He may choose to leave us with those issues and the resulting pain. This does not mean that we are left to fend for ourselves. We have His assurance that not only do we have the Holy Spirit as our divine helper, but that the measure of grace that He has made available to us is sufficient. This grace will manifest itself in our moments of weakness, enabling us to rise above our challenging circumstances – no matter how painful or how difficult. That was Christ’s message to Paul.
Paul continued, “Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size–abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become” (vv. 9b-10, The Message). The KJV renders the last clause in verse 9, “that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” On the word “rest”, Albert Barnes writes, “The word properly means to pitch a tent upon; and then to dwell in or upon. Here it is used in the sense of abiding upon, or remaining with. The sense is, that the power which Christ manifested to his people rested with them, or abode with them in their trials.”
Have you been given “a thorn” in the flesh? A situation that seems far more than you can bear? God has not lost your address; He knows exactly where you are and He has given you the grace to endure hardness and difficulties as a good soldier of Christ (2 Timothy 2:3). It would be so much easier if He removed them but how do we grow in faith and in our walk with Him if He kept removing all the obstacles we face? It is in the midst of our weaknesses that His grace is perfected; it is where we develop our spiritual muscles. Amidst the many struggles and discouragement is a supernatural power resting on us. Take hold of those truths and like Paul “quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift” of grace. We are not as weak as we think we are. His grace is sufficient to keep us in our moments of weakness. I find the message powerfully encouraging. How about you?