The devil delivered this spirit piercing splinter and if he had his way he would destroy Paul with it. Our enemy comes "to steal, kill and to destroy." He "roams about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour." He didn't come hoping merely to inflict a flesh wound upon the apostle but a death blow. Thankfully "God is bigger than the boogie man" and Satan could only go as far as Paul's Father would allow. "Satan sent it with ill designs but God overruled it for good" (Henry) What comfort there is in knowing that our arch-enemy is a defeated devil. He is on a leash. He can growl and taunt and tempt and terrify us, but he can do nothing more than our great King will allow him to do. He can buffet us. He can not destroy us! And all of his flailing attempts will ultimately be used for our sanctifying good. Are we living as a defeated victims where our thorny afflictions are concerned or are we rejoicing in the sovereign and omnipotent hand of our God?
Third, thorns should drive us to prayer. "Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me."
Paul prayed and he prayed persistently that this painful prick would be removed. An answer was not given the first time so he begged again, and again, and again.
Paul wrestled like Jacob regarding this thorn. Are we? Are we bombarding the throne of heaven regarding our thorns? Matthew Henry writes: "As troubles are sent to teach us to pray, so they are continued to teach us to continue in prayer." How's your prayer life, oh pricked one?
Fourth, thorns teach us about the sufficiency of God's grace. "And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you....'"
God is God and He will answer our prayers when and how He will. Here, God's answer was not to remove the thorn but to grant the grace that would enable Paul to bear the thorn. Though God hears and accepts the prayers of His children, He does not always answer them as we would wish. He knows best what we need most and at times what we need most is to bear patiently, by His grace, rather than to be freed fully. There are many lessons to be learned that can only be learned under the pulsating pain of the thorns of life. David put it this way, "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Thy statutes." (Ps 119:71). What are we learning about God's grace in our trials that we would not have learned in our comforts?
Fifth, thorns teach us to recognize our own weakness and to realize God's strength. "And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weakness, that the power of Christ may dwell in me."
Paul's infirmities were far greater opportunities for Christ to manifest the power and sufficiency of His grace than a miraculous removal would have ever been. When we are weak in and of ourselves then we are strong in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thorns can teach us just how awesome and mighty and powerful our Father is. Have our thorns been used to reveal our weakness and utter inability? Has our weakened state caused us to recognize our absolute need for His omnipotent mercy? If so, we've learned a good thing from our thorns!
God's sufficient grace to us in our painful places can serve as a wonderful platform for boasting about Him. Thorns can serve as great gospel opportunities. If we are content...
"Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."
People watch the wounded. If our suffering is accompanied with contentment rather than grumbling and complaining it can serve as living monument to God's mercies. Contentment is a key. Everybody gripes not everybody "considers it all joy" (James 1).
Paul ends this thorny section of his epistle with a "therefore" of contentment. In light of all that he has written regarding his thorn (its humbling purpose, its Satanic source, its prompting to prayer, its lessons in God's grace and human weakness) he has learned to be content - for Christ's sake. Have we?
I suppose that's the bottom line that convicted me. I have thorns in my life. Am I bearing them for Christ's sake and in Christ's grace and by Christ's power or am I simply grumbling and complaining because I don't like them? Perspective makes all the difference. Am I thorn centered? Me centered? Or Christ centered?
Oh Lord, help me to be focused on Christ where the splinters of my life are concerned. Your grace IS sufficient. Thank you for it!