THE TEST OF ATTITUDE – How God Responds to the Thorns in My Flesh
“7To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
2 Corinthians 12:7-9 NIV
The first test of my salvation is the test of my attitude. A person who is genuinely born again will have a heart attitude that desires to carefully guard and keep the commandments of God. It is not enough for a person to just say he is saved, but there must be the attitude of obedience in his heart.
Paul’s wording here is quite interesting: “there was given me a thorn in my flesh…”
Paul says that a thorn in the flesh was given to him. If I were Paul, I might say, “I was cursed with a thorn in the flesh” or, “I was burdened with a thorn in the flesh.” I might say, “I was inflicted with a thorn in the flesh” or at the very least, I’d say, “I was greatly troubled with a thorn in the flesh.” Paul says otherwise. He seems to refer to this thorn as a gift! That just sounds sadistic to me!
Of course, the Apostle Paul was not a sadist, and he actually prayed consistently to have the thorn taken away from him.
Then Paul goes on to explain that it was a “thorn in the flesh.” When I think of a “thorn” I think of something small that pricks me and gives me a small, sharp pain. When I hear the word “thorn” I think of picking up a rose too quickly and having the thorn prick my finger, or if I put up a thumbtack too quickly into the wall and it pierces my finger. According to bible commentator David Guzik, the root word that Paul uses in this verse does not indicate that the thorn was like a thumbtack, but more like a tent stake! Ouch! Another bible commentator stated that a thorn in this passage refers to, “something which frustrates and causes trouble in the lives of those afflicted.”
In any case, thorns don’t sound like the best things to be “given” to me by God.
Paul revels in these verses that there are two ways that God responds to His people when we cry out to Him about thorns in our flesh.
1. Sometimes He lightens my load.
This is typically what I (and most modern Christians) pray for. “God lighten the load. Make my path easier. Lord, give me a sign. Lord, open the doors of opportunity. Make things better for me, O God!” I won’t say that He never answers those prayers. Of course He hears them. Sometimes He does answers those prayers. Opportunities do arise. Things do get better. Sometimes God does lighten our loads and we really ought to be grateful for those times because there is also another way that He responds when we come to Him with thorns in our lives.
2. More often, He strengthens my back to carry the burdens.
How could Paul refer to the thorn in his flesh as a gift or as something given to him? Did he just enjoy punishment or did he know something more? I think he knew something more. Paul understood that God would strengthen him to carry the burden that he had to bear. He understood that when God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”, what God wanted to do in his life was increase Paul’s strength despite the thorns he had to bear.
On of my favorite prayers in the bible can be found in Nehemiah 6:9. When Nehemiah and Israel were working on re-building the walls of Jerusalem, they were getting threats from enemies and literally needed to work with one hand and hold up a sword with the other just in case of an attack or invasion. Nehemiah could have quit because things were too hard. He could have given in because the challenges were too great. Instead this is what Nehemiah 6:9 says, “ 9 They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.” But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.”
“Now strengthen my hands”or as the NIV says, “Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands…” Nehemiah shows amazing maturity in following God. He didn’t pray for a lighter load, he prayed for stronger hands. He didn’t pray for an easy way out, he prayed for increased power to overcome. He didn’t pray for doors to open. He prayed for a stronger foot to kick down the doors with. He didn’t ask God to do the work for him. He asked God for increased strength to do the job himself!
Lord strengthen my hands to serve You and to serve You well. Amen.