2 Corinthians gives insight into keeping vitality and flourishing in times of difficulty, when there’s much that’s not going the way we want. I know many people are going through such difficult times, certainly in Zambia, but also in America and beyond – from the pandemic and the various kinds of fallout from that, including its effects on our families. Many are also deeply concerned about the racial pain and divisiveness in the USA and beyond. Of course, you may have other factors causing concern.
2 Cor 12:7-10. … So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, formy power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:7-10 ESV)
Paul says he experiences a thorn in his flesh. Whatever it was, it was painful, it was humbling, and it was persistent. He says he prayed three times – which could be symbolic for praying a long period of time. And instead of removing the thorn, Christ spoke to Paul with the thorn still there, and said, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Christ gave him what he needed not by taking away the festering pain but by strengthening him on the inside through grace. And I think Paul tells about the experience and does not say what the thorn was, because it wasn’t true just for him; it’s one of the ways God tends to work in our lives, no matter what the given thorn may be.
Difficulty, weakness, vulnerability, and wounds drive us to speak to our Father, the one 2 Corinthians calls the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. Wounds and difficulties become signposts pointing us to prayer that takes us to Jesus. And when we come to God, he releases grace to us. And so the weakness and difficulty we go through, and the wounds we receive that we naturally pray for God to remove, these things become open doors to his grace and power.
We Christians are not immune to really difficult things happening to us. Paul’s prayer that the thorn be removed helps us to know it’s okay to pray for a change in circumstances. We pray for change and rescue. And sometimes God’s answer is YES.
Yet Paul is also saying, the answer may be: God’s grace is sufficient for you. And that becomes our chance to we meet Jesus Christ in a deeper way in the midst of hardship, so that his power rests upon us. Because of our deep need, prayer takes us to God with open hands and open hearts, and we find the grace that’s sufficient, the power that becomes true vitality, perfected and completed not in the absence of weakness or problems, but in the midst of them.
It’s interesting to think about Paul’s thorn from God’s perspective: God may be more interested in filling our lives with grace, in having Christ’s power rest upon us, than in taking away our pain and difficulties. At least in the short run, filling us with grace may be more important than removing the obstacles that cause frustration or disappointment. Certainly, people who are filled with grace have deeper, better things to share with others.
I think the reason Paul says, “when I am weak, then I am strong” is that in situations of weakness and difficulty, he taps into God’s grace that brings true strength, true completeness, true vitality from the presence of Christ himself. And that’s why Paul says he can be content in the midst of really hard things. He can be content because of Jesus Christ. His vitality comes from grace, from Christ’s own presence in his life. Not from having a thorn removed.
So, during this difficult period of life, let’s remember that Jesus gave Paul what he needed for his life of ministry not by taking away the festering pain but by empowering him through grace.
Let’s not give up. Let’s keep going to God with open hands and hearts. Let’s see if we can allow God to give us grace that does its work of renewing us on the inside. Let’s allow the difficulties to take us deeper with Jesus Christ, so his power rests upon us. So we’re able to walk through difficult things, and keep on walking, let’s hear him saying, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
Note: This is a somewhat similar but much shorter post than the audio I shared on April 27, 2020.