In this audio file I explore a passage of scripture where Paul the apostle tells about a difficulty that drove him to plead to God. He calls it a thorn in his flesh, and he prays for its removal. And then Christ responds – but the response is different than what Paul asked for. Sometimes our prayers are for a change in circumstances. We ask for outer change, but God gives us grace for inner change. I shared this originally with Lusaka Community Church and with some of my students at Justo Mwale University. To listen or download, click here.
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me” (12:8). Paul’s thorn drove him to prayer. No matter the identity of Paul’s thorn, and no matter what the shape of any thorn is which we may carry, it can drive us to speak to our Father, the one 2 Corinthians 1 calls the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. And Paul shows the Corinthians (and us) that through prayer, as we speak to our Father, weaknesses and difficulties get transformed, so that they’re not just things that are negative. The wounds and difficulties of ministry act as signposts pointing us to prayer, prayer that takes us to Jesus himself, who gives grace to sustain us. And so the hard things we go through, and the wounds we receive, also open doors. They open gates to the grace and power of Christ. Thorn-incited prayer leads us to the grace of Christ which is sufficient for anything we can face.
Instead of taking the thorn away, Christ met Paul right where he was and gave him grace. And through the experience, Paul gained principles not just for his life but for the church as a whole.
One is the principle that weakness, vulnerability, and wounds drive us to God and open our lives to the grace and power of Christ.
And another principle is that God is more interested in filling our lives with grace than in getting us out of all our difficulties. Filling us with grace is more important than removing us from hardships.
God responded to Paul’s prayer, but in a way quite different than he expected. Sometimes God doesn’t meet our expectations. Sometimes God refuses one request but grants something different. Sometimes God wants to empower us with grace that makes us able to stay right where we are, in the face of the same challenging circumstances.
In a life of ministry, the experience of difficulty and weakness is unavoidable. We can’t do ministry without getting wounded. But this passage shows us that we can take this reality and make it work for us. We can allow the wounds of ministry to drive us to God in prayer. And through prayer we find contact with Christ who speaks to us and holds out his grace to us. He empowers us with grace, grace that’s sufficient for us, grace that can make us able to pass through anything that comes our way.
As we look toward the future, we don’t need to fear weakness or disappointments. They may be unavoidable, but we can choose now that we’re going to let these things drive us to God. And as we go to God in prayer, honest about our need, Christ will say to us: “My grace is sufficient for you.” So that we can say with Paul, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”