My thorn(s) in the flesh

So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Cor. 12:10

I have a tremor. It’s pretty noticeable, too. For instance, when I make a purchase and hold out my hand to get change, people look at me funny. Then I feel like I need to explain that I’m not suffering from drug withdrawal; but usually I’m in a hurry so I just smile and let them wonder. There have been other times at the dinner table that I can’t get the glass to my mouth without the beverage sloshing wildly. We all laugh, because it’s kind of funny…unless I’m in a mood that day, in which case everyone is better off to just pretend they didn’t notice.

When I first started getting invited to speak to groups, I really worried that I would show up some place and all they would have is a handheld microphone. Go ahead, you can stop for a moment and picture the scene. Clearly, my tremor-happy self is more suited to the headset or lapel variety.

My tremor is hereditary. It is aggravated when I am tired or stressed or self-conscious about holding a handheld mic in front of a crowd. Other than that, it’s not really a big deal or a health hazard in any way. I tell you about it, though, because it is the context through which I have always understood 2 Cor. 12:7-10.

Paul had a thorn in the flesh. The thing is, we don’t know what it was for sure. It could have been a physical problem that got in the way when he stood up to preach or sat down to write letters to churches. But it could also have been something else, like depression, a temptation, a person, or people.

Whatever it was, it was big. Paul endured a lot of stuff – arrests, imprisonment, attacks on his life, attacks on his character from both inside and outside the church, a shipwreck, and a snake bite. So this thing he pleaded with God about three times had to be a source of great suffering.

Really, it doesn’t matter what the thorn was, because Paul applied it to all kinds of problems: weakness, insult, catastrophe, persecution, and pressure.

This got me thinking. In a physical sense, I have experienced the truth in Paul’s words. I think most people can understand it in that context. But what about those other problems we face?

Paul wrote in verse 9 that God’s grace is sufficient, because “power is perfected in weakness.” But it seems to me that more often than not in my life, the only thing that is perfected in weakness is weakness. When people let me down, I can’t say that I want God’s grace to be sufficient; most of the time, what I really want is for people to stop being jerks.

I need to allow God to broaden my understanding of His power in my struggles. Maybe you do, too.

When we recognize our problems as opportunities for God to grow us, He does. His grace is not just sufficient when we face physical conditions over which we have no control. It is also enough when it comes to dealing with the people or circumstances that get us down emotionally, and the battles we face spiritually.

Whatever it is that is getting you down is an opportunity for God to show you His grace. Choose, like Paul did, to focus not on the issue itself, but on God’s power in it.

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“Whatever it is that is getting you down is an opportunity for God to show you His grace. Choose, like Paul did, to focus not on the issue itself, but on God’s power in it.” That’s going on an index card.

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