I have often puzzled over the Scripture which contains this phrase because why would Paul need to have a thorn in his flesh. Here are the first ten verses of 2 Corinthians 12 so the phrase can be placed in its context.
“I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know–God knows. And I know that this man–whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows–was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But 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. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Those are a whole lot of words to unpack, but I think we can boil them down to some simple conclusions. Paul was boasting about something he had heard. Boasting is me-focused and not focused on others like God wants us to be. Sometimes, I think we put superhuman characteristics onto Paul because he did so much to spread the word of Christ. Paul, though, was a regular person just like you and me. He had his faults, and he sinned just like the rest of us. In a way, that is reassuring to me. Paul was able to do awe-inspiring things for Christ, but he was just a regular person.
So, he was given a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from becoming conceited. Scripture doesn’t tell us what this “thorn” was. It could have been an illness; it could have been a difficult situation he didn’t know how to handle; it could have been anything. He asked God to take it away three times. But God told him that His power was made perfect in weakness. Paul then said that was the only reason he would boast–he would boast about Christ’s power in him and delight in all the difficulties.
Delight in all the difficulties. Do we do that? Do we use our difficulties to tell others about our amazing Lord and Savior? If we’re being honest, we would have to say no or, at least, I would have to say no. Most of the time, when I encounter a difficulty, I usually pray and try to get rid of it as fast as I can, or I pretend it’s not there so people won’t know what’s wrong. God doesn’t want us to do either of these things. He wants us to hold onto Him during the difficulties. He wants us to pray. He wants us to ask for His peace and comfort. He wants us to show Him to others who may not know Him through our hard times. He wants us to say “me too” when others gain the courage to talk about their difficulties.
Courage–something I don’t have a lot of, but something that is important in this Christian life. I think that is the key to delighting in the difficulties. To ask for courage as the bad times come and to ask God to strengthen my faith daily so I can delight in everything that comes my way, even if it’s something that I wouldn’t choose for myself.
So, that is what I will do. Grateful for a Lord and Savior that has given me the ability to organize and clarify my thoughts about Him through the written word!
God’s blessings on all of you today!