Thorn in the Flesh

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!

Total Surrender

Topics and titles for this blog come to me sometimes through situations I’ve gone through or am going through, questions I have about those situations, and dreams. Today’s topic comes from all three. I woke up this morning with a strong sense of guilt about something that happened on Sunday and whether that meant I hadn’t totally surrendered my life to Christ so I thought I needed to explore what total surrender meant and how it related to my situation and the guilt I was feeling.

First, the topic of total surrender. There are two verses which,I believe, demonstrate this well. The one I’m sure we’ve all read is one I read from when I first came to faith in Christ. That verse is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Another one is Romans 12:2. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” And this verse, especially, related to the questions I have because it spelled out pretty clearly what I had always believed surrendering to Christ meant.  If we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ, we’re supposed to let him have control over everything–to let Him direct all the parts of our lives. That’s a hard one for us humans. Giving up control. It’s something I have to work on daily.

And that brings me to the question that is related to the guilt I’m feeling. If I have to cry about something, does that mean I haven’t totally surrendered my life to Christ? Yes, I broke down on Sunday. I had gotten to the point where I had to. Last week, my husband spent three days in the hospital with possible heart related issues, and I had to be the strong one. The one who didn’t break. The one who was always encouraging. It got to me after a while especially when people were making comments on how strong I was. So, I broke down on Sunday and went up when the service was over so I could have someone pray over me. Now, I feel guilty about it because I feel like I shouldn’t have, shouldn’t have had to cry, because I’m supposed to have the peace of Christ in me.

I know God gave us tear ducts, and I praise Him for that, but I rarely see anyone else in the church cry. Does that mean they’re better Christians than I am? I don’t know. Does that mean they’ve totally surrendered more than I have? I don’t know that either. I guess these are…theological questions. Maybe my pastor could answer them. Not sure I want to ask him though.

I think I need to trust God–to take Proverbs 3:5-6 to heart. To know that He is directing my paths because I trust in Him and acknowledge Him. And to also know that He made tear ducts for a reason and just because I use them doesn’t mean He loves me any less. Thank you, God, for this truth!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

The Grief that Led Us Home

Today is an anniversary I wish I didn’t remember. An anniversary that caused my family untold pain, but has gifted us with the sweetest joy we never would have dreamed of otherwise. Yes, these are unusual words, but they are part of my family’s story.

First, the anniversary. Seven years ago today, my mother-in-law passed away suddenly. We weren’t expecting it though she had been experiencing some health issues. In fact, my husband had taken her to the emergency room the previous evening, but they had sent her home saying she just had a simple infection. There was nothing simple about it though. She passed away that afternoon, and in the hours and days following, I felt like I was in a fog. We took care of everything that was necessary and made all of the notifications. We had a viewing and a graveside service, and everyone came and told us how sorry they were. Then, they left, and we were left to pick up the pieces. Anyone who has been through settling an estate knows of the difficulties, and I’m pretty sure we had them all in the year it took to settle everything. We had been living with her at the time so we ended up having to move, but it worked out in the end because my husband had found a job about an hour away from where we were.

We had lived in the city where we moved to previously; actually, it was the city where we had met and where both of our children had been born. It had been several years since we had lived there though so there was a time of adjustment. We were grieving too so it was not an easy time. My children were nine and twelve, and they had just lost the only grandparent they really knew. But, we kept going. We had to. We relied on each other and bonded as a family.

Was that the end of the story? No. It turns out God had bigger plans for us than we ever could have imagined. Because, you see, during that time, we did not have a faith family around us, and we were not involved in a church. Yes, we said we were Christians, but were we practicing Christians? If I wanted to be honest which I do, I would have to say no, we were not practicing Christians at the time. We did not rely on God, and he was not the companion to us that He is now even though my husband and I had both been professing Christians since we were teenagers.

So, God had more work to do before He led us home. A year and a half after my mother-in-law died, my husband got sick, had to have surgery, and subsequently lost his job. I felt so lost. It seemed like nothing we did was working out, and people didn’t waste chances pointing this out to us. There was no work to be found where we were so we traveled across the country to family who said we could stay with them. My husband looked everywhere for work. He didn’t limit himself. Shortly after we arrived, he applied for a job opportunity in a state we had crossed. It took four weeks for the interviews to be completed, and then he got the job on my younger son’s twelfth birthday! We drove back the opposite way to our new state. We were so happy to be on our own again!

It is almost unbelievable the way God showed Himself then, but once I explain it, you will understand what a miracle it was. First, I need to explain that during all of this time, I had been homeschooling our children. We had just finished our fifth year when we journeyed across the country. Anyway, I had made several online friendships during the years we had been homeschooling, and I always consulted them when I had homeschooling questions. Moving to this new state brought questions. I asked them, and it turns out one of the ladies lived three miles from where we were going to be. We met her and her family the first weekend we were there, and we hit it off. Our first friends in a new state.

I sank to my lowest point that fall and winter. Six weeks after we moved to our new state, I miscarried our third child. My friend was there for me and my family, and I will never forget what she did. By that point, my heart was starting to search for something though I wasn’t aware of what it was.

Winter turned into spring, and my older son decided he wanted to play baseball. We learned our way around our new city that spring going to the different ball parks and made some great friends in the process.

By the time baseball ended, the load on my heart had lessened a little more, and I was ready to answer the question my son asked me one day. He asked if we could find a new church. It took me unawares for a moment, but I realized his heart was searching for the same thing mine was–a home and a relationship. I called my friend and asked her. She said, “You need to bring him to Crossbridge. Mackenzie says it’s the most welcoming youth group she’s ever known.”  Her daughter and my son were the same age so I listened. My son and I began to visit Crossbridge that summer, and she was right. They welcomed us warmly. It was just a few short months before my husband and our other son joined us. We felt the presence of God in a way we had never felt before, and He re-entered our lives in a big way. It was the neatest feeling to know without a shadow of a doubt that God was in my heart, and He was there to stay.

I have learned more in the last three-and-a-half years about my faith and what my God means to me than in all the years previously. It wasn’t the end of bad times. I have dealt with depression, and we have dealt with job loss and illness since. But, I know that even though this story started with grief and the ache of loss, I know also that this grief we went through led us home to our God and to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior and that I would not trade for anything!

God’s blessings on all of you today.