Best of Daily Reflections: Thorn Management
Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
A number of sources report that marijuana shops in Denver now outnumber Starbucks coffee stores. The legalization of “recreational marijuana” continues to sweep across the land as people pursue alternative states of mind. Timothy Leary comes to mind. In 1966, Leary founded the League for Spiritual Discovery, a religion declaring LSD as its holy sacrament. Leary’s mantra was, "Turn on, tune in, drop out."
Mind-altering drugs were not part of life in the church in Corinth, but it does appear that having exceptional out-of-body experiences and speaking in celestial languages had become important signs of spiritual maturity and authority. Though Paul was reluctant to do so, in order to certify his leadership credentials he found it necessary to describe one of his exceptional experiences. It had occurred fourteen years earlier. He had rarely spoken of it before, and even now he spoke of it only in the third person. These facts indicate that Paul considered such events to be private and personal.
At the very moment when people probably expected Paul to offer up heart-pounding visions and mind-blowing instructions from “the third heaven,” Paul did exactly the opposite. He pulled the conversation back down to earth and spoke of a “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan.” This thorn was serious enough that Paul prayed three times (as Jesus prayed three times in the garden) for it to be removed. But it wasn’t. Instead, Jesus had to die on the cross, and Paul had to live with his thorn. People have found it annoying that Paul didn’t name his thorn, but I’m glad he didn’t because that makes it possible for me to have my own thorn—and you to have yours.
Thorns are a fact of life. Paul had grown “content” with his thorn, but frankly, I hate mine. When my thorns are not hurting me, they’re embarrassing me. When they’re not embarrassing me, they’re depressing me. We don’t get to choose our thorns, but we do get to choose who controls our thorns. Paul says that Satan uses our thorns to torment us. When I let Satan control my thorns, he makes me look stupid. I engage in unwise, confused and constricted, reckless and self-defeating forms of behavior.
On the other hand, Paul says that something quite miraculous happens when we allow Jesus to wrap our thorns in his grace. Laura Hillenbrand’s book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival follows the amazing life of Louis Zamperini. Zamperini was a man of extraordinary courage, tenacity, and giftedness. But as Hillenbrand’s book reveals, his life was also a tangle of thorns that Satan used to torment Zamperini—until at the age of thirty-two, he turned his chaos over to Jesus at a Billy Graham evangelistic meeting. He devoted the rest of his life (he died at ninety-seven) to offering himself and his life as a living example of what happens when a person switches thorn control from Satan to Jesus. It’s exactly as Paul put it,
My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.
Our thorns are not meant to be numbed with drugs or hidden behind ecstatic experiences. They do not even serve to embarrass and torment us. Instead, our thorns can be turned over to Jesus for his brilliant, life-giving management.
I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows—was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Describe a high and a low in your walk of faith. What have you learned from each? Which lesson has been most valuable to you? Where have you been strengthened by a weakness?
PRAYER: Faithful Lord, using a blood-and-pain-producing thorn to protect me is something I don’t understand. Thorn management is an annoying aspect of my life. I humbly ask that my thorns turn me toward you and not away. Teach me how your strength works in my weakness. Amen.