When you find yourself in the midst of a difficult time, whether the thing that is tormenting you is large and life-threatening or just small but annoying, it can be pretty hard to see the grace that comes along with these times.
The Apostle Paul wrote about an agonizing struggle with something he called “a thorn in my flesh.” The Greek word that Paul uses in that passage for “thorn” can be translated “stake,” so it has the sense of being for more difficult and painful than a minor irritation. When we read about his struggles we get a sense of his anguish that leaves little room for grace. No one knows the nature of that “thorn.” Paul never says, but whatever it was, it was a cause of torment for Paul.
Paul prayed repeatedly to God to remove this “thorn” and, as far as we know, Paul carried it with him for the rest of his life. Instead of the thorn being removed, Paul got a surprising response from God: “My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.”
What’s interesting about this story is that people almost always focus on the thorn: What was it? Whatever it was, it was bad. Through the ages scholars have speculated about what exactly it was that had Paul praying repeatedly for God to remove: Some kind of eye problem? Paul had difficulties with his eyes. Some speculated that it was a recurring fever. Others have thought it might be epilepsy.
Regardless of what that “thorn” actually was for Paul, the answer to this common question is really beside the point.
When we focus so much on the thorn — and our speculation and curiosity on what it was — without spending any time thinking about the meaning of the answer Paul received — we can completely miss the Grace that comes tucked within God’s answer.
This is the kind of grace that comes to us in the midst of any terrible, difficult time in our life — when difficulty looms so large that we can’t begin to imagine that there’s anything else at work there. But there always is, and that something else is Grace. It’s always there in the midst of the thorns.
So often in our lives, when we’re surrounded by problems or challenges, and perhaps even conditions that are excruciating, there is a power at work that is made complete at the very point when we are at our weakest.
Did you know that we can actually replace the word, “grace,” with the words, “power,” or “strength,” in most of Paul’s writings? In that light, this passage from Second Corinthians makes this context of grace even clearer. Perhaps “power” or “strength” is the best definition of that Grace we find hidden in the midst of the thorns in our own lives.
When in your own life have you felt tangled in the thorns? Looking back on that time now, can you see the Grace that came along with the “thorns?” And, if you happen to be in the thorns now, take a moment and look around a bit. Can you see that there is something else there? That “something else” is Grace — and the power that is always sufficient, made perfect in your time of weakness.
I look forward to exploring the Grace among the thorns with you this Sunday in Traditional Worship as we continue our Listen for Grace Lenten worship series with “Power in Weakness: Grace is Sufficient.”
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
2 Corinthians 12:1-10
Paul’s visions and revelations from the Lord
It is necessary to brag, not that it does any good. I’ll move on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who was caught up into the third heaven fourteen years ago. I don’t know whether it was in the body or out of the body. God knows. I know that this man was caught up into paradise and that he heard unspeakable words that were things no one is allowed to repeat. I don’t know whether it was in the body or apart from the body. God knows. I’ll brag about this man, but I won’t brag about myself, except to brag about my weaknesses.
If I did want to brag, I wouldn’t make a fool of myself because I’d tell the truth. I’m holding back from bragging so that no one will give me any more credit than what anyone sees or hears about me. I was given a thorn in my body because of the outstanding revelations I’ve received so that I wouldn’t be conceited. It’s a messenger from Satan sent to torment me so that I wouldn’t be conceited.
I pleaded with the Lord three times for it to leave me alone. He said to me, “My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.” So I’ll gladly spend my time bragging about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power can rest on me. Therefore, I’m all right with weaknesses, insults, disasters, harassments, and stressful situations for the sake of Christ, because when I’m weak, then I’m strong.