Paul was ‘given’ a thorn in order to keep him from becoming conceited (2 Cor. 12:7). Did you get that – GOD gave the thorn to Paul to address a character flaw. Should we be surprised that God uses ‘troubles’ and hardships in our lives as a catalyst for spiritual growth? Should we be surprised that the Spirit’s work of transforming us increasingly into the image of Christ (3:18) will mean that symptoms of dis-ease in our lives have underlaying causes that God wants to address? Unresolved family-of-origin issues? Personality flaws? Addictions? The solid walls that we bump into in marriage from time to time?
Jeremy Begbie identifies three components of sentimentalism: lack of reality, focus on emotionalism, and avoidance of costly action. It’s not that Sentimentalists deny the reality of evil, they’re just unwilling to address it or confront it when it may be costly to do so. So they airbrush reality and speak of life in soft sepia tones that soften all the sharp edges denying the very real presence of pain, heartache and loss in our lives.
Is there a ‘thorn in your flesh’ that you have prayed about three times and the Lord has not taken it away? Avoidance of God’s voice doesn’t make it go away, just ask Jonah! Airbrushing reality doesn’t lead to growth. Maybe it IS time for some risky, or costly action to find out “what lays beneath”. The challenge is to dig deeper in reflection on our lives and try to discern the underlaying cause that God may want to ‘keep us from’.
These ‘thorns’ are the primary catalyst that drives us to a new dependence and trust on God. They are the weakness that displays the power of God in our lives. And just maybe these thorns will finally dislocate us from our over-emphasis on DOING to learning the spiritual art of BEING. Jesus warned us that “In this world, you will have troubles” (Jn. 16:33) and James told us to consider it all joy whenever we encounter trials of various kinds knowing that they produce steadfastness and will, in the end, make us ‘perfect and complete’ (Jas. 1:2-4). The Message of the Thorns is that God wants to give us holiness much more than we want Him to give us comfort and ease.
TAKING IT FURTHER
1. You’re going to need time for reflection upon your life if you’re going to hear the message of the thorns. Schedule some time for that in your week. (Scheduling has always been more important than Planning: you can have the greatest Plans in the world, but if you don’t Schedule them, they aren’t going to happen!). SABBATH is a good time to turn around and press meaning back into your living.
2. Do you know that God, our Father in heaven, loves you? He is treating you as ‘sons’, for what father does not discipline his son? They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. (Heb. 12:10). How does this change your perspective about the thorn that you are struggling with?
3. Paul prayed three times for the thorn to be taken away. The number “3” in Scripture refers to perfection, thus “Holy, holy, holy” means perfectly holy. Paul prayed without limit that his thorn would be taken away and God said “No”. Is this your experience? If so, take time to dig down deep and ask if the symptom, the thorn, you are struggling with is exposing a deeper cause that God wants to address. Suffering is not always a ‘thorn’ with a message attached, but it COULD be; God will use whatever to get our attention.