Today I’d like to share one of my favorite Bible passages. It’s Paul talking, in the second book of Corinthians. Paul is one of my very favorite biblical characters- he’s wise, brave, and on fire for Christ.
“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me 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.”
(2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
Wow. Powerful, isn’t it?
To better understand it, though, I think it’s important to explore the first couple of sentences, which are a bit confusing. According to my John MacArthur study Bible (which I highly recommend), the “thorn in the flesh” that this passage is referring to is likely a demonized person, probably the leader of the false apostles. These false apostles were causing problems in Paul’s beloved church, which was very painful to him. How was a “messenger of Satan” allowed to mess with Paul, who was doing great things for God? That’s simple, I think: it’s like the story of Job. As my MacArthur Bible puts it, “Satan was the immediate cause, but God was the ultimate cause.” Satan couldn’t have touched Paul (or Job) without God’s approval. But God did approve it, for reasons that Paul (and Job) had a hard time understanding at first.
Do you see how that applies to us now, though? If something particularly difficult, sad, or frustrating is happening to us, it could very well just be evidence that God is at work in our lives, for reasons we can’t yet understand.
In the passage above, I think a logical reaction might be: “okay, why would God allow that to happen? Paul is working to better the church!” Or at least, that’s the reaction I had (at first). Well, here’s a possible reason why.
Paul had had many revelations, even a trip to heaven and back. Like verse 7 says, ”To keep [Paul] from becoming conceited” is the reason for the “thorn.” God knew Paul’s extreme spiritual experiences could lead to the man feeling prideful. It seems God didn’t want such an important warrior for Christ to fall into that, so He brought him back down to earth, so to speak. If God hadn’t done that, what might’ve happened to Paul’s ministry? I think it’s important to remember that we can never see the whole picture while God always can. Really tough circumstances you face today could be God steering you away from something much worse, making you stronger, allowing you to develop trust, giving you a testimony to share, et cetera.
I love the Lord’s answer to Paul’s pleas to remove the trial. He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” You might’ve heard somebody say, “God answers every prayer. But He doesn’t always say yes.” Well, we see that here, so clearly. God didn’t comply with Paul’s wishes; He knew better than Paul. But God didn’t leave to him to be fearful and full of anxiety about the problem: He told Paul that all he needed was God’s grace; that God’s power was going to be made perfect in weakness.
And I love Paul’s attitude after. He immediately realized the blessing in that, saying, “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.”
Now that is trust.
What’s your struggle? Remember that God promised His grace is sufficient. His power can be made perfect in weakness. We’re not alone. Because of that, bad days don’t have to be wasted. We can choose whether to be bitter and angry or whether to delight in hardships (as paradoxical as it seems). Have an attitude like that of Paul, and God can use the hard times to make you strong.