Everyone has times of struggles. Times of pain and suffering, grief and sorrow. But for some, there are also more continual, day-to-day trials that stay with us, no matter how often we might pray that God would intervene and remove these burdens from our hearts.
In 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, the Apostle Paul spoke of his own "thorn in the flesh," noting how he had prayed not once, but three times for it to be removed. God, however, wasn’t pleased for it to depart from him completely. Instead, He gave the assurance of His grace, when He replied, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness."
The Lord’s words in this verse have been a great source of comfort for God’s children throughout the ages. Without question, they have been for those who find themselves struggling with their own thorns. Paul learned humility and gratitude during his times of distress, restored in the knowledge that when he was weak, he was made strong due to the power of Christ that rested upon him.
This is a lesson we must learn as well. Rather than focusing our prayers so much on avoiding certain trials in our lives, or hoping for them to go away altogether, a more effective prayer might be to ask that God would be the strength in our weakness and supply the grace for us to persevere. Thorns and all.
A Thorn Wrongfully Avoided
There are many ways to avoid a problem. We can cross the street to avoid talking with someone. We can hide out in a bathroom somewhere to avoid a confrontation. We can try any number of tricks to avoid problems in our lives, but each of these things are obvious. What isn’t obvious is how we practice avoidance by way of questioning, complaining, and wondering why God hasn’t removed a particular burden from our hearts and minds. We don’t tend to think of this as avoidance, but that is exactly what it is. It’s an avoidance of accepting God’s will as it stands, and, as any long-time child of God can testify, this never works. Not if it’s something we’re providentially meant to go through.
For instance, when Paul was dealing with his thorn, he didn’t dwell on it by wishing it away. He prayed about it, and then he prayed again and again, until God answered. When he received the answer, he didn’t ask "why me?" or close his eyes and pretend like he didn’t hear The Lord’s response. He learned to accept it. And gladly, at that. (Reference: 2 Corinthians 12:10)
It isn’t to say that there won’t be times when God is pleased to intervene. He can. Very often He does. However, when there is a trial, even a persistent longing or desire, that has seemed to make itself at home in a person’s life, there could be more to it than we’re aware. Often, the true issue is a matter of faith being tried, and, with this, a need for faith to be strengthened in its acceptance of God’s will.
If we genuinely mean it when we pray for His will to be done, acceptance of both the good and the bad is essential. As The Lord once said, in Matthew 5:45, God sends rain on both the just and the unjust. Avoiding the rain won’t make it go away, but we can walk through it by His grace and sincere acceptance of His will.
A Thorn Gladly Accepted
While learning to live with a thorn, it should be mentioned that accepting a current burden doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it indefinitely. It simply means that you should hold to your faith – day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute – and know that regardless of how things turn out, God is in control, and He has a reason for all that He does.
When we learn to accept God’s will as part of His divine plan for each one of us in our own individual lives, something amazing happens. Circumstances might be the same, situations might remain unchanged, but all of a sudden, there is a renewed peace and even a joy that blossoms inside. It becomes easier to be okay with the way things are, because "we know," as it states in Romans 8:28, "that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."
And for those moments when we still have a difficult time bearing a personal burden, there is comfort in the knowledge that we are not alone. The Lord is right there with us in all of those moments, being the strength we need in our weakness. Paul had concluded in the above mentioned reference, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, "…Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."
When we are at our lowest points, this is when we learn what it really means to have the power of Christ rest upon us. If it wasn’t His will for any of us to be right where we are at any given moment, we wouldn’t be. So if we can, by God’s grace and much prayer, learn to accept our thorns, and to accept them gladly, we are certain to feel a very definite change in the way we view our trials and temptations.
A Thorn Humbly Abated
It was never mentioned whether or not The Lord eventually removed the thorn from Paul’s life. Either way, we do know his prayer was answered, and that God’s grace was sufficiently supplied. There will be times when God will be pleased to pluck each thorn that rises up before us, and there will be times when He won’t. Yet even when we’re meant to carry on in spite of it all, His grace is so complete that the burden of the thorn itself, though still there, can lessen dramatically. Even to the point of no longer feeling like a great burden at all.
A good example of this is what some refer to as dying grace. When the time comes for a child of God to leave this world, a grace that hadn’t yet been needed is then present. I’ve heard many stories of the faithful in death, and how others were amazed at how peaceful the person had seemed. This is God’s grace abating what we would consider the unthinkable thorn, and it’s one we’ll all have to face one day.
If we know one day when it’s our time to face this "unthinkable thorn" that God’s grace will be present, then we should rest assured that with every thorn we face today, God’s grace remains with us – through faith, through perseverance, and through prayer.
For the intensity of thorns to truly lessen, prayer is a necessity. Paul didn’t limit his prayers to only one, and neither should we. It’s been said before, but if a person feels their prayers haven’t been answered the first time, pray again. Then pray again and again. One way or another, God will answer, even if it’s only to reaffirm His comforting words:
"My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness."
Learn to embrace His will, no matter what; trust always in Him, and He will be the strength needed to face and accept any thorn or weakness that comes your way.