The blessing of a thorn
April 3, 2020
What a time of history it is that we find ourselves facing. A month ago, lives were normal. All of us were making plans for the spring – graduations, reunions, summer vacations; like I said, normal. Then came the storm. A microscopic virus has gripped the entirety of our daily lives. As if we were about finished with a puzzle and as we placed some of the last pieces, Covid-19 grabbed the table and tossed it up in the air, scattering puzzle pieces everywhere. All our plans, all the parts of our daily lives scattered all over the floor. Chaos and anxiety become the norm. Terms like quarantine and social distancing become the norm. Restaurants closed, businesses failing, parents becoming teachers, confusion and panic.
What if I told you that God uses chaos and panic? What if I told you that God uses suffering and pain? What if I told you that through suffering, we could learn more about God and grow in dependence on Him? Paul was a great servant of the Lord. He started hundreds of churches, wrote two-thirds of the New Testament, and was a spiritual leader for thousands. But Paul, in all that he did, he also suffered. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul recounts the sufferings that he endured,
“I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.”
Suffering is foreign to the church in America. American churches take the Gospel of Jesus Christ and merge it with the American dream. Suddenly Jesus is more about me being healthy, wealthy and happy than carrying a cross of suffering and following Jesus. We come to church, sipping lattes, wanting to be entertained instead of looking to how we should please God. America does not want to suffer, it wants a polished shiny gospel that requires nothing but gives me everything I lust after.
Charlatan pastors tell us that if you have just enough faith, God will heal, God will provide you with everything, God will give you your best life now. They talk nothing of enduring pain and suffering. They speak nothing of a place called Heaven where we will find healing and comfort. Don’t get me started on the absence of repentance, holiness, and a hell to avoid. American churches have made a mess of the Gospel, and it is time to return to a Gospel that is Christ-centered, not a fading American dream.
Paul would describe an event in his life that would change his perspective and teach him a compelling truth. He wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:7-12:
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. 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.
We will probably never know what his thorn was. But we can see its effect on Paul. Suffering brings us back into a dependency on the Lord. It helps us to know the power of God’s grace and His empowerment. Thorns are not glossy wishes and dreams, they are painful, they poke, and they remind us that on this side of Heaven we will face problems and suffering. The Gospel tells us that God always will sustain us and help us in the most profound time of pain and sorrow.
So as you look at the scattered pieces of the puzzle of your life, as you try to find some kind of normalcy in a time of distressing chaos, remember this quote, “Sometimes God allows what he hates to accomplish what he loves.”
Written by Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic and cancer survivor that has allowed God to use her suffering as a powerful witness and testimony of God’s ability to take us through the valleys of pain and suffering and bring good from it. Remember the song, Blessings, by Laura Story:
“We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things
'Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise.”