I don’t like thorns! We spent a happy afternoon in September picking the juiciest blackberries to freeze for winter. We are enjoying blackberry and apple steamed puddings and crumbles at the weekends now. But I don’t like all the thorns as you are picking them. They are sore and hard to get out with tweezers. So it’s a great metaphor for Paul in today’s passage.
There is so much blessing in his life – incredible encounters with God that he hints at in the first few verses. It’s worth noting that not all of what we encounter with God and things he tells us are to be shared. Like lovers, things aren’t to be shared widely. Amidst all the blessing, Paul shares the thorn in the flesh.
Paul is deliberately vague – what is it?
- A physical affliction? This is plausible given all the physical violence and deprivation he endured (2 Corinthians 11:23–27), and some think he may have suffered from an eye disease (Galatians 4:15).
- Demonic attack? – more likely given it is a messenger from Satan
- Difficult people – like Alexander the coppersmith (2 Tim 4:14) – I’ve often said that Mr and Mrs Sandpaper aren’t sent by Satan to rub you up the wrong way – they are there to rub off your rough edges!
Who knows? Paul is vague, so I think God likely wanted Paul’s difficulty to be described in general enough terms to apply to any difficulty we may face now.
Have you prayed fervently? Paul pleaded with the Lord three times – that implies fervent prayer on the issue. When we are praying about those thorns in our flesh – the difficulties, God answers in a number of ways. He often takes away the thorn – healing, deliverance, freedom from captivity are all our birthright as sons and daughters of the King. Sometimes the Lord is strangely quiet and your praying feels like it is words for the wind. But the truth is that when we draw near to God, He is drawing near to us (James 4:8). God may be training you to increase your desire for Him. As Randy Alcorn puts it
And then other times God will speak and tell you why you have thorn. This was Paul’s experience. In v7 he acknowledges it keeps him humble. He is not a superman, he is normal! Then the Lord directly spoke to him
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” 2 Cor 12:9
If you are struggling with a thorn in the flesh, by all means pray and get prayer for freedom from it. But also know this that God’s grace is enough for any thorn. God always gives more than enough grace for every issue.
Marinate on that