“The Thorn in the Flesh”

            A while back, I had written a blog about trials and how they teach us certain lessons. I hit on several points and described some of the purposes for going through a trial. While the verses I expanded upon can be encouraging, as a trial wears on, things can become tiresome. What if the trial lasts longer than we expected? What if it’s not going away?

            I dove into my Bible to study in depth 1 Peter 5:6-7. Most everyone is familiar with verse 7 which instructs us to “cast our cares upon [God], because He cares for you.” However, the accompanying verse is equally important. Read the full passage below: 

Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

            Notice that word, “humble.” Not a very attractive word, unfortunately. When I go through a trial, patience is a difficult virtue to exercise. Humbling ourselves and being patient, waiting for God to do His work through a trial, is not fun. But, if you will also notice, God promises to “exalt you at the proper time.” That means, He will bring us out of the suffering eventually, when it has served its purpose.

            The apostle Paul perhaps knew better than anyone what trials and tribulations were. He was thrown into prison, beaten, left for dead, and attacked by religious leaders and citizens alike for preaching the Gospel. We’ve all heard of the “thorn in the flesh,” but do we really apply what Paul is saying in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10?

Because of the suppressing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me – to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. 

            God gave Paul a “thorn in the flesh” for a purpose. Because of the special revelations Paul received, pride posed a threat. In order to keep Paul humble, God gave him a trial, which was an opposition within the church at Corinth (most like a false teacher) to Paul and his cause. However, despite knowing the purpose of the trial, Paul was still burdened and asked God to take it away from him. God did not see it fit yet to do so. Rather than being bitter or angry towards God, Paul instead chose to listen to the Lord’s promise: “My grace is sufficient for you.” Paul took that and ran with it, informing his readers that he was “content with weaknesses … for Christ’s sake.” 

            Can we honestly say ourselves that we are content with being longsuffering and going through a trial? Are we relying on God’s grace as a source of strength? God had always provided Paul with enough strength to endure a trial before:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me (1 Cor. 15:10).

For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me (Col. 1:29).

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13).

            In three different epistles, Paul boasts of God’s grace and goodness towards Him. He fully trusts that God will take care of Him.

            Now, if you’re like me, you’ll be saying to yourself, “Well, that’s fine for Paul, but I’m not him. My situation is _____” Fill in the blank. More difficult? Unique? Taxing? Impossible to deal with? Remember as the wisest man on earth once said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” God has seen and heard it all before. And there is nothing too big for Him to handle. Trusting that He can and will handle your problems is the biggest step towards enduring a trial.

            But, how can we trust that God will eventually remove our trial and restore us?  From my studies on the matter, I can’t say that He does promise to end a trial. Some people live their entire lives underneath the burden of a trial. Does that mean God is not good? No. I think God has more than enough shown His children grace, love, and mercy, when we did not deserve it (Rom. 5:8, 1 Pet. 3:18). However, as people who commit our lives to Christ, we should “count the cost” of doing so. The Christian life was never glamorized as being easy. In fact, Christ says that we will be hated by the world for our discipleship (Matt. 10:22, 1 John 3:13).

            I think the question should not be, “Will God end this trial?” but instead be, “Will I handle this trial with humility and patience?” Remember, trials build our character (Rom. 5:3-5). But more importantly, if we endure a trial with good character, we are bringing praise to Jesus’ name:

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which perishes, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:6-7).

            No matter what your situation, whether your trial lasts a month or a lifetime, count the cost of your discipleship, humble yourself, be patient, and bring glory to God’s name. While we may not see things clearly on this side of the grave, we will on the other side.

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