God’s greatest gifts are sometimes wrapped in dark packages. We take one look at the package and decide we don’t want the gift. But, in reality, under the dark paper are the gifts we desperately need.
Paul received one of these gifts. He called it “a thorn in the flesh.” And from Paul’s thorn, we learn three gifts God desires to give us through the painful times of life.
If there was a Christian in the first century who could boast, it was Paul. He had literally been allowed to view the “third heaven”—paradise itself (2 Corinthians 12:2–4). Most Christians, allowed this privilege, would have returned and written a book about it! They would have lined up television interviews and started nation-wide seminars, “How to see Heaven and what to do when you get there”!
Paul could have done all of this. He could have made financial profit—or at least garnered recognition and respect—from his trip to Heaven. But he didn’t. He didn’t even speak of the event except this once over fourteen years after it occurred, and even then he did it in third person. Why?
Because God used Paul’s thorn to work the sweet fruit of humility in Paul’s life. Paul himself referred to his thorn as having a divine purpose: “lest I should be exalted above measure.” What humility!
Can you not look back over your life and see how God humbled you through trials? Problems, difficulties, and heartaches remind us that we are dependent upon God, for everything. In our good times, we may attempt life and ministry in our own strength. But when trouble comes our way, we see our frailty for what it is and humbly turn to God for His help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
Trials reveal a paradox of strength. In the midst of adversity, we feel so unstable. It seems that we will collapse under the weight of suffering. And yet, during these times, God infuses us with His strength. He provides a stability that is beyond human comprehension. God doesn’t allow trials to weaken us, but to help us perceive our need for His strength. Ultimately, He strengthens us through trials.
When Paul grasped this truth, he exclaimed, “When I am weak, then am I strong.” In fact, he was so desirous of God’s strength that he said, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
We can only find the power to carry out God’s work through God’s strength. But in our pre-trial condition, we often attempt God’s work in our own strength.
Because we are born proud, we think that God’s work is dependent upon our ability. And then, when trials outside of our control and beyond our strength strip us of our perceived ability, we come to the place where we wonder that God uses us at all.
Paul found God’s power so sufficient that he exclaimed, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” The dynamic power of God works in and through us when we most need it.
One of the most obvious patterns in both Scripture and history is that God chooses defeated people to do dominant things. Abraham, David, Jonah, Esther, Mary Magdalene, John Mark, and so many others were defeated, weak, unable. Yet, God used them to show us that it is through our very weakness that His power is most vividly displayed.
Are you unwrapping a season of trial? Read 2 Corinthians 12:7–10, and trust that God gives His most valuable gifts in your most needy times. What grace!
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.