Amid the grand inspiration and insight which God gave to the apostle Paul, God gave him something else. He calls it “a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment” him (2 Corinthians 12:7), much as God allowed Satan to inflict the ancient sufferer Job.
What was this “thorn?” Was it epilepsy, migraine headaches, severe eye trouble which he seems to hint at in Galatians (4:15 & 6:11), facial disfigurement, malaria, a speech impediment? The guesses go on. Paul simply does not say. Perhaps that is because the Lord would rather leave it indefinite. You and I each have our own particular thorn. God wants us to plug in our own difficulty and apply these words of Paul to ourselves.
Whatever this “thorn” was, it must have been a nagging, persistent problem. Many of the things we struggle with are like that. TV shows condition us to look for immediate solutions to crises in our lives – everything neatly resolved in half an hour minus commercials. But some difficulties drag on. Some crosses we carry all our lives. Some pain persists till we die. Some conflicts defy our best attempts to resolve them.
Three times, says Paul, I presented my case to God about this thorn in the flesh. Three times I came to the conclusion that the gospel could not be effectively preached, the Christian life effectively lived if I had to work with this thorn, this disadvantage, this handicap. But God said: “My grace is sufficient for you, because My power is made perfect in weakness.”
The power of God’s grace and goodness unfold for us in our weakness. Christ’s power pitches its tent over us amid the thorns and thistles of life.
Would Joseph have ever ruled over Egypt and saved Israel’s household if he had never been sold into slavery by his brothers and then unjustly imprisoned in the first place? He himself said as much to his brothers: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.” Could Moses have led God’s people if he had never been schooled in the desert of Midian for forty years? Would the story of David and Goliath be the same if he were two feet taller than Goliath and had gone up against him with a bazooka instead of a sling? Or what of the man born blind who Jesus healed? Jesus sees what you and I might miss entirely. He sees the handwriting of God on the tablet of his tragic life. He sees the roses which bloom amid the thorns.
We belong to a Savior who endured a literal “crown of thorns.” He became weak to win, stooped to conquer, died to give us life. It ought not surprise us the He who went to the cross to redeem us asks us to carry a cross and endure a thorn or two to mark us as His very own. Amid the thorns, the roses will bloom.