He calls it his “thorn in the flesh.” “He” being the Apostle Paul; “it” being a problem that was a rock in his shoe he couldn’t shake out. He leaves his thorn as nameless as Arlington’s unknown soldier. He simply calls it a “weakness.” But he insists that, for a while at least, it blistered his life and made his walk with Jesus uncomfortable.

Help from Paul’s Conversation with Jesus

What’s clear from his experience is the fact that he’s talking about those things in our lives that we consider pests, nuisances, irritations, and vexations. Things like a marriage not made in heaven; singleness when you’d give anything for a spouse; the burden of caring for an aging parent; bereavement at an early age when you’ve still got miles to go before you sleep; and any other of those thousand and one physical and emotional realities that make us feel like seasick passengers on a small boat in a big storm or people just stung by a bee.

What’s helpful is how Paul shares this information. He allows us to eavesdrop on his conversation with Jesus about his thorn: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9, emphasis added). This conversation gave Paul an attitude adjustment about his thorn. It made him treat his thorn as something to thank God for.

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Our Weakness, His Strength

Paul’s post-conversation reflection on his thorn gave him eight reasons to thank God for it. The same roses accompany our thorn as well.

1. Our thorns are gifts from God.

Verse 7 clearly says, “a thorn was given me in the flesh.” Given by whom? Not by Satan, although he labors to make every thorn infect you and bring you down with the fever and chills of unbelief and complaining. No, it’s given by God.

If your weakness, whatever it is, is a present to you from your Lord. then you should thank God for it.

2. Our thorns come to humble us.

Verse 7 says, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelation, a thorn was given me.” The King James Version’s version of a conversation between Samuel the prophet and King Saul has Samuel asking him to remember when “(you were) small in your own eyes” (1 Samuel 15:17). Our weaknesses come to make us small in our own eyes. When Paul says the thorn was given to deflate his conceit over a profound experience he’s reminding us that our pride’s a vulture that can turn anything into carrion, even the good experiences we have with the Lord. And pride plagiarizes God by failing to attribute our successes to him, dams the river of blessing leaving our lives drought-stricken and parched, and makes us no more useful to God than a dead battery.

If your weakness, whatever it is, humbles you, then you should thank God for it.

3. Our thorns drive us to prayer.

Verse 8 says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this.” It’s easy not to call home when you’re away at college and you’ve got money in the bank. But let your car need a new set of tires and your account be empty as a pauper’s pockets and suddenly a conversation with the folks seems just what the doctor ordered. Ditto with calling on the Lord. Our prayer life often wilts in the Sahara-savage heat of things going well but thorns have green-thumbed ability to make it bloom.

If your weakness, whatever it is, drives you to prayer, you should thank God for it.

4. Our thorns incline us to listen to Jesus’ word.

Verse 9 says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you . . . Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses.” This “therefore” means what Jesus was saying was heard loud and clear. Our strengths tend to make us voicemail box full to incoming messages from Jesus. Our weaknesses have a way of making us listen to him as carefully as Mary did when Jesus visited her home.

If your weakness, whatever it is, makes you listen to Jesus, you should thank God for it.

5. Our thorns put us into position to experience grace.

Verse 9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you.” The venue for this grace is weakness. Grace loves working in weakness more than Perry Mason loves working in a courtroom. Grace turns from your strengths as a woman from the overtures of a man who isn’t her husband. It turns to your weaknesses as roots to a river.

If your weakness, whatever it is, puts you into position to experience grace, you should thank God for it.

6. Our thorns give us the opportunity to experience Jesus’ power in an individual, first-hand way.

Verses 9 and 10 spotlight the truth that Jesus’ “strength” and “power” are flexed on weakness’s beach. It’s in your weaknesses that Jesus’ ability, skill, and expertise becomes personal, first-hand instead of second, something that you know from experience and not simply by hearsay.

If your weakness, whatever it is, gives you opportunity to experience Jesus’ power for yourself, you should thank God for it.

7. Our thorns give us opportunity to exalt Jesus and declare how good and great he is.

Verse 10 says, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.” Weaknesses are the spiritual equivalent of an OR where a skillful doctor so displays his skills in your life that you spend the remainder of your days telling people how great this surgeon is. Jesus will do such wonderful things for you in your weaknesses that’ll you’ll gush like a broken fire hydrant with praise for him.

If your weakness, whatever it is, gives you opportunity to experience Jesus’ power for yourself, you should thank God for it.

8. Our thorns give us opportunity to honor Jesus by defeating the devil.

Verse 7 says thorns are “messengers of Satan to harass” us. Satan will try to make your weaknesses as annoying as telemarketer calls and as disabling as a high ankle sprain. But when you thank God for them for the seven reasons above you’ll drive a stake through his harassment. This also honors Jesus because he alone can make you a devil-defeating person.

If your weakness, whatever it is, gives you opportunity to honor Jesus by defeating the devil, you should thank God for it.

What then should you say to these things? The same thing Paul says in verses 9-10: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

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