After a bit of modest bragging about his exclusive, backstage tour of heaven, Paul writes, â€œTo keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this [thorn in the flesh], that it should leave me. But he said to me â€˜My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.â€™â€
Here is the scene. Youâ€™re on a plane flying across the country and suddenly the engines of the plane burst into flames and the co-pilot rushes out of the cockpit and announces that the plane is going to crash. Itâ€™s necessary to abandon the plane. But not to worry, there are plenty of parachutes for every passenger. The stewardesses begin to distribute parachutes to everyone with instructions on how to wear it and operate it, saying, â€œI know this is scary for you, but be assured, the parachute will deliver you safely.â€
As that the door of the plane is opened, the first passenger steps up and shouts over the wind, â€œCould I make a request? Could I have a green parachute? Itâ€™s my lucky color.â€ The pilot shakes his head in disbelief and says, â€œNo, itâ€™s enough that you have a parachute.â€
A second asks, â€œIâ€™m afraid of heights. Can you remove my fears before I jump?â€ â€œNo,â€ comes the reply, â€œbut despite your fears, youâ€™ll land safely.â€
A third argues that he would like to wait until the plane gets lower before jumping to which the pilot says, â€œNo. Donâ€™t be ridiculous. Youâ€™ve got a parachute. Trust it.â€
A fourth with knocking knees shouts, â€œI have a better idea. Letâ€™s crash with the plane. Maybe weâ€™ll survive
And the pilot shouts, â€œYou people donâ€™t understand. Iâ€™ve given you a parachute. Thatâ€™s enough.â€
To Paulâ€™s prayer for THORN REMOVAL SURGERY, Jesus answers, â€œmy grace is sufficient for you. My power is made known in weakness.â€
We always want Jesus to fix one more thing for us so that we can finally get on with the business of trusting in Him. â€œJust this one thing, Lord.â€ Fix this, change that, give me this, take that away â€¦â€ â€œThen Iâ€™ll be ready to trust you. Then Iâ€™ll be ready to jump into this life of faith.â€
All of this has a certain SERPENTâ€™S HISS to it. In the desert, the devil promised Jesus that if He just did this one little thing for him, a little miracle, a little demonstration of his power, the slightest little bow of the knee, then he would give Jesus his undying devotion.
Paul has a problem. He calls it his â€œthorn in the flesh.â€ We donâ€™t know what it was, the scriptures donâ€™t say. Which means, what it is, is not the point, so donâ€™t waste your time on that.
But Paul did what we all do. He prayed that the Lord would remove it. Paul was surrounded by a lot of â€˜SUPER-CHRISTIANSâ€™ who seemed to have it all together and â€˜man were they ever blessed by God.â€™ And they were saying that Paul may be a great guy and have a lot of good things to say, but just look at him. Heâ€™s not handsome. Heâ€™s not very successful. And just look at all those scars heâ€™s got on his back from all those floggings heâ€™s received. ITâ€™S OBVIOUS THAT GOD HASNâ€™T BLESSED HIM.
So, maybe Paul wanted his â€˜thorn in the fleshâ€™ removed so that he could better compete with the â€˜SUPER-CHRISTIANSâ€™ and win more people for Jesus. Because you know how FOCUSED ON THE FLESH people can be.
So, whatâ€™s your â€˜thorn in the fleshâ€™ that you pray that the Lord would remove from you?
â€¢ Is it your fear?
â€¢ Is it your past? Or your situation? Or is it a person?
â€¢ Is it your addiction?
â€¢ Is it the physical pain or the disease that you pray the Lord would take away from you?
And really, who doesnâ€™t pray for all this â€“ for ourselves and for others?
So letâ€™s be clear. Itâ€™s not that these prayers for â€œthorn extraction surgeryâ€ are wrong. Even our Lord Himself prayed THREE TIMES in the Garden of Gethsemane for God to remove His â€œthorn in the fleshâ€ â€“ that cup that was given Him to drink â€“ filled with the most horrible physical and spiritual suffering the world has ever known.
Itâ€™s not wrong to pray like this. But even as we pray, with our Lord, with Paul, that God would remove our â€˜thorns in the fleshâ€™, we must always also be willing to pray, â€œnot my will, but yours be done.â€ Which is what Paul does â€“ EVENTUALLY â€“ it took him some time to learn this â€“ because this is a hard lesson to learn.
Itâ€™s important to notice that Paul knows where these â€˜thornsâ€™ come from. â€œA thorn was given me in the flesh â€“ a messenger of Satan.â€ And the truth is, Satanâ€™s got an endless supply of these thorns. And he loves to keep sticking them to us.
And being the fallen, turned in on ourselves creatures that we are, thereâ€™s a way in which WEâ€™RE ACTUALLY THANKFUL FOR THEM. We like to use these â€˜HARASSING THORNSâ€™ as ways for keeping the Lord at a safe distance from us. Thereâ€™s always one more â€˜thornâ€™ to remove before weâ€™re willing to jump. And weâ€™ve got enough of these â€œthornsâ€ to use as excuses for NOT JUMPING to make a rose bush jealous.
In answer to Paulâ€™s prayer, Jesus replies with a hard answer, â€œMy grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made known in weakness.â€
So much for the â€˜if you pray hard enough, God will give you what you ask forâ€™ lie that the â€˜super-Christiansâ€™ keep pumping into the air that we breathe. Not even Jesusâ€™ prayers were answered. God didnâ€™t â€œtake the cup awayâ€ from Him as He asked. Rather, His Father gave His Son angels to help Him drink it.
â€œMy grace is sufficient for youâ€ means, you have everything you need in the death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. You donâ€™t need sometime else or something more.
So, hereâ€™s the test. Letâ€™s see how you do. Itâ€™s a one question test – and the question is this, â€œWhat if Godâ€™s only â€˜yesâ€™ to all your prayers was His saving grace in Jesus Christ. Would that be enough? Would His grace be sufficient for you?
Let me put it another way. What if God were to say â€œnoâ€ to all your prayers, but â€˜yesâ€™ to His Son who prays for you â€“ â€œHoly Father, they are in the world, keep them in your nameâ€¦â€ Would that be enough?
For all his pleading, the answer Paul gets from his Lord is, â€œMy grace is sufficient for you.â€ This is a hard for us to swallow. Weâ€™ve been taught all our life to be self-sufficient, independent. But Jesus says, â€œmy grace is sufficient for you.â€ That means that our sufficiency is not in ourselves but in our Lord, and we are not independent but entirely dependent on Him.
No one likes the idea of having to be cared for because we canâ€™t care for ourselves. Iâ€™ve never met anyone who was ready to go to a nursing home. We resist acknowledging the truth about our â€˜weakâ€™ and â€˜helplessâ€™ condition as long and as hard as we can. And as long as we resist, we never know what it means to be cared for by the Lord and how wonderfully all sufficient His grace for us is.
He goes on. â€œMy power is made perfect in weakness,â€ that is, in â€œyourâ€ weakness. How strange and scary this sounds to our â€˜might makes right,â€™ and â€˜only the strong survive,â€™ way of thinking.
We say, â€œPower is made perfect in strength.â€ But Jesus turns everything around. â€œMy power is made perfect in your weakness.â€ It is only as we come to grips with our weakness and inability to save ourselves that we are ready to surrender all of our reasons and excuses and â€˜thornsâ€™ and confess, â€œyour grace is sufficient for me.â€ â€˜Itâ€™s all I need.â€™
And thatâ€™s why the answer to our prayer that those thorns might be removed is so often â€œno.â€ These â€˜thornsâ€™ show us just how weak and helpless we really are. They shatter our pride. They humble us. They â€œkeep us from becoming conceited.â€
So, the best thing that can happen that those thorns in the flesh might do their job. Not the job that Satan put them there for â€“ but the job that the Lord uses them for.
Maybe this is why Jesus calls all of those, so called â€œweaknessesâ€ that He rattles off in His â€œbeatitudes,â€ such blessings. â€œBlessed are the poor in spirit.â€ â€œBlessed are those who mourn.â€ â€œBlessed are the meek.â€ â€œBlessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.â€ â€œBlessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.â€
â€œMy power is made perfect in weakness,â€ says our Lord.
â€¢ Just look to the cross. In the weakness and foolishness of Christ crucified, is the power of God to save the whole world.
â€¢ Just look to your baptism. In the weakness of plain water, is the power of God to wash away all your sins and raise you to new life.
â€¢ Just look to the preaching of His Word. In the weakness of an absurd proclamation â€“ â€œChrist Jesus died for you. All your sins are forgivenâ€ is the power of God to convert our boasting in ourselves to boasting in our weaknesses.
â€¢ Just look to His Supper. In the weakness of ordinary bread and wine, is the power of God to forgive your sins and strengthen you in this one true faith to life everlasting.
If Godâ€™s power is so great in THESE weak things, HOW MUCH MORE can we boast in His power to work in my weakness?
Paulâ€™s response to Godâ€™s â€˜noâ€™ to his prayer is to jump with both feet into this life of faith. â€œTherefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamites. For when I am weak then I am strong.â€
The paradoxical nature of the Christian faith is this â€“ every thorn in the flesh is one more reason for us to boast in all-sufficiency of Godâ€™s grace for me. Every thorn in the flesh becomes my instructor in the one of the most important lessons I can learn in this life â€“ the lesson of being â€œcontent with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamitesâ€ â€“ contentment that is built on the sure foundation that â€œGodâ€™s power is made perfect in weakness.â€
You donâ€™t have to have all your problems solved before you can get on with trusting that the Lord will take care of you. You donâ€™t have to have your life all together before you can start living by faith. You donâ€™t have to have GREAT FAITH before the Lord can give you GREAT LIFE.
Our Lord has born all of our â€œthornsâ€ in His flesh, and on the 3rd day, rose again. And we have already died with Him and been raised with Him and we await the day when we are â€˜thorn free.â€™
But until then, we will â€œboast in our weaknesses.â€ â€˜Let Satan pierce me with as many thorns as were in that crown that pierced my Lordâ€™s head, and that pierced His hands and feet and side on the cross. â€œHis grace is sufficient for me.â€