Thoughts on Thorns

So, apparently Paul had this “thorn in the flesh” …

We don’t know what it was. Some people have tried to speculate, but Scripture doesn’t say. I figure if the Holy Spirit wanted us to know, he would have recorded it. He didn’t. That in itself says something to me. Although I’m sure the specifics were really important to Paul–clearly they’re not particularly  relevant to the point God is trying to convey to us.

So instead of trying to speculate about what the Holy Spirit isn’t communicating, I decided to focus on what he is communicating. Here’s what we do know:

1. The thorn was “a messenger of Satan.” God did not afflict Paul–Satan did.

2. Paul asked the Lord to deliver him and clearly believed Jesus could deliver him, but–at least for the moment recorded–he did not.

You could split hairs all day long over those two simple  statements. In fact, people have for centuries. On one extreme you have those whose distorted view of God’s  sovereignty translates into the perception that anything bad in their lives is ultimately “sent” by God to accomplish some mysterious higher purpose or to perfect some lack in their character.

On the other extreme you have those whose distorted view of faith and favor leads them to believe that if we could just get it together and pray, speak, think, and do all the “right” things, God will be obligated to respond like a genie in the bottle and nothing “bad” will slip into our lives.

It would be nice if we could make things as black and white as either of those extremes. But life is rarely that tidy. Usually we have to live in the mystery between the extremes. Usually the truth lies in the gray area of tension that exits between two opposing view that each contain some truth and some error.

God is sovereign and he does as he pleases. And in his sovereignty he elected to give man free will–along with all the rights and responsibilities that go with it. (Oh, and we’re also living on a fallen planet with a very real enemy who hates our guts.)

Anyway, back to the thorn. Satan sent it. God could have removed it but didn’t–even though Paul asked. So what’s the message?

Maybe–just maybe–the message is grace.

Grace? How is that possible? Didn’t this thing torment Paul?

Yep, it did. But it also trained him.

It trained him in God’s sufficiency. It trained him in humility. It trained him in trust.

It trained him into a greater revelation of the character of God.

And here’s the really important thing–Paul got it. He asked. God answered. It may not have been the answer he wanted at that moment, but it was an answer. So Paul stopped asking. He knew he didn’t have to beg God. He knew he didn’t have to try to manipulate or control the situation. He knew he didn’t have to second-guess the wisdom or goodness of God. He didn’t have to second-guess the timing of God.

He just needed to trust God. 

And he did. Paul trusted Jesus to reveal himself in that particular situation in a way he had not known him before. As a result, he came to know him–really know him–as the One who was strong in his weakness.

God is, and will always be, the One who takes the things Satan means for evil and uses them for good. Sometimes that means the greater good is allowing us to go through a particular situation rather than immediately delivering us from it. We’re often so focused on how to get out that we don’t stop and listen for his voice in the midst of whatever challenge we’re facing. If we did, like Paul, we just might find our way back to peace a whole lot quicker.

So these are my thoughts on thorns. We all have them. Satan sends them–not God. But hell never gets the last word. Instead, ask the One who does. Ask him how he wants to address the situation. Ask him how to pray (and even whether or not to keep praying). Sometimes you do need keep pressing in to lay hold of deliverance. Sometimes you simply need to let go and trust. Sometimes you need to rest and thank him for the victory that’s already been won. Sometimes you just need to align yourself with the timing of heaven. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. But with every thorn, always, there is redemption. Always there is a greater revelation of Jesus to be gained. Always, there is grace.

And his grace is always sufficient.

Oh, and by the way, Scripture also doesn’t say God never removed that pesky thorn. Just a thought …


5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Thorns

  1. Great post with good balance. I’m with you on this. And I think you’re on to something with that grace thing. 🙂 I’m glad you brought up our idea of God’s sovereignty. I, too, believe that God’s sovereignty included His sovereign choice to give us all free will not to do His will. And He gave Satan and angels free will too. Although, God does all authority and power and definitely turns bad things into good. I am not quite an open theist, but Gregory Boyd’s book, “God at War” is an excellent treatise on this subject. He unmasks this absurd idea we have that everything is God’s will, which originally came from Augustine (“City of God”), not Scripture. Actually, I think our experience tells us that most people aren’t doing God’s will. One example, His will is that everyone be saved (2 Pet.3:9).

    Btw, I purchased your book on Amazon, “The Key to His Heart.” I’m very much looking forward to reading it. It’s next on my list. 🙂

  2. Thanks for your thoughts and encouragement, Mel. This is always a tricky subject. As I’m sure you’ve surmised, I am a firm believer in our responsibility to apprehend and steward the things God has entrusted to us–but, on the other hand, I’ve also seen Him play chess! 🙂 From what (little) I know of open theism, I would have to say I’m not “there” either, but I think the concept has been introduced (perhaps to a slightly extreme degree?) as a bit of a “correction” to our widely accepted, but often wrong ideas about God’s sovereignty (like you said, they didn’t come from Scripture …). But hey, I’m the girl with the blog called “Simple Faith” — ultimately where I land is that the point of pretty much everything is to press in to know more of His heart!

    And thank you for the support with the book.Since I’m no theologian, it is a simple and devotional look at a very deep and multifaceted subject … but writing it was a labor of love.

    BTW, when is your book coming out? (hee, hee – that question was the Holy Spirit’s idea :-))

  3. Ha! Book…ah! I guess God is “Jehovah Sneaky”, isn’t He! Answer is, I don’t know when but He’s been bugging me about this for several months. It with prophetic words from people I respect in ministry, my wife, my ministry school students have also been encouraging me, etc. Honestly, I had to deal with my insecurities about it first. My reluctance was in that I didn’t know if I would be voice or an echo, if you know what I mean (I read too much). But I’m starting to get over that and have decided to start the process. I’m totally new to this blogospheric world but I heard Doug Addison say about writing a book that I should start a blog first. So, here I am. And I have to say, this has really helped me start to process my thoughts and find my style, whether what I post ever ends up in a book or not. I’ve been all preaching and teaching up to this stage in ministry (other than writing training manuals and workbooks). So, I’m in the processing stage now. I do have a prophetic purpose for writing which I won’t belabor here. But thanks for the prophetic encouragement. Any advice you can give would also be greatly appreciated.

    Again, I really like your blog, 🙂 You have great insights and writing style. But, more importantly, you have a passion for the heart of God. That’s more valuable to the Kingdom than any formal theological background. 🙂 Blessings.

    1. Thanks for the reply! I don’t usually make out-of-the-blue comments to people I don’t even know unless I’m pretty sure God is involved in the process–even so, I always very much appreciate the affirmation that the seemingly “random” things He drops in my heart are on target 🙂

      I’m glad you’re seeking Him and moving forward. I, too, needed MUCH prophetic encouragement before I wrote “The Key to His Heart.” But even though I clearly knew it was on God’s heart for me to write that particular book, I still needed to wait for the right time (I also needed to wait until I really knew what it was about!), but when it WAS time–I knew.

      And you have no idea how much I relate to the fear of being an echo rather than a voice. Honestly, most of the time I still feel like I don’t have much of anything to say that other people aren’t already saying a whole lot better. But Jesus doesn’t seem to share that sentiment and His opinion matters more than mine. I know I HAVE been very much influenced by others who’ve gone farther and deeper, but when it goes through the filter of my personality and experiences, not to mention my own personal revelation of, and relationship with, God–it becomes my own authentic and unique voice. At least that is the hope!

      I enjoy your writing as well–you are a great communicator! I look forward to reading more …

      Much grace and shalom to you~

  4. Thanks for risking. That, and your comments here are a great encouragement to me. Sounds like a divine appointment today. 🙂 What you said about it going our filter is a great point. And I laughed about waiting to see what it will be about. So true. I preach like that sometime too. LOL! Thanks again, and much grace and shalom to you too. You are a blessing.

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