When God Says “No” To Removing the Thorns

The day had finally arrived!

It was time for my daughters to learn how to clean their room on their own.

At first, their excitement was catching, and I thought that this was going to be an easy transition.  After all, they had watched me complete this same task more times than I could count.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Within minutes, their enthusiasm had dwindled to non-existent as they became distracted by playing with their toys…

The very ones that they were to be cleaning up:D

As I stepped into their room, their smiles turned downwards, and I could see the wheels of their mind turning…

“Can you help us?”

I thought for a moment, realizing that this had the potential to turn into another “Mom, you clean while we watch” moment.

So I decided to offer them help in another form.

Instead of removing the task that was before them, I gave them tools to get through it…

Step by step.

First, they cleaned up their books.  Once the books were neatly lined up on their bookshelf, they came and found me.

“We’re done the books!”

Next, I sent them on a mission to put all the dirty clothes in their laundry basket.  They scampered to their bedroom, giggling as they made a game of tossing the clothes into the hamper.

Within minutes they were back for their next mission…

The toys.

This was a bigger task, but I was hopeful that with two successful missions completed they would be able to get this completed as well.

And they did.

Once the toys were put in their places, the girls made their beds, we stood in the middle of their now clean room…

They had made it through, while at the same time beginning to develop the skills for cleaning up their room.  The next few times they went to clean their room went a lot like the first, but as they continued to put their newfound wisdom – breaking a large task into little steps – into practice, their skills grew until I could ask them to clean up other rooms in the house, and they would dive in…

Well…

Most of the time:D

These last few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about 2. Corinthians 12:1 – 10 and Paul with his thorn in the flesh…a messenger from Satan.

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Thorns can leave us crying out to God and asking Him to remove them from our lives…and that is ok to do:D  But, we have to be willing to accept God’s answer to our petitions.  There are times when the thorns – as difficult as they are – are necessary to accomplish His plan for our lives.

While we don’t know precisely what this was, the presence of this thorn was causing him a lot of trouble, hardship and grief.  Literally, its presence in Paul’s life was like that of a person who was being hit time and again…

And these weren’t your friendly pats on the back…

Rather, they were punches or strikes given with a violent or mean intention behind them…

And they didn’t stop.

They were causing Paul enough trouble that he asked God to expel it from his life…

Not once, or twice…

But three times.

He was persistent in his requests to God to remove it.

Yet, God didn’t answer in the way that Paul asked.

Instead, He had another answer.

He let the thorn in the flesh remain.  His plan for Paul’s life was not going to be accomplished by removing the hardship from Paul.

God’s plan was going to be fulfilled by allowing Paul to go through the hardship and endure the trial.  Because He had a truth or truths that He wanted to teach Paul which could only be learned by going through this “thorn in the flesh” trial.

What were these purposes?

Thorns keep us humble as we receive the blessings God bestows on us

The first clue is found in 2. Corinthians 12:7 where it says, “In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.”

Becoming proud was one of God’s concerns for Paul.  God had blessed Paul with surpassingly great revelations (12:7).  In order to keep him from becoming proud about them, God gave him a trial…a hardship…a thorn in the flesh…to keep him humble and looking to God for help.

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God keeps us from becoming proud in the blessings that He bestows upon us by allowing thorns into our lives.

In a way this encourages me, for when I am facing a hardship or a situation that is very much like a thorn that keeps grinding away at me, causing a lot of frustration and trouble, there is a strong likelihood that God is allowing it to keep me humble…

Because His blessings in my life are so great that without the thorn in the flesh there would be a danger of me becoming proud.

Being proud is not a good place to be, for in 1. Peter 5:5, 6 it says, that God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble.  I don’t think that being opposed by God would be pleasant…

So…

Receiving a hardship that He allows in my life to keep me humble because of all of the blessings that He pours out is an act of His grace to keep me from becoming proud, in order that He won’t need to oppose me, but instead, He can continue to show me His grace…

Because He extends His favor to those who are humble. img_0654

The second and third lessons that God wanted Paul to learn firsthand that His grace was sufficient AND that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness.

Thorns help us to learn that God’s grace is sufficient

When God doesn’t remove the thorns from our lives it is because He wants us to learn that He alone and all that His grace encompasses is…

Enough.  Sufficient.  Adequate.

So…

When I am facing a hardship caused by a thorn I can be assured that somehow in the midst of that struggle I will be able to see a measure of God’s grace that is going to be enough to help me endure.

The measures of God’s grace take many forms.  These are just a few…

  • Comfort when we are going through deep waters (2. Corinthians 1:3 – 11)
  • Peace in the midst of times that would otherwise leave us anxious and worried (Philippians 4:6, 7)
  • Divine wisdom when we ask for it (James 1:5, 6)
  • Confidence that God is working all things for our good (Romans 8:28)
  • His watchful care (Psalm 121)
  • His provisions for our needs (Philippians 4:19)
  • His faithful presence (Isaiah 41:10)
  • His willingness to take our burdens upon Himself (Psalm 55:22)

God’s loving kindness that He continually pours out on us and the favor with which He looks upon us is sufficient to meet any AND all needs which we experience as we are going through a time of weakness or hardship.

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Thorns help us to discover that God’s power is made perfect in our weaknesses

God’s power is the power by which…

  • He speaks that that which never before existed comes into being
  • He raises that which was dead to life
  • He calms the tempest winds and the raging seas
  • He makes the lame walk, the blind see and the deaf hear

This same power is the strength that is at work in my life by which He is able to accomplish immeasurably more than all I can even ask or imagine.

And it is this same strength with which God is at work in my life during the times of hardship.

It is His strength that enables me to endure on more day when it seems like I can’t go on. (Phil. 4:13)

It is His strength that enables me to lay aside my bitterness and frustrations and exchange them for His joy, so that like Paul I can rejoice in the Lord always, and like James learn to count it all joy when I face trials because I know God is accomplishing His purposes in them. (Phil. 4:4, James 1:2)

It is His strength that enables me to stand firm when I am facing the schemes of the Evil One. (Eph. 6:10 -18)

It is His strength that equips me to hold fast to the truth of His promises when doubts of the impossibilities that I am facing are swirling around me.  (Romans 4:18 – 21)

It is His strength that clothes me with courage so that I can step out boldly in faith and obedience to do the tasks which He has called me to do and follow the steps He has set out before me.  (Joshua 1:8)

It is His strength that, as I wait on Him, renews my strength so that I can mount up on eagle’s wings, run and not be weary, and walk and not faint.  (Isaiah 40:31)

It is by His strength that God turns the hardships, the weaknesses, the insults, the persecutions and the difficulties into opportunities for us, His children, to see His hand of strength at work in our lives.  (2. Corinthians 12:10)

And as we see this, we discover the same truth that Paul did…

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His strength is made perfect in our weakness

That when we are weak, it is then that we strong; therefore, we can learn to boast about and take delight in our weaknesses.

That seems to be an inside out and upside down mindset, hey?  And, in all honesty, it is one that I have to often ask God to help me remember and give me the strength to put into practice.

A few years ago I went through a health crisis that left me flat on my back.  My strength was gone.

There was no doubt about it…

I was weak.

And I struggled greatly for many months, for my life had been turned inside out and upside down.  It came to a screeching halt.

Philippians 4:13 which says, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” was a difficult verse for me to swallow…

For there was definitely no “doing” in my life.

As I let this verse tumble around in my thoughts…and believe me I had a lot of time to think:D…God began to teach me that in Him, I can do all things…

Even rest.

As I learned to rely on His strength to help me rest…contentedly and not anxiously or judging myself for not being able to do all that I thought I should be doing…I learned and received another valuable lesson…

That of learning to be still before God and to wait patiently for Him and His timing with a heart of hope and trust.

Although, I am back on my feet again, my energy is not anything like it was.

This is one of my thorns in the flesh.

I still have days that I have to rest.  I have to say “no” and learn to prioritize tasks I take on.

And in all honesty, there are times that I struggle with having the mindset of Paul…

That of seeing my weakness as an opportunity to see God’s strength at work in my life.

Yet, just as my daughters had to learn to put into practice the wisdom that they learned about how to tackle the cleaning of their room, as the days of my life go by, God gives me the opportunity to put the gems of wisdom that He has taught me in the midst of struggling with my thorn in the flesh.

And, guess what?

My mindset is changing!  It is being transformed.

I am learning to view struggles as an act of grace by God’s hand:

  • To keep me humble in the midst of all the blessings He pours out day by day…which is important for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
    • A spinoff of this wisdom lesson has been a thankful heart, for when I am going through a hard time, I have begun to look for those blessings that are so huge, God has to allow a thorn in my life.
  • To show me that His grace is sufficient
  • To allow me to experience firsthand that His strength is indeed made perfect in my weakness.

I hope that these lessons I have learned will encourage you when you find that you are facing a thorn in your flesh that God does not removed.

May you know His blessings that are present in your life.  May you know that His grace is sufficient.  May you know that His strength is made perfect in your weakness.

Now…

I am thinking it is time to stretch the cleaning wisdom that the girls have been learning, and let them tackle something new…

The bathroom!

 

P. S.  I wanted to share a small tune that has been going around in my head the last few days…I have many words to this music.  It is called “Lord, It Is You”.  When I hum it I  recall to mind the truth that I know of Him to be true, and then apply them to the situation that I am facing…