The Apostle Paul is largely known as the most influential Christian of all time. Next to the Lord Jesus Christ, no one has had greater impact on the Kingdom of God. Paul hated and was a persecutor of Christians early in his life, but was radically transformed by Jesus Christ, turning him into the one of the greatest Christ-followers the world has ever known. His life and testimony are incredible examples for all believers.
As impacting as the Apostle Paul was, he did not have an easy life. The Bible and church history tells us that he suffered greatly for his Lord, and ended up dying a horrific martyr’s death. One of the most incredible lessons we learn from Paul is how to be faithful in the midst of suffering. Paul was uniquely blessed by the Lord to receive divine revelation from God, but to keep Paul from becoming conceited and proud, the Lord gave him a “thorn in his flesh.” This was a figurative expression reflecting that God put something in Paul’s life that made him dependent on God for strength. 2 Corinthians 12:7 says, “…a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.”
There has been great speculation as to what this “thorn” was. Some have speculated that it may have been something physical, like trouble with his vision. Some have stated that it may have been a spiritual problem, or an emotional problem. Whatever the thorn was, it was extremely troublesome to Paul. It was such a problem to him that the Scripture says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” But, the Apostle Paul’s answer from the Lord was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In other words, God was not going to remove the thorn, but would teach Paul how to trust Him with the thorn.
As I have reflected on Paul’s circumstances, I have learned much from his situation. So often, God does not remove hard things in our lives, but chooses to leave them, in order for us to truly trust Him. Here are three principles necessary for living when God doesn’t remove the thorns in our lives.
First, God’s grace gives endurance, but we must rely on Him!
Much of the Christian life comes down to sheer endurance. God often likes to test us before He uses us. As I heard a preacher say one time, “God never uses anyone mightily that He doesn’t test thoroughly.” Paul was being tested. His situation was not about having faith in God to remove the thorn, but having faith in God, even if He didn’t remove the thorn. God may not always remove the trials in our lives, but He will give us what we need to endure them. We simply must rely on Him. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient, for My power is perfected in weakness.” God may test us, but He never leaves us empty handed. As the above Scripture says, “His grace is sufficient.” If you want to be used by God, which is the desire of every true Christian, prepare to be tested. God wants us to rely on Him and fully trust in Him, even if things do not go how we want or plan. But, we must always remember James 1:12, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” Christians may suffer in this life, but as we endure and rely on the Lord, one day it will all be worth it.
Second, God’s power gives strength, but we must yield to Him!
Jesus said to Paul, “…My power is perfected in weakness.” God’s grace is sufficient for us, but His power is also available to us. God does not just provide what we need to endure, but also what we need to overcome. It is in our weakness that God’s strength is made strong. This is why Paul was able to say, “…I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” There is a certain freedom when a Christian realizes they have no power in themselves. But, a Christian must then yield to the Lord in order to have the necessary power to overcome the trials in their life. James, the half brother of Jesus said, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” God’s power is greater than anything we will ever face, and all He asks us to do is yield to Him. When we boast in our weaknesses, His power rests on us and works through us!
Third, God’s presence gives peace, but we must glory in Him!
Paul says that he endures what he endures for the sake of Christ. His ultimate desire was to glorify God. He even went so far to say that he boasts in his weaknesses so that Christ might get the glory through his life. Paul took no pleasure in the pain itself, but rejoiced and received peace knowing that God received glory through his suffering. God loves to display His glory and strength through our weakness, because it is then that He gets immense glory, the glory He alone deserves. We must learn and remember that it is not the absence of problems that brings peace, but rather, the presence of God. When God doesn’t remove the thorns in our lives, He still provides Himself in the midst of our pain, and He is enough.
As Christians, we must rely on Him, yield to Him, and glory in Him. Then we will have the endurance, strength, and peace we desperately need when God doesn’t remove the thorns in our lives!