Earthly Thorns That Trouble Us
Day 1- The Thorn of Sickness
“So to 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, that it should leave me. But He said, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ my rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9, ESV)
I’m sure we can all relate to the wretched experience of walking through a thorn bush. Maybe it was when you were a kid playing in the woods or as an adult doing yard work. Everything is going smoothly, and then, out of nowhere (it seems) come the thorns. I don’t think any of us are fans of them! Thorns hurt as they stab you; they hold you back from moving forward; they limit your progress as they ensnare you. The more you fight against them, the firmer their grasp. They irritate and annoy. As I re-read that list, I’m thinking, No wonder so many of the troubles of Christian living are referred to as thorns! This week, we are going to be looking at some of those troubles—the thorns that trouble us.
As Christians, we are going to have thorns to deal with; it’s practically a guarantee. Even the Apostle Paul dealt with some unnamed thorn he mentions in 2 Corinthians 12. He approaches it in a very interesting way. It must have been quite taxing, bad enough for Paul to plead with the Lord three times to take it away. And keep in mind, Paul was able to heal others (Acts 14; 28) and even raise the dead (Acts 20). But this thorn was not going away. The Lord spoke directly to him, and Paul was able to appreciate the all-sufficient grace of God even in his weakness. While we can’t know for sure what this thorn was, the fact that Paul specifically notes it dealt with his flesh makes me think it had to be physical in nature. And that brings us to our opening topic: the thorn of sickness.
By the grace of God, I have yet to be really sick. I’ve had my share of minor illnesses and health issues, of course, but I’ve yet to encounter any of the big baddies: cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and so on. It doesn’t mean I won’t. As I think about those illnesses and the associated trials, I can’t help but think of that word “thorn.” With sickness comes pain; with sickness comes labor; with sickness often come physical limitations. These are all things that can cause intense frustration and even anger. Why should you have to deal with this when others don’t? I imagine it can seem arbitrary and unfair. Listen, I don’t understand it, either. Many times, I’ve prayed for the thorn of sickness to be removed from friends or family members. It wasn’t removed; some of them have passed away. And while I wouldn’t necessarily pin things on the source of Paul’s thorn (“a messenger of Satan”), the ultimate cause is the same for all of us: we live a fallen, sinful world. Until we are free from the presence of sin, we will never be free from the presence of sickness. We will either face this thorn ourselves or face it alongside a friend or loved one.
We will have to deal with the aftermath of a bout with this thorn of sickness, with one of two outcomes: it either will be removed, or it won’t. If it is removed, we would surely give thanks to God. But what if it isn’t removed? What if the sickness gets worse and worse, and we begin to realize it will ultimately end only with our last breath? It makes any normal person shudder to even think about it. I can only point us to what Paul has relayed from the mouth of the Lord Himself: We must rest in the all-sufficient grace of our Lord. That’s easier said than done if we’re (relatively) young and healthy and on the outside looking in. We won’t know how we will deal with this thorn until it has embedded itself in us. Should that thorn come my way, I pray I will have the grace to approach it as Paul (and others I have personally known throughout my life) did.