Is there something you struggle with that you wish you didn’t? I mean something along the lines of a persistent sin, an addiction, or a bad character flaw. Do you ever wonder why God doesn’t just take it away? After all, the Bible says that He came so we might live life more abundantly. Whatever that issue or problem is, it gets in the way of you doing so. So why does God allow it persist in your life?
Scripture has an answer for these questions. We find the answerer no other than Paul, who struggled with something that he didn’t call out specifically (we’d classify it today as “an unspoken prayer request”). Whatever it was, it was bad enough that Paul called it a thorn. Here are the verses:
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 to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, ESV
If the apostle Paul struggled with something, it shouldn’t surprise us that we can, too. Diving deeper, Paul knew for sure that God allowed whatever the issue was to continue in his life. Paul was not given relief from it. We could make the argument that whatever it was, it must have impaired Paul’s ministry. Therefore, it seems inconsistent that God would permit such an obstacle for a man called to do so much. However, that’s not the way Paul saw it. Paul knew God isn’t inconsistent. Therefore, Paul considered carefully why he had the thorn. He found the answer.
Paul stated twice that the reason for the thorn was it prevented him from becoming conceited. Stop and think about that for a second. Conceit would have been devestating to Paul’s ministry. It would have rendered him ineffective. Case in that light, we begin to see why God allowed this thorn to remain in Paul’s life: the consequences were worse.
Now one could argue that God could make the conceit go away. After all, we do see in Scripture miraculous changes in people. Look at how Jacob/Israel turned around. Or look at how Judah went from a plotter, schemer, and murderer to the one who would put his own life to save his brother Benjamin’s. In those cases God did change the hearts of those men. However, he did so over a period of time. We know they experienced some hardship. To what extent, we don’t know. That sounds an awful lot like Paul’s thorn, doesn’t it?
Having such an issue in our lives should humble us. It should remind us that we can’t do everything on our own. We need the Holy Spirit to change us, to guide us, to strengthen us. God makes those promises. He reminds Paul of those promises when God explains that when Paul is weak, God’s power can work fully to perfection. Paul didn’t have the strength to get in the way. The same is true of us. Areas where we are weak or struggle with are where God can show His power, His faithfulness, and His mercy. They are additional opportunities to get a blessing from God. Also, those issues may be shielding us from something bigger, just like Paul’s thorn sheltered him from self-conceit.
This isn’t to say that we don’t have to work on our issues. It’s just a reminder that some things are bigger than we are. When they are, God steps in if we will yield to Him. Whatever it is that you can’t seem to shake, don’t give up. Keep pushing yourself to overcome it. However, also make sure that you yield to God so His strength can be made perfect in your weakness. Like with repentance, even when we are at our lowest point, God has more of Himself, more of His perfection, lined up for us. God is good.