We all have our thorns, right? Some are more obvious than others. Some lead to tougher earthly circumstances than others. Some feel debilitating while some are just plain annoying. Nevertheless, they are unwelcome interruptions that hold the potential of affecting our relationship with the Lord and with those around us.
And one of the very unfortunate tendencies among believers is to play the comparison game, and I am just as guilty as the next guy. It happens in a number of ways, but I would like to focus on one particular avenue the enemy takes in order to cripple Christians when it comes to comparing our thorns.
Who can relate to this scenario?
You’re sitting in a Bible study, church service, or even a big worship event. The speaker or facilitator starts to share what they’re setting up as a deep, dark secret or huge confession. They proceed to spill the beans on this devastating stronghold they just HAD to get off their chest and you’re left sitting there dumbfounded thinking, “Seriously? That’s it? That’s the big, ugly, dark sin you’ve been carrying?”
Please tell me I’m not the only one with both hands in the air right now?
But it’s true, right? It feels a little bit like when a spoiled, rich kid starts complaining about having to settle for Gucci instead of Louboutin. “I mean, how do you even cope with life?”
So there you are, squirming in your seat because your wretchedness is glaring at you in the face harder than ever, and not just because you’re that much more aware of your “real” sin but because now you’ve also managed to trivialize the sin of another believer.
Here’s the deal for me though. I’ve been on both sides of this coin. I’ve had those same thoughts, wondering how the in the world I’m supposed to measure up when the best that the other “confessor” can come up with is that nagging need to control where their life goes. But I’ve also done life from the perspective of playing down my own sinful nature and the thorns that plague me daily because at least I do not have to fight the epic battle he or she has to fight.
But lately the Lord has been dealing heavily with my heart about this very thing. I began feeling a distinct conviction from the Holy Spirit saying, “Child, you are in no place to judge the state of another person’s heart. What may seem like an insignificant sin to you may be wreaking havoc on that person’s life, family, and whole world. Perhaps it would do you well to take a personal inventory of your own sin and just how well you’re coping with them.”
So I did. And you want to know what I found? I realized for the first time that the personality trait I felt made me so good at the things I do well is also the very thing that creates the most tension in my relationship with the Lord.
I’m pretty Type A when it comes to how I do life. I love a good challenge and I will organize the fool out of anything assigned to me (though my husband probably wishes that would translate to the state of our house). For the most part, that piece of my personality bodes really well for me. People appreciate my efficiency and accuracy. They know they can depend on me to get something done right. I even do well in the face of adversity because there is a good chance I’ve already considered what to do with said obstacle. But hidden beneath that well structured, tidy surface are some dangerous trip hazards that I fall prey to often – self-reliance and pride. It would be very easy for me to take all the credit and keep God’s glory as an afterthought. Human nature would say, “I’ve got this! I don’t need Him in order to accomplish great things. I can do this on my own strength.” And to some extent that’s probably true – after all, God made me this way, right? Surely He didn’t give me these abilities and skills to not be able to use them well.
So how do keep our apparent strengths from becoming our quiet downfall? I think Paul did a pretty good job of tackling this very thing in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
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.
Paul had plenty to be proud of. He was a confident, learned man who had worked hard to achieve his religious status. Then once converted on the road to Damascus, he went on to become one of the most influential voices in the early church whose words still help shape the faith of believers today. From the outside, it would seem that if anyone had it together, it was Paul. And yet, he was always quick to remind fellow Christ followers that he had plenty of weaknesses. Why is that?
Something tells me that Paul had a number of opportunities to learn the hard way that pride comes before the fall. He knew that he had a great deal of strengths to boast about, but he also had the self-awareness to know that those same strengths held the power to bring him to his knees if not used well and humbly. The same paradox was true for his weaknesses – his thorns. As a norm, his weaknesses served to be a constant reminder of his humanity and inability to do it all, but they also proved to set the perfect stage for God to exhibit His power. He had seen the Lord do wondrous things, not just in situations when his own strengths shined, but more so when he had nothing left to do except cling to the Lord’s promises and character.
There are countless lessons we can learn from Paul and his ministry to the early church, but let’s recap what his example has to say regarding this topic of thorns, comparing sin, and embracing those weaknesses in our own lives.
- A thorn is a thorn is a thorn. Whether it’s a physical handicap, a particular worldly vice, a certain personality feature, or an annoying habit, to the person living with it everyday, it’s a big deal. We don’t have the right to look at others’ thorns and judge the level to which it creates difficulty in their lives.
- Some thorns are disguised and require a keener eye to spot. They may even seem like a good thing on the surface, but underneath have the potential to do real harm. They can become a distraction or give us a false sense of security if left unchecked.
- There is a difference between embracing our thorns and choosing not to fight them. Our battle against the flesh will not end this side of eternity; however, in the meantime we can trust the God can and will use the broken places for His glory and our good – but only when we can acknowledge our weaknesses and learn to give them over to Him rather than stiff-arming them.
So what does this look like for someone like me who has the thorn of a Type A personality? It looks a lot like daily surrendering my agendas, plans, and expectations. It looks like intentionally searching for His handiwork in every situation rather than only seeing my accomplishments. It looks like sometimes choosing to let something go in order to keep my priorities straight. Most importantly, it looks like remembering to give the Lord credit and glory in all things so that my eyes remain fixed on Him and not on myself.
At the end of the day, our weaknesses are not there just to make our lives miserable. They are there to keep us groaning for heaven, to remind us that this earth is not our home and these bodies are not ours forever. While we wait, we have the option to either let our weaknesses get the better of us or let our God show off. I prefer the latter, how about you?
What is your thorn? How have you learned to press into the Lord so that His power is made perfect through your weakness?