Paul had thorns, I have them too. Thorns by definition are painful. I would avoid them if I could, but I can’t. And so, like Paul, I must learn to live life with the thorns ever present. Thorns are something I must endure but surely not something for which I am thankful. Or am I?
Paul was. He was thankful for his “thorn in the flesh” as he called it in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul even said, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul found that when he had no power of his own to rely on, he relied instead on God’s power and God’s power was made perfect in his weakness. (2 Cor. 12:9)
My thorns are painful and they are not all thorns in the flesh, like Paul’s was. If truth be told, my thorns are thorns in the heart. Physical pain is challenging for sure, but emotional pain cuts even deeper, lasts far longer, and is far more debilitating than physical pain. Thorns that cause emotional pain cripple and paralyze me far longer than any physical injury ever could.
Yet in James I am told to “Consider it pure joy, . . . whenever you (I) face trials of many kinds, because (I can) know that the testing of (my) faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that (I) may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
Well, I’m guessing perseverance has not finished its work in me because I seem to be lacking many things and am keenly aware of my lack when the thorns rise up to remind me of their presence with me on my journey. (as if I could forget) The thorns will not be ignored, overlooked, nor forgotten. But I get to choose my reaction to my thorns.
Peter talks about the thorns in life saying, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7) My thorns are testing, refining and strengthening my faith, making it what it should be ultimately. And so that I might be “lacking nothing, but be mature and complete” as James stated, my thorns are meant to produce in me goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. (2 Peter 1:5-7) It is up to me to allow my thorns to do their work.
I would rather avoid the thorns than face them. However, it is the thorns that make me desperate for my Heavenly Father’s face, it is the thorns that drive me to my knees, it is the thorns that send me running into my Creator’s presence seeking His solace, wisdom, guidance, grace and power to continue to walk in this broken world in a way that honors Him.
It is the pain of the thorns that teaches me compassion for others. It is the pain of my thorns that calls me to care for others in their painful times. It is the thorns that test and strengthen my faith. It is the thorns that keep me close to God. It is the thorns that help me realize my dependence upon my Heavenly Father and it is the thorns that keep me from going my own selfish, sinful way.
I don’t feel thankful for the thorns in this life, but I trust that my thorns are accomplishing in my life things far better than what a thornless life would give to me. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)
So perhaps I will change my prayer from “please take away the thorns and the pain they bring” to “thank you Lord, for the thorns.” And just maybe in the stillness as I listen, I will hear, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”
And I will know, like Paul, the thorns that are making me weak with pain, are actually making me stronger. Then I will say along with Paul, “when I am weak, then I am strong.” and I will be thankful for the thorns.
sincerely, Grace Day