“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.'” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9
Scripture does not tell us what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was and I believe that it is intentional because we all have thorns we must receive and bear. So, what are we to do with them? How do we take a disability, an illness, cancer, diabetes, grief, depression, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, anger, bitterness, resentment, traumatic events, and so many other thorns and allow them to be used? How can we trust Jesus’ sufficient grace? I’m not certain of the answer to these questions in their entirety.
Jesus promised that His grace is sufficient for us and that in our weakness, He would be strong, but how do we accept the thorn and trust that sufficiency?
I know so many who are suffering with some of the thorns I listed above. I am thinking specifically of my friend, Katrina, whose thorn is acute myeloid leukemia. She has been through one course of chemotherapy, and all that comes with such treatment. She has been surrounded in prayer. She has trusted and relied fully on God for His healing. Yet, today she told us that her bone marrow biopsy came back positive and she has to undergo yet another round of chemotherapy.
Katrina’s love for our Savior proclaimed, “I will trust Him!” She is accepting that His grace is sufficient for her. In that trusting and in that accepting and in that declaration, she has accepted Jesus ministry of thorns for herself. God, in His perfect will and wisdom, has entrusted this thorn to Katrina. I know that in this, she will give Him the glory.
I have read, many times, Hannah Hurnard’s book, Hinds’ Feet on High Places. In it, the main character, Much-Afraid, is also given a thorn that had to pierce her heart:
“She bent forward to look, then gave a startled little cry and drew back. There was indeed a seed lying in the palm of his hand, but it was shaped exactly like a long, sharply-pointed thorn… ‘The seed looks very sharp,’ she said shrinkingly. ’Won’t it hurt if you put it into my heart?’
He answered gently, ‘It is so sharp that it slips in very quickly. But, Much-Afraid, I have already warned you that Love and Pain go together, for a time at least. If you would know Love, you must know pain too.’
Much-Afraid looked at the thorn and shrank from it. Then she looked at the Shepherd’s face and repeated his words to herself. ’When the seed of Love in your heart is ready to bloom, you will be loved in return,’ and a strange new courage entered her. She suddenly stepped forward, bared her heart, and said, ‘Please plant the seed here in my heart.’
His face lit up with a glad smile and he said with a note of joy in his voice, ‘Now you will be able to go with me to the High Places and be a citizen in the Kingdom of my Father.’
Then he pressed the thorn into her heart. It was true, just as he had said, it did cause a piercing pain, but it slipped in quickly and then, suddenly, a sweetness she had never felt or imagined before tingled through her. It was bittersweet, but the sweetness was the stronger. She thought of the Shepherd’s words, ‘It is so happy to love,’ and her pale, sallow cheeks suddenly glowed pink and her eyes shown. For a moment Much-Afraid did not look afraid at all.”
I have learned from this and God’s Word that thorns, although painful, must be. They aren’t placed to cripple us, but to grow in us Himself. If we allow them, we will have placed in us His love and our lives can be used for His glory. It is not always easy to bear a thorn, but when we do….when we trust…when we “don’t quit,” as Katrina would say, we bear in our lives, hearts, in our very souls a ministry of thorns.
The ministry of thorns is temporal and earthly, but it is truly a Kingdom Work and this work can only be performed by us who bear the thorns and trust His grace. Do not be discouraged, if the dailiness threatens to conquer — be strong — and walk in your ministry of thorns for His grace is truly sufficient.