II Corinthians 12
For as long as I can remember, I have always had this competitive nature about me. I have always found it hard to just go out and play for fun. I wanted to win! If someone was keeping score, or if we were playing for a winner, then I wanted to be the one who won. Now, I must admit that I did not experience winning to often in high school sports. I never played on a basketball team that had a winning season, and with the exception of my first year in varsity soccer (where we won the state championship) never had many winning seasons in that either. The only team at our school that I played on that had a consistent winning record was baseball, and to be honest the competition wasn’t all that tough.
I could tell several stories about how I chose to deal with the competition but you would forever change the way you look at me. I am normally known as a laid back person, but on the field (or court) my personality changes very quickly. I am going to spare you the war stories for now and just tell you about one instance that happened to me when I was really young.
I do not remember exactly how old I was but I do know that I was fairly young when this occurred, probably 5 or so. I had a friend over and we were playing, like little boys do. Now I do not recall which one of us had the original idea, but I do know that we decided to have a race on our little tricycles.
Now this seemed like a harmless idea so we set up our course. We decided to start at the front porch steps and ride with all our hearts to the end of the sidewalk, the first one down wins! I guess what we failed to calculate in our plans was what was at the end of the sidewalk. The sidewalk at my house ended into a ditch, and at both sides of the sidewalk there stood nice big, thorny rose bushes. For some reason this did not seem to concern us or at least register in our minds at this time. We were just focused in on the course that awaited us, and not what was to come along with the finish line.
So we took off, now remember that I was young, and may not have been very aware of my competitive nature at the time, so I guess I can use that as my excuse as to what happened next. As we came upon the slight turn in the sidewalk I could taste victory as we got closer and closer to the end, and all that was waiting for me was the finish line, my destiny as the victor. I would finally be named the sidewalk tricycle king!
How quickly this innocent little race turned into a game of chicken. Who would be the first to pull up and surrender the victory? Who had the guts to finish the race as we approached the rose bushes at a high rate of speed?
Well I am proud to say that I won that race! That’s right I was the champion. I am also here to tell you that my friend did not even finish the race; he chose to stop short of the finish line and let me go ahead and enjoy the win. There I was nothing that could stop me from celebrating my sweet victory, except for the fact that I landed in the rose bushes, and it was there that I found myself tangled up in the bush, tricycle and all.
You know how in the Olympics when an athlete wins they get to stand on the podium and receive their medal and listen to their national anthem play? Well for me my podium was a toilet and my medal was mom and dad plucking thorns from me. Their was no music that day as I stood victor, so there I stood on that toilet, the proud victor of what was probably my first and last race with thorns from head to toe. Needless to say that pain was included in with my victory on this day.
To this day my mom tells me that it wasn’t nearly as hard to pull all the thorns out of me, as it was to get me untangled from that bush. I will have to take her word on that, neither seemed all that fun for me.
I guess it is because of this story that I feel like I can relate to Paul when he talks about the thorn in his flesh.
II Corinthians 12:7, To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
I know there has been a lot of debate as to what the thorn in Paul’s flesh might have been. Some say it was a physical handicap, others say it may have been the religious leaders of that time and others say it was a personal battle with sin, possibly even sexual temptations. To me it doesn’t matter what it was, in my life at a time it was a literal thorn, or should I say thorns, all over my flesh.
For each one of us the thorn is something different. For you it may be that job promotion that keeps passing you by, the raise you have been asking for but never seem to get, that annoying neighbor that keeps breaking your stuff, or something else. It may not even be something that simple for you, maybe in your case it is an addiction to alcohol, drugs, money, sex or anything else. Maybe it is a physical, mental or emotional handicap that you are bothered by. You keep asking God to remove it from you, to take it away, and yet it keeps showing back up in your life.
That seems to be what kept happening to Paul, as he tells us in II Corinthians 12:8, Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
It was not going to go away just because he wanted it to. God had a reason for allowing it to remain and the same is true for you.
What was God’s response to Paul? It is the same response God gives to your requests? Simply put, He has got it under control. II Corinthians 12:9 tells us, 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
These thorns do not catch God by surprise; He has everything planned out. Whatever the situation is that you are going through in your life, God’s grace will get you through it. All you have to do is trust God and allow Him to give you what it is that you need to get through it. Too many times we find ourselves in trouble because we do what we think is a good idea. The end result usually finds us standing on life’s toilet getting the thorns pulled out of us by our Heavenly Father. Isn’t that an interesting mental picture?
Why is it that we do this to ourselves? In our human nature we are not able to see the end of the sidewalk to be able to know what is in store for us, if we would only trust in God’s grace then we will not be discouraged when these thorns come because He will give us what we need to endure. The end result may sometimes leave a mark on us but instead of it being painful it can be helpful.
Pain can remind us of when God pulled us from the thorn bush of life and made everything better through His grace, which is all we ever needed in the first place!
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