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. -2 Corinthians 12:7-9
Exactly what the thorn in Paul's flesh was is up for debate. Is he talking about his physical flesh? Perhaps he is referring to his poor eyesight, his physical appearance or a body broken after numerous stonings, whippings, and beatings. It’s also possible he is speaking of the flesh in the spiritual sense. Perhaps he is referring to a war with sin he cannot seem to win, emotional and mental torment over his past persecution of the Church or the very human struggle with assurance of salvation.
Most Christians are no strangers to pleading with God to change their circumstances or relieve their suffering. Whether its physical pain/sickness or the despair we feel when we lose another battle with that same old sin we've been fighting as long as we can remember, we are desperate for God to intervene. He always does, but not always in the way we would like.
God might heal us. God may grant victory over certain sins. But more often than not He does something else. Something better. He gives us grace. Like Paul, we ask God to make us strong. Make us well. Make us better. But God is more interested in reinforcing the incredible truth that amid all our weaknesses, He has made us His.
The day is coming when all will be right, and every corner of creation will be restored. Until that day, God chooses to display the power and perfection of His sustaining grace by pouring it out on the desperate and weak. In God’s economy, humility and dependency are elevated over everything else. God wants to keep us close to the reality that we entirely dead and lost apart from His grace.
In the midst of struggle, Paul finds that to boast in the grace of God means to gladly boast in his weakness. We don't know what the thorn in his flesh was, and that is a good thing. We all struggle. And we all have the same God to bring those struggles to. God's answer to our prayers for relief is never “no.” However, His answer is often “not yet.” And every “not yet” is accompanied by an all-sufficient grace. A grace that will not let you go. “My grace is sufficient for you” is how God tells Paul that Christ is clinging to him.
Dear struggling Christian, in every grace-soaked “not yet” of God, Christ is still holding fast to you.
Daniel is the Director of Christ Hold Fast, an author, church and conference speaker and co-host of the podcasts 40 Minutes in the Old Testament and 30 Minutes in the New Testament. He has served as a church planter, pastor and worship leader and currently lives in Bentonville Arkansas with his wife Jessica and daughter Anna.