"For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10). Do we think of "a thorn in the flesh" as a gift? I don't. But this last trip, I have been in the school of hard knocks and have grown up a little bit in my faith.
Sometimes when your Bible reading gets a little dry, a good thing to do is change translations for a bit, or choose a good paraphrase like The Message by Eugene Peterson. Sometimes it throws new light on an old Scripture. It can freshen the familiar. Let me explain how this Scripture from Peterson's paraphrase encouraged me in our recent dilemma.
What a few months this has been! Since April, we have been to Abu Dhabi and Dubai with the Evangelical International Church, which is an incredible few thousand strong. Then we went to Turkey, to join a conference with young Iranian leaders under persecution, which was an unforgettable time and challenge. We worked from 7 am until 10:30 pm each night. (See Stuart's Report from the Field under About Us at tellingthetruth.org) Then we had a LONG flight to New Zealand from Istanbul for dozens of meetings throughout the South Island. The day after we arrived, Stuart and I both lost our voices! There was one day when we sat on a couch at the home where we were staying, looked at each other with dozens of speaking engagements ahead of us, and NEITHER of us had one whisper left!
Somehow we only missed one engagement and have been able to help each other by splitting time and working material around the one with most whispers left! We decided each day who would take the lion's share of the talking. We had just five days left to go before going home for a week. Then we're off to the Holy Land with 100 people, for which we will need our voices.
As we struggled with this malady, I decided this was a proverbial "thorn in the flesh!" Paul says, "At first I didn't think of it (the thorn) as a gift and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that and then He told me, 'My Grace is enough, it's all you need, my strength comes into its own in your weakness.' Once I heard that I was glad to let it happen. I stopped focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness" "(2 Corinthians 12:9).
In Corinthians, in The Message Paul says, "Because of the extravagance of those revelations," (Paul is referring to being caught up into the heavenly realms and being given visions and revelations) "and so I wouldn't get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan's angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty.... Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size-abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become" (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
One of these challenging days in New Zealand, I was sitting on a platform with hardly a whisper before I was to speak. I prayed fervently that God would fully restore my voice. It didn't happen. Somehow I managed. I had barely enough to whisper, but I noticed I did have just enough!
Afterwards, I thought about the prayer I had prayed that had not been answered. I had prayed quite urgently, "Lord, give me my voice back so I can talk about you." I imagined that if God had answered that request, I would get up and be in full voice and that the thorn would be gone. I realized I needed to amend my prayers.
I had been asking for full voice. But now instead, with Paul's words in mind, I asked simply, "Lord, let me have 'enough voice' if you don't take the thorn away!" He answered that prayer. I only had a loud whisper, BUT it was — with the help of the mike — enough for the day.
I thought of Paul praying for his thorn in the flesh to be fully removed and God in His sovereign wisdom not removing it — whatever it was. Instead, He gave Paul the power to do the job at hand anyway. Paul, recounting this, said, "Your grace is sufficient for me for your power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV). I regrouped, and stopped asking for a full healing and asked instead for "enough."
So often we ask for peace and the absence of fear to do something difficult for God. We expect perfect peace. And God asks us, "If I give you 'peace enough', will you still do it for me? Enough money, enough health, enough energy?"
Accepting the things you cannot change will certainly keep you depending fully on Him. Then you will be able to look back and say, as Paul did, "This was a good thorn! It brought me nearer to Him. It taught me to depend."
I discovered my God in a new and living way. "For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10 NIV). Can you say the same? Can you say, "This is a good thorn"?