(1Peter 5:6 NASB) is a statement completely foreign to our earthly nature.
We are immersed in a performance culture that caters to the praise of the world. Weakness is neither rewarded nor honored. Quite the contrary, it is ridiculed and exploited whether on the playground or at the office. We’ve been raised to excel in our strengths and compensate for our weakness. So we learned to boast in our strengths and hide our weakness. We display our trophies and bury our shame. At the very least, we’ve all spoken in our hearts like a Pharisee, “Thank God I’m not like those guys” (Matthew 18:10-14 NASB). We have much to be proud of.
So what do you boast in? Tim Keller, Senior Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church NYC, said that when counseling, he doesn’t start with someone’s big failure or problem, but by determining what they boast in. Why? Because sins spring forth from the root of pride.
“Pride is a telescope turned the wrong way. It magnifies self and makes the heavens small.” – C.S. Lewis
The apostle Paul was no exception. Paul explains, “To keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me…” (2Corinthians 12:7 NASB). Interestingly, we are never told exactly what this thorn was, I believe, so we could all better identify with whatever “it” is in our own lives. But we are told its purpose: “to keep me from exalting myself.” And while Paul identifies this thorn as “a messenger of Satan” that was painfully effective, its purpose was wholly used by God for good.
The Greek word for “thorn” is used only here in Scripture and its meaning spans the gamut from “a thorn or splinter” to “a stake.” And since “torment” literally means “to beat or strike with the fist,” Paul’s emphasis here is probably closer to a stake than a thorn.
“I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me” (2Cor 12:8 NASB). He asks, but in view of something better, God answered his prayer unexpectedly. Oftentimes, His ways are not our ways. Instead, “He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness’” (2Cor 12:9 NASB).
And Paul’s closing testimony to us is this: “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2Cor 12:9-10 NASB).
Did you see it? After previously begging the Lord for deliverance from this “thorn” and hearing the Lord say “no,” he is now strangely “well content.” Why? Instead of removing his weakness, God transformed it to work for him, not against him. Perspective. Paul is literally “staked” – pinned close to Jesus in surrender and dependency and emptied of self. Not a bad place to be.
All of which is possible because, Jesus, the strongest One in the universe “emptied Himself” to become humble, submissive, weak according to the flesh, and wholly dependent on God – even to the point of death (Philippians 2:5-8). For our sakes, the Lion became a Lamb. Such is the foolishness of God – the heart of the gospel – the valley of vision. Do you want to see more clearly? Do you want to be set free from the tyranny of pride?
Then learn the value of your thorn by experiencing the sufficiency of His grace.
Jesus is still saying, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29 NASB).
© 2013 Tim McKenzie – www.OnEveryWord.com