Written by Pastor Jim Law
One of the recurring battles for those who follow Jesus Christ is dealing with the ever-present danger of self-sufficiency. We like to think that we are up to the challenge, that we’ve got what it takes. Boldness, confidence, and initiative are highly prized and viewed as essential if one is to be successful.
When we examine the Scriptures and observe the lives of those who walked by faith, we notice that their faith took action, and that the call of God supplied everything needed, including confidence, passion and zeal. Their walk with God was simple and unassuming. Behind their incredible feats was the power of God through vessels of clay. The Bible is careful to present the lives of the faithful with all of their weaknesses and struggles.
When God called Moses at the burning bush to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage, God’s call was resisted by Moses when he said, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”(Exodus 4:10) The Lord responded with the message we all need to remember when it comes to doing anything for Christ in this world,“Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”(Exodus 4:11-12)
We could look at every other servant of God mentioned in the Bible as an example of how God used weak vessels to accomplish incredible victories for His glory. On this point, I follow the writer of Hebrews who said, “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” (Hebrews 11:32-34) The writer of Hebrews captures the reason for their power and success, “They were made strong out of weakness.”
The Apostle Paul expands this important truth in 2 Corinthians 12 from a very personal experience in his life. Paul had been afforded great spiritual privilege through seeing visions and revelations. He had been able to peer into the sacred chamber of the third heaven. So incredible were these experiences that Paul in humility refers to himself in the third person, “he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.” (2 Corinthians 12:4a-5)
The Lord inserted a thorn into Paul’s life that was an excruciating hindrance. Much deeper than the image of a rose thorn puncturing a finger, the picture here is one of being impaled on a stake. In God’s wisdom, we are not told what the thorn was which allows for broad application for us all.
Even though Paul asked on three occasions to have it removed, the thorn remained so that Paul would learn the sufficiency of God’s grace. We discover in 2 Corinthians 12 that the thorn was preventive discipline to keep Paul from exalting himself in light of the surpassing revelations he had been privileged to experience.
Furthermore, the thorn in the flesh would give Paul a platform to boast more gladly about his weaknesses, “so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) No self-pity in that resolve. Just a surrendered life.
Early in my ministry, I had a seminary friend who gave me a copy of Spiritual Leadership by Oswald Sanders. In this classic, Sanders references a poem by missionary Amy Carmichael entitled, “Has Thou No Scar?”
Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,
I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star:
Hast Thou no scar?
Hast Thou no wound?
Yet, I was wounded by the archers, spent.
Leaned me against the tree to die, and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed me, I swooned:
Hast thou no wound?
No wound? No scar?
Yes, as the master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow Me:
But yours are whole. Can he have followed far
Who has no wound? No scar?
We don’t like to talk about our weaknesses, our thorns. We would rather circumnavigate the globe in order to conceal them. The flawed theology of much contemporary Christianity is that there is no place for such talk. In fact, many would proclaim that if you have a thorn in your life, something is wrong with your faith. Like Job’s friends, they are certain that there is some hidden sin that is the reason behind it all.
How foreign to the teaching of the New Testament where we learn that God places thorns in our lives like a well-driven nail for the purpose of producing amazement of what can be done for His glory.