Friday, September 19, 2014

The Thorn in Your Side, Part 2

Yesterday I introduced Paul’s thorn problem and how God solved it for him. Today, we’re going to explore how God’s solution works in specific illustrations from life. In his and ours.

What was Paul’s thorn?

Was it Physical?
Some theologians believe Paul had eye troubles, based on his statement in Galatians 6:11, “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” This and the fact that he dictated all his letters seem to point to a difficulty. If so, the power of the Holy Spirit which had worked through Paul to heal others, declined to heal him. This was not meanness on God’s part, but a more perfect solution than physical wholeness.

Is your personal thorn a handicap, illness, injury, pain, or physical limitation? Has God chosen not to heal you despite all your prayers and pleading? It could be that He wants to shine through you in your weakness, despite your infirmity as He has so many other great believers in history.

Was it a Person?
Maybe Paul’s thorn was a difficult person, or the lack of a significant person (namely a wife) that caused his pain. He wasn’t the most popular guy. After all, first he went around killing Christians. Then he became one and started inviting Gentiles to follow Christ and be grafted into the family tree! Both sides were a little wary and he often rubbed people the wrong way. There were times of great loneliness for Paul.

If your thorn is a person who seems bent on hurting, insulting, lying about, or in some way making your life miserable, I’m sure you want relief. Perhaps you’re lonely and have desperately pled with God to bring you together with a husband, wife, or friend to share your life. God may relieve you yet, but if you’re doing everything in your power to change your situation and nothing’s happening, could it be that He desires to use this ache in you to deepen your total dependence on Him?

Was it a Temptation?
Like all the rest of us, Paul was human, and he faced temptations of many kinds. Did he struggle with an addiction of some sort? Was he tempted to act on illicit desires or a homosexual relationship? He was a Roman citizen and sexual experimentation was widely accepted and available at every pagan temple. Did Paul long to be released from constantly nagging enticements?

All of us face temptations too. Some urges are so strong that even though we love God and want to please Him, we battle daily to resist the lure of lust, thrills, greed, and escape. We want a break from our flesh to serve God without distraction, yet though we pray fervently, the temptations remain. Is God saying, “My grace is sufficient for you?”

These are only three possibilities. Paul’s thorn could have been any number of frustrating human frailties - a sense of failure, insecurity, anger, doubt, or others. Whatever it was, God assured him that He was enough. Paul would make it through life, even with persistent stabs at his side from this pesky probe. He chose to believe God and lived with weakness and triumph, simultaneously. His example humbles and challenges me to trust God with my thorns. I hope you too will find that God is enough, no matter what.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Thorn in Your Side

No matter which way you turn, it pokes, distracts, annoys, and causes you pain. You’d like to make it stop, but you can’t. What is it? It’s the thorn in your side. It might be a number of things, or even a person that is causing you so much pain. All of us have at least one. There is an answer to this dilemma, but I warn you; you may not like it.
The source is a conversation between God and Apostle Paul. Many have speculated what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was over the years, but no one knows for sure. I believe God kept him from naming it in scripture so we could each apply the solution God gave him to our own particular situations. 

Paul told the Corinthian believers in a letter, “I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me” (2 Cor. 12:7-8, NIV).

God said, “No.” Well, actually His answer was a little longer than that. He said “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (verse 9). The Amplified Bible helps us better understand what God meant by fleshing out each phrase: 

  •  My grace (My favor and loving-kindness and mercy)
  • is enough for you [sufficient against any danger and enables you to bear the trouble manfully];
  • for My strength and power are made perfect (fulfilled and completed) and show themselves most effective in [your] weakness.

Paul also reveals why God allowed his thorn to continue:
1.      Paul was an apostle super hero – receiving visions from God, personally invited by the risen Jesus to be His disciple to the Gentiles. In order to keep him from getting big headed, God said no to Paul’s request. “In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me” (verse 7).
2.      The other reason is so Paul wouldn’t be tempted to brag about his own accomplishments. With this niggling thorn, he was always aware of his limitations. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (verse 9-10).

There are several possibilities of what Paul’s thorn might have been, and the answer to each possibility is the same, “My love, kindness and mercy is enough to empower you in your weakness even better than if you were untroubled and strong in yourself.”

Tomorrow, in part 2, I will explore several possibilities of what might have caused Paul distress, and how he dealt with them. Most likely, you will discover one of the same barbs that constantly irritate and trouble you.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

First Day of School Daze

Children all over America today are donning new backpacks, outfitted with brightly colored tools to help them soak up a year’s worth of learning. Most sport new clothes, hoping to fit in with their peers. They nervously mount school bus steps or exit the car, looking for a friendly face. 

Homeschoolers gather at the table or classroom to learn with their siblings. Moms and dads feel a mixture of unwillingness to let go, relief in getting a break from their bundles of energy, or feeling both responsibility and excitement for another homeschool year.

I reminisce about my own school day memories. My first day of kindergarten and first grade were a mixture of wonder, fear, and opportunity. After leaving my girls at kindergarten and preschool their first time, I felt both lost and free. Our ten years of homeschooling were days of wonder, confusion, giggles, frustration, success, failure, and unimaginable blessings.

The years of being a single mom after an unexpected divorce were excruciating for all of us. I struggled to help my girls through the pain even as I grappled with my own. Re-entering the work world in my forties left me depleted and distracted, and I prayed God would be the Father, husband, and Comforter we needed. And He was.

Now I’m the mother of four precious grandchildren; our oldest starts kindergarten next week. She’s bubbling with excitement about her teacher and this new world of learning. Her mom and dad share the familiar mix of joy in this milestone and the teary-eyed realization that she’s growing up fast.    
Perhaps you’re somewhere in this mix today, with children or grandchildren in school. I’m not an expert, but God has taught me much over the years. These are the things I know are important - some I did well, and others I wish I’d done better:

Pray – Pray with them before they go to school or before your school day at home. Pray for their minds, their relationships, their bodies, those who teach and influence them, and most of all for their spirits to be open to the work of God.

Listen – Listen to what they say with their mouth as well as body language and facial expressions. Listen to their conversations with siblings and friends in the car. Get to know their hearts, and how to best pray for and encourage them.

Speak – After you’ve listened, speak God’s truth in love. Ephesians 4:29 gives four crucial points: keep it nourishing, say what’s helpful, build them up according to their needs, and say it in such a way that it will benefit anyone who overhears.

Stay Involved –If you’re able, be there in person to greet them after school, help with homework, get to know their friends, go on field trips, volunteer to chaperone parties. If you work full time, check in by phone, attend games and concerts, and make a date with each child regularly when they can have your undivided attention. Grandparents are terrific date partners too, and perfect reading buddies.

Touch – Many children hunger for meaningful, appropriate touch. A hug, pat on the back, secret handshake, gentle touch on the head, nudge on the arm, and cuddles are just some of the ways to quench the skin hunger of kids within our reach.  

Our children are our legacy. They are worth the investment of time, attention, love, and prayers. Even if you’re breathing a sigh of relief today that “the kids are finally out of my hair!” remember to hold them close in your heart.  Let them know how important they are to you, and to God.