Thursday, April 16, 2015

When God Doesn't Remove the Thorn

Have you ever had those Sundays where God really hits home with the message given? You may be struggling with something or praying over a situation and the message is exactly what you needed in that moment. Yeah. That was this previous Sunday for me!

This past year has been hard. I can make a laundry list of daily struggles and weights. I’m sure every one of us can do that. Getting married, moving away from family, new bills, new jobs, new friends, all adjustments to a new chapter in life. Transitions are tough y’all! But when I say hard, I don’t mean in that respect (although those things are difficult). 

For almost a whole year I have felt the pang of a thorn in my side of a particular situation. I have prayed constantly for it to be taken away, I have confessed, sought advice and counsel from those I look up too and respect, I have practically rocket launched it to the lord in an attempt to rid it from me completely. Yet…. It is still there. 

It got to the point that dealing with this pang became cyclical. I would get really mad at the situation, confess and give it to the lord, forget about it (or try to suppress it) all the while letting the situation fester and build until I would just explode again (repeat cycle). 

As I started noticing this cycle my hope of overcoming this trial started to diminish. Talk about a foothold for Satan to inject his lies! I started then beating myself up, convinced that I was being punished because I was doing something wrong. Thoughts such as: “I’m not a good enough Christian”.” God isn’t hearing my confessions because they aren’t genuine enough”. “I can’t love people well.” Sounds like the evil one to me… but yet I still believed them.  

Walking into Church, I was in a very low state. I was emotionally beat up by the lies I had believed and spiritually dry from not feeling the touch of the Holy Spirit in what seemed like such a long time. Praise God for hearing the cries of our hearts when we are too weak to even cry out!

When God Doesn’t Remove the Thornwas the title of the sermon. Hah, talk about hitting the nail right on the head! I absolutely loved everything that Dr. Carter spoke on, I wanted to share. 

The sermon was built on the passage from 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 and Paul’s thorn. 

“ I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.  
And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 
and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 
 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. 
So 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. 
 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

As Christ followers, we learn that in life we face many ups (mountain tops) and downs (valleys). Paul references these above with himself as he “…was caught up to paradise”(12:4) a mountaintop and “was given a thorn in my flesh” (12:7) a valley. 

I. Principle
a.     Moments of great TRIUMPH (12:4) are often followed by moments of great TESTING (12:7)

Take a few big moments in biblical history for example:
1.     Creation: God created the Heavens and Earth in Genesis 1, and it was “Good” (Gen 1:9) yet it was followed by the entrance of Satan, Sin and the fall of man (Gen 3).
2.     Jesus: Baptized by John (Matt 3: 13-17) a moment of glory! Followed by a time of temptation from Satan in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11)

I bet we can all reflect back on our lives and come up with countless examples of when we were on the mountaintop but brought back to the valley.  Mountaintops are wonderful! Whenever something amazing happens I definitely rejoice but I also find myself not leaning on the Lord so much, I tend to take the reigns. I believe that our time in the Valleys are God’s way of keeping us grounded on the path he has laid out for us, not letting our self centered natures get to our heads. We are definitely selfish beings, God knows this, He created us! It’s a balance. 

II. The Problem 
a.     A thorn in my flesh” (12:7)

As Paul is talking, he mentions being given a thorn in his flesh. Unfortunately we are not told what the thorn is specifically. I believe rightfully so. As we look towards God’s word to give us insight we need to remember that God’s relationship is different with everyone. Every person struggles with different things. The point isn’t what he is struggling with but the struggle in itself. 

I love the next part. You have to do a little digging and reading between the lines but despite not knowing what the thorn is particularly, we do know that it wasn’t due to moral or spiritual failure. God is victorious and will ALWAYS deliver us from those (Romans 8).

III. The Prayer
a.     Three times I pleaded with the Lord” (12:8)

So this is where I think the Lord really wanted me to Listen. Paul pleaded for the Lord to take away this “thorn” 3 times. He cried out to God yet the thorn was not taken away. Just because the thorn wasn't removed doesn't mean God was ignoring Paul and that means he isn't ignoring us!  I think my first thought was a negative one. God isn’t removing the thorn because I did something wrong, this is a punishment. That’s not how God works. God never gives us more than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13) but when he does allow us to go through struggles, he always provides provisions.
From understanding Paul and looking at this verse we can take away 3 very important truths about these so-called thorns.

1.     You can be full of the Holy Spirit and still have a thorn.
a.     This is simply understood by the fact that when we accept Christ as our Savior we are filled with the Holy Spirit, you can’t lose that! (Ephesians 1:13, 2 Corinthians 1:22)
2.     There is no truth in the belief that by confessing a set amount of times or having enough faith the thorn will go away
a.     Paul is the prime example of this! Just by reading Paul’s letters you can see how they just ooze with his love and faith in the Lord. Yet… Paul still had this thorn in his side.
3.     When people give “advice” don’t take it to heart.
a.     I liked this a lot. I think as communal people, we are drawn to others to seek advice and help. I love that God made us that way! We are to not walk alone, yet there is value in remembering that God is an intentional God. As he created us to build relationships with others, he desires that much more with us! God desires us to seek him first, to be still and wait (Psalm 37:7). Look at the Old Testament book Job. Job’s friends come to comfort him in his pain. Very graciously, the friends give opinion of the source of Job’s pain (punishment for his own sin, wickedness and lack of faith). However, with foresight of intention, we know that God wasn’t punishing Job, but using the trial for a greater purpose. I don’t mean to say this to discredit any advice given by community, but to understand a difference of taking their words to heart vs. God’s. 

IV. The Purpose
a.     To keep from becoming conceited” (12:7)

Personally Paul had a good understanding of the inevitable nature of man, namely himself, to be prideful. Before the spiritual transformation Paul (Saul) prided himself as being a Pharisee of the highest sect. He was the best of the best in what he did. Paul could have very easily recognized his own weakness with pride and knew that even after his transformation, it would always be an issue. He saw this thorn as a reminder to keep that pride and self-righteousness grounded. Although Paul knew the purpose of his thorn, we may or may not be so lucky. Which leads to the last point:

V. The Provision
a.     My grace is sufficient enough for you!” (12:9-10)

After Paul cries out to the Lord he is given this response “My grace is sufficient enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” God didn’t give Paul an answer but gave him reassurance of his presence! Our weaknesses are a stage where God can fully demonstrate his love and mighty power! God understands what we are going through. He wont always gives us insight or an answer but he will ALWAYS sustain us and see us through it. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” Psalm 23:4 

 Although I am still walking with this particular thorn in my side I was so encouraged by these words given from Dr. Carter this particular Sunday. When God doesn't remove the thorn we can find hope in knowing that he always provides His grace to sustain us. We shouldn't need God to heal us or take away the thorn for us to know God loves us. I still have my moments with this thorn and pray that for whatever the purpose is, it is sharpening and refining me to be the all that God has planned.

No matter what, He has overcome this world and all the trials, frustrations, dry spells and troubles that come along with it. "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." (2 Corinthians 4:17) Although sometimes these things seem to last forever, compared to eternity in Heaven, it's only a blink of an eye!

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.
In this world you will have trouble (NIV), Tribulation (ESV), Trials, distress, Frustration (AMP).
But take heart! I have overcome the world!”
John 16:33 

-God Bless

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