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A thorn in my side

Posted on May 16, 2020 at 8:00 AM

When disasters strike it leaves us feeling vulnerable. Trauma in our lives can mark us and instill us with doubt and insecurities about our place in this world, and our own ability to cope. No matter how strong our faith is or how much we have seen God move in the midst of disaster, we can still have doubts. It’s just human nature to get tangled up in worry about the future. Our anxiety is greatly shaped by the past. You’re not a poor Christian if you are scared and anxious! You’re just a run of the mill person, who has been through a tough time.


The world works on the theory that strength is the most valued commodity. We are taught from a young age that we need to “toughen up” and learn to be strong at all costs. Unfortunately, the price tag for the callouses we build over hearts, can turn out to be a loss of compassion for ourselves and others. And it can cause us to forget that real strength doesn’t necessarily come from within – it comes from God in us. Often, those who seem the toughest on the outside are just the ones with the hardest shell.


There is a balance in what we teach our children, and in our own self-image. We must be resilient and tough, there’s no doubt about that. It’s a rough world, and there are many roadblocks and pitfalls that are just waiting to trip us up. Not to mention that Satan is looking for every opportunity to knock us into the nearest ditch. And if we’re so soft that we let every thorn on the path stop us, we’ll never make any progress.


The blessing is in the fact that God doesn’t just leave us to our own devices. In fact, Scripture (and personal experience) show us that when we’re the weakest, that’s when God can work the most effectively. In fact, God will allow us to have experiences that shake us to the core – or conditions that cause us to have to toughen up – because that’s what makes us whole, and what causes us to turn to Him.


In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about a physical condition that is a “thorn in his side.” We’re not told what it is, nor do we really need to know. We all have some thorns of our own, whether it’s an addiction, a physical or mental illness, or some kind of disability. Even skewed thinking, selfishness, pride, or a lack of humility can be a tripping point. There isn’t anyone who doesn’t struggle with something, no matter how deeply and thoroughly they may have learned to cover it up, or package it as functional behavior.


Paul says he “asked God three times to make him well again. Each time He [God] said No. But I am with you; that is all you need. My power shows up best in weak people” [Verses 8-9a]. Paul goes on to say he’s happy to live with the ‘thorn,’ even though it causes others to mock and persecute him. At the end of verse 10 he states, “for when I am weak, then I am strong—the less I have, the more I depend on Him.”


I don’t know how happy we really are to live with the troubles and trials—particularly when they become so challenging that we can’t see an end. But the promise and protection of God is where our respite comes from. God’s strength is embedded in His character. It doesn’t mean that He wants to keep us under His thumb or make us hobbled and ineffective. It just means that He wants us to rely on Him for those moments when we can’t cope.


His Word doesn’t say that He will protect us from every single challenge in life, but that He will help us endure. And His strength will carry us over the roughest parts of our lives. Psalms 18:2 says “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer. My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”


We tend to think that our salvation means we’re given a fortress where life’s bad things can’t ever penetrate. What a disappointment it can be to discover that we’re subject to all the same battles as the rest of humanity. But when we do learn to lean on God, to allow ourselves to expose our weaknesses and rely on Him, we will find a new well of strength and comfort.


That’s what we need to teach ourselves, our children, and the world. And by the way, we need to let the Enemy know as well that, when he begins to sling arrows our way, our shield is God. We need to talk, walk and live the promise that we can “Fear not, for He is with us. We don’t need to be dismayed, for He IS our God. He will strengthen us, Yes. He will help us; He will uphold us with His righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). We can pray that promise. Put our name, our family problems, and our situation on notice, and see how God shows up.


Every morning, every challenge, we can say to the enemy, “I’m not going to be afraid, because God’s with me. I don’t need to worry for He is MY God. He will strengthen me. Yes. He will help me. He is upholding me with His righteous right hand. Take that, Satan!” Will that always change our situation? Perhaps not. But it will always change our attitude and our ability to endure. Because when we begin to speak the promises of God, He responds with love, giving us whatever measure of strength we need to thrive.


To the best of our ability we must embrace (or at least accept with grace) the many struggles and learn to look to the real source of our strength. Because, to quote an old song, His strength is perfect when our strength is gone.


Be blessed my friend. God is on the throne!

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