A "T.H.O.R.N." in my flesh...
I was recently listening to a sermon by Steven Furtick as he talked about Paul's "thorn in the flesh" in 2 Corinthians 12. I've struggled for years with issues that I thought no one else would understand. I've struggled as a pastor to let people into my weaknesses and express my heart felt desire to change and be transformed. Just as Paul did, I've asked multiple times for God to simply just take it away from me... for God to simply deal with it.
It wasn't until just recently that I've come to understand that some of what I struggle with is for my benefit and not meant to destroy me - it's actually meant to keep my humble. So why was it until just now that I've come to realize this?
I believe it starts with the belief that we as Followers of Christ must be "perfect" and "sinless" and if we are not we are less than a "good Christian". If we struggle with sin or struggle with temptations or struggle with our past baggage we are not really faithful believers... because you know if you would simply have enough faith - it would all go away and God would take care of it... at least this is what I heard from others.
But if we take a look at 2 Corinthians 12, we might be surprised at what is really going on here. Before we take a look at the 5 issues that we must deal with; let me give you this big idea from Andrew Knowles:
"Paul pleaded with God to take the ‘thorn’ away; but God refused. Instead, God promised to give Paul the grace to bear it. As a result, the ‘thorn’ keeps Paul humble and dependent on Christ—and God delights in it! Paul has found that, when he is weak, he has to rely completely on the strength of Christ, which is the only strength that matters.
Andrew Knowles, The Bible Guide (1st Augsburg books ed.; Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001), 601.
Let's take a quick look at how to deal with the negativity around us and how we can overcome the feelings of pressure, shame, guilt and isolation that many of us feel but just don't know how to deal with... everyone has a T.H.O.R.N.
THOMAS A KEMPIS
Temptations, though troublesome and severe, are often useful to a man, for in them he is humbled, purified, and instructed.
Temptations can not be dealt with in thinking that we are strong enough to handle them. For years I thought all I needed to do was to do what is right and temptations would cease to be a part of my life... not the case. I've come to realize that temptations are part of my everyday life and they are not always because I'm a terrible Christian. At times, I'm tempted to make sure that I really do believe that Christ is enough. In my temptations I am made strong. I'm given strength. I'm provided for by God. It's my decision to either hang around or run that makes the difference.
1 Corinthians 10:13 New Living Translation
13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
You and I will never be void of temptation. But know that when temptation comes and you battle your way through there will be moments that you get hit and you will loose. In those moments remember that "God's grace is more than enough!" Get up and press on! You're not as bad as you think you are... God is greater than all our sin... get up and sin no more... and get up and sin no more...
For as men in battle are continually in the way of shot, so we, in this world, are ever within the reach of Temptation.
Adversity is not simply a tool. It is God's most effective tool for the advancement of our spiritual lives. The circumstances and events that we see as setbacks are oftentimes the very things that launch us into periods of intense spiritual growth. Once we begin to understand this, and accept it as a spiritual fact of life, adversity becomes easier to bear.
You and I are going to face hardships in this life - that's a fact we can not run from. The question is what will we do when we face them? How will we react? How will we allow God to use them to transform us?
Hardships are often the very vehicle that God uses to chisel away at the issues in our spiritual lives that we are not willing to face by ourselves. I have come to see that hardships are painful, but God will not allow my hardships to be more than I can handle. Will it take time - YES! Will it happen overnight - NO! Will I need to make choices along the way - YES! Will I always get it right - NO! Will my hardships be a mechanism for God's transformation - ONLY IF I CHOOSE TO SEE GOD'S GRACE!
2 Corinthians 6:3-6 New Living Translation
3 We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. 4 In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. 5 We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. 6 We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love.
When we face hardships; we come face to face with our innermost thoughts and feelings - the question is what will we do with them? Paul reminds us - "God's grace is more than enough". Don't be afraid of hardships - allow them to chisel you into God's masterpiece. Remember that it's not all on you and about you - God is working in you! So prove yourself faithful by showing kindness, patience and sincere love to all! Don't allow life's hardships to define you - you are more than any hardship. Give yourself some grace - be patient and know that God is there - even when it seems hard and it seems there is no way out - God's grace is more than enough.
What I've found in life is this - there will always be someone or something that will stand in your way of becoming what God wants you to be. At times it is myself, my thinking, my beliefs, my past, my hurts, my habits, my misunderstandings. At other times it is all of those things in other people projected on me. But make no mistake - you and I will face opposition in this world.
But what would happen if I took a step back and thought about why I'm reacting to the opposition in my life the way that I am. What would happen if I thought about what could be gained by facing this opposition. The truth is that opposition is something that we really like to avoid. Opposition isn't easy to deal with. It's not fun and we are not really good at it. It seems to always come back as a personal attack - but is it?
Harry S. Truman
[Special Message to the Congress on the Internal Security of the United States, August 8, 1950]
“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear."
The fact is that you and I as Christ Followers will always be at odds with the world, but we don't have to live in fear. As I do my best to live like Jesus every day, I realize that I will be persecuted, I will be mocked, I will be looked at as someone of hate and ignorance. But I know that I am not... I simply love God more than anything and I truly do love my neighbor as myself. I really do want to treat people the way I want to be treated. I really do what to live and love like Jesus.
But the question remains: how will we respond to opposition? Will I respond as if it is personal (the reality is that everything is personal if you let it)? Will I respond in a way that helps other people see the good in Jesus or see the audacity of the world? Will I respond in fear or in grace? Will I respond as if I'm under attack or as if I'm an ambassador of Christ. What banner will I fly today - one of a victim or one of a victor!
Psalm 123 New Living Translation
1 I lift my eyes to you,
O God, enthroned in heaven.
2 We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy,
just as servants keep their eyes on their master,
as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal.
3 Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy,
for we have had our fill of contempt.
4 We have had more than our fill of the scoffing of the proud
and the contempt of the arrogant.
You and I will always have a choice... what we do with opposition matters... remember that God's grace is more than enough - it is never more personal than Jesus taking our sin on the cross. Let us not loose sight of what we have been asked to do - help show all people that they can be reconciled to God.
We will not accomplish this goal as long as we take opposition personal - it's not and even if it is - I rejoice in knowing that I will be accounted along my Jesus! We don't have to pretend to be anything but who we are - let us just not forget who we are and who we follow!
Have you ever been rejected? Nuff said right!
Hebrews 12:1-4 New Living Translation
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.[a] Because of the joy[b] awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3 Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people;[c] then you won’t become weary and give up. 4 After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.
“There will always be someone willing to hurt you, put you down, gossip about you, belittle your accomplishments and judge your soul. It is a fact that we all must face. However, if you realize that God is a best friend that stands beside you when others cast stones you will never be afraid, never feel worthless and never feel alone.”
In moments and times of rejection - remember that even though Jesus was rejected by people - he was lifted up by his Father! You and I would do well to not linger in our rejection but realize that we are not alone and God's grace is more than enough!
The bottom line is that we all have needs. We have the need to be liked, to be loved, to find importance, to feel empowered, to be successful, to enjoy life, to have freedom, etc. We all have needs. Some of our needs come from a place of desire; others come from a place of disillusionment (we think we know, but we really don't)!
Need is part of life - the question for us - "Where will we go to fill the need" or "Who will we turn to in order to fill the need".
I want you, for a moment, think about this T.H.O.R.N. and put it in perspective of Jesus and the cross!
Do you realize that when Jesus was crucified he had something placed on his head... that's right... a "crown of thorns"!
How are we going to deal with all the negativity and darkness in our world - it's simple - we need to remember that on the cross Jesus dealt with all our THORNS!
On the cross, Jesus dealt with all our temptation - God's grace is enough! On the cross, Jesus dealt with all our hardships - God's grace is enough! On the cross, Jesus dealt with opposition - God's grace is enough! On the cross, Jesus dealt with rejection - God's grace is enough! On the cross, Jesus dealt with our greatest need - God's grace is more than enough.
The next time you get overwhelmed - remember God's grace is more than enough! Jesus wore a crown of thorns for you and I... Temptation, hardship, opposition, rejection and need has been taken care of by Jesus. God has provided all we need to live this life and to find a life of abundance... you don't have to wear your own crown of thorns... so maybe you can start today by taking it off and letting Jesus be ENOUGH for you!
Romans 5:15 New Living Translation
15 But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 2:8-9 New Living Translation
8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
2 Timothy 1:9 New Living Translation
9 For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.
Remember friends... we are not perfect people because we live perfect lives... we are perfect people because in our weakness there is freedom... in our weakness there is strength... in our weakness there the attributes of Jesus come to life... in our weakness we can find grace... so don't hide in the shadows... don't allow the negativity of this world to destroy your faith... Don't think that you are alone and don't hide from your struggle... God's grace is more than enough... keep your eyes on the one who wore your "crown of thorns" for you.
You can't enjoy the life that comes from the crown of thorns and have the 30 pieces of silver too!