“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, 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. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’” —2 Corinthians 12:7-9
In this passage Paul is crying out to the Lord to relieve him of a thorn. There are many thoughts about what this “thorn” is but when I went back to study the Hebrew word used, I realized that this word often represented people. So we can guess that this thorn that Paul’s referring to is actually people that were giving him a hard time. He says that this thorn was a messenger of Satan. In other words, these people were assigned by the enemy to prevent Paul from doing what God wanted him to do. And instead of removing those who were persecuting Paul or changing their behavior, God asks Paul to change his own heart.
God exercises our faith to change our hearts, and He gives us the grace to endure the process.
Your faith isn’t going to change someone else, your cry to God won’t change them either. People are not the enemy, but they may be a messenger sent from the enemy. The enemy will try to use people to attack you—to stop you from doing what God is calling you to do. We see this very reality in the life and ministry of Christ! He endured severe persecution—right before He was nailed to the cross He was stabbed in the back, to which He replied, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
By the grace of God we are able to endure the attacks.
“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.” —2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Paul eventually caught on. In one moment he’s trying to change the people around him, and in the next—after a revelation from God—he’s receiving grace and rejoicing in the suffering he’s experiencing. Maybe he realized that Christ has a thorn in His flesh too—us! Paul says that it’s for Christ’s sake that he’s delighting in the tough stuff, because it’s for our sake that Christ endured.
What are the things in our lives that stop us from being able to make the great exchange: His strength for our weakness? Especially as athletes, we often try to deal with adversity out of our own strength but the reality is that when we try to take on life’s battles, we actually neutralize the grace of God! Instead we need to allow God to be God, and rely on His strength.
To accept God’s grace we need to understand what it is. Grace is an endowment of God—the innate ability God gives us to reflect Christ. But if we don’t allow His grace to work in us, then we are stuck with our own weaknesses.
God’s Grace gives us the strength to endure and hearts to see the people that hurt us no longer as the enemy. Then when people touch us, they won’t hurt us. And when they are within that type of proximity, then we can reach out and touch them with the love of God.
What are you able to do without God’s divine help, intervention, and grace? What are you able to do with it?
—Pastor Ted Winsley, chaplain of the Philadelphia Eagles
Ted Winsley is the chaplain of the Philadelphia Eagles and a regular contributor to The Increase.