Paul wrote two moving and fascinating passages that I want to look at here. “You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first” (Galatians 4:13, ESV). “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this [thorn], 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” (2 Corinthians 12.8-9).
The apostle Paul, man of God, power preacher, church planter, author of two-thirds of the New Testament, was also a person suffering terribly from what is pictured in the Bible as a thorn in the flesh. What could it be? For two millennia, theologians have remained divided on the exact manner of this infirmity. Was it a physical disability, an emotional problem, a spiritual problem? Was it chronic depression or medical issues caused by intense persecution? We will probably never know.
However, I would like to suggest that the nature of Paul’s thorn in the flesh was deliberately left vague. That way, we can consider our own major challenges and make God’s promises our own. The ‘thorn’ represents the father who has inherited a generational vulnerability to alcohol or other addictive substances. It is the mother who grew up in a home where depression reigned and who worries that she’s also at risk. It is the stroke that sweeps away a parent’s autonomy in an instant and upsets the balance of an entire family. It is sterility for a young couple. This is the eating disorder of a young teenager. These are panic attacks. It is the illness of a young child that blurs the future of a family. It is the rebellion of a young adult that undermines the hearts of his parents. It is the abuses of childhood that haunt your adult life.
Personalize it: my thorn in the flesh is __________. Take up the promise that God gave Paul! “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
God revealed to Paul, and to each one of us, that he is not limited by our faults, struggles or wounds. On the contrary, he will use our thorns to glorify himself and accomplish his plans for our lives and loved ones.