2 Corinthians 12:7-10
In 1993, I injured my back, eventually resulting in surgery. Since then, I’ve had to give up a few things, such as tennis and basketball. I also have chronic back pain. It comes and goes, sometimes directly related to my activities (tennis and basketball), but other times coming again without any obvious stimulus.
As a result of this chronic condition, I have something in common with the Apostle Paul. And I am amazed at his Paul’s attitude regarding his own infirmity.
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me 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.”
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 12:7-10 (NIV)
We don’t know the exact nature of the “thorn in the flesh” that afflicted Paul. Perhaps it was a speech impediment, poor or failing eyesight, persistent headaches, or epilepsy. Some have suggested that it wasn’t physical at all, but emotional, perhaps recurring depression or the stress of constant and persistent opposition.
While we don’t know the exact nature of the affliction, we do know Paul’s response. First, he asked (literally “implored”) that it might be removed. Three times, perhaps even on three different occasions, he asked to be relieved. From this, we are assured that persistent prayer for our own needs is acceptable to God.
Second, Paul embraced the response that he received: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” It’s one thing to accept a situation; it’s another entirely to embrace it. Paul didn’t mope around with a “woe is me” attitude. Instead, he acknowledged the benefit of his infirmity — to keep him from pride — and focused on Christ. While we might not have such a direct linkage between our health and things eternal as Paul did, we can be confident that God both knows and is involved. In fact, though we might not know what good God brings from it, we are assured that God is at work (Romans 8:28).
Yes, I am amazed at Paul’s attitude, and encouraged. During those days, weeks and months when my back feels pretty good, I can give thanks to God. During those days, weeks and months when I don’t feel so well, I can still give thanks. While I might not thank God for the pain and discomfort, I can thank Him for His grace, and His work in and around my life. And I can ask him for eyes that will see it!