When my son was very young he was a little brute. What I mean is that he was tough as nails. I’d see him fall or slam his head, then just return to his feet as if nothing happened. Once his brother playfully kicked him backwards into the corner of a dresser. He bled like a…well, like a lot! Without a whimper. I often wondered if he felt pain like the rest of humankind. Then one day he got a small thorn stuck in his foot. It was barely noticeable, but if you judged by his reaction you might think he had an ice pick through his foot. He wouldn’t let me near him with the tweezers! Seemingly, he could fall off a building without injury, but a little thorn in his foot was immobilizing and reason to cry for help!
The apostle Paul had a similar problem. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul describes a “thorn in the flesh.” It gave him reason to cry for help from the Lord. We don’t know the specifics of his thorn, but we know why he had it. He says,
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 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. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
There is a strength on display when we can find joy in our limits. Paul delights in his weakness. He says that his thorn was given to him so that he would not become “conceited” or exalted beyond what is appropriate. He had learned that real strength came through delighting in his sufferings for Christ. Joy was shown in weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and even calamities, because Paul knew these times of weakness displayed the power of God. Paul discovered the secret to contentment. He attributes these words to Jesus, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul writes this in perfect tense to mean this remains valid for us today. Jesus’ words are true for everyone, anywhere, and always.
This sentiment is reflected in this anonymous poem:
"When God wants to Drill a Man"
When God wants to drill a man, And thrill a man, And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man,
To play the noblest part; When He yearns with all His heart, To create so great and bold a man, That all the world shall be amazed,Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects, Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him, Into trial shapes of clay which,Only God understands; While his tortured heart is crying, And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks, When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And which every purpose fuses him; By every act induces him, To try His splendor out-God knows what He’s about.
Christ endured a crown of thorns for those who believe. And because he did, Paul could endure a thorn in the flesh. Paul’s great discovery is that when he is weak, then he is strong. He took pleasure in his infirmities because they allowed Christ’s power to shine through. It is the transforming power of Christ at work on the inside of a believer that brings strength through hardship. Christ strengthens us by bending sufficiently without breaking. Jesus says, “My grace…my power.” It is ironic, because if and while you experience His grace and power, inevitably, at the same time you will feel weak, yet sufficient in your weakness. If you want His grace and power you must see Him as sufficient in your weakness. This kills our pride. This is the great power of a thorn.