In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about boasting in his weaknesses, an insight borne of a fleshly “thorn” given to him by God to keep him humble due to the abundance of revelations granted him. He goes on to say how he learned to delight in weakness, hardship and difficulty.
Some justify the passive acceptance of suffering as having deep spiritual merit based on this. Lost in the conversation, however, is that Paul first prayed three times to have the thorn removed. It was his first move, and one learned by seeing God bring deliverance over the years in countless lives including his own. He understood that more often that not, it was the heart of the Father to answer persevering prayer. This “thorn”, he realized, would be an exception, but only because the Holy Spirit spoke clearly and directly to his heart that it would be.
All of us encounter sticking points in our walk with Jesus. Prayers go unanswered, disappointments abound, and expectations go unmet. I know. I have a file of those, for I have walked with him for 41 years. However, unless the Holy Spirit speaks to my heart directly as he did Paul, I will lean on the sufficiency of his grace and persevere in faith for heaven to open. I am going to pray until something happens. I am going to believe until breakthrough. I am not going to say, “If God wants to do it, he will do it. He is sovereign and does not need my help. I am but a sinner.” Why? Because in his Word, he said to:
“So I say to you:Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)
My file of answered prayers to the promise above, is larger than my file of “thorns” as precious as those are because they have deepened my intimacy with Christ. Let me close with this:
1) Unless God has spoken to you otherwise as he did Paul, do as the great apostle also said: “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Now there’s good theology framed in the antinomy of the “both” and the “and.”
2) As spiritual as it may appear, don’t cop to a theology of living in perpetual weakness that insulates you from the pain of possible disappointment. There is a difference between brokenness from God’s hand and that which is self imposed through the absence of effort in the name of pseudo surrender.
3) In times of misery, embrace divine mystery. Know that as you pray, God is at work. Maybe not as you’d desire, but know that he is at work on your behalf for his glory. Resist the urge to fit God into your own systematic theology. He is infinite and will not be reduced to or defined by a system. Trust him.
For over the last 20 years as founding pastor of Grace Bible Church Pearlside, I have seen the relentless faith and unceasing prayers of our people unleash proclamations of the gospel backed by the the kind of signs Jesus said would follow those who believe: the raising of the dead, casting out of demons, healing the sick, opening of barren wombs, restoring of marriages, and transforming lives. Paul called these demonstrations of gospel power (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).
True grace doesn’t make weakness a state of complacent resignation or noble passivity. Rather, it perfects God’s awesome power. Add faith and patience. Believe that you will inherit his promises (Hebrews 6:12), but leave the when, how, where and who to him. And if nothing happens? You can rest knowing you brought him pleasure with the obedience of an “even if” faith – the deepest kind of all. The kind that trusts the thorn of his sovereign grace in the face of total mystery.