“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.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9
Cynthia Bezek’s study “Prayer and the Word of God” led me to this passage about answered prayer in Paul’s life today. The passage speaks to me way beyond the simple words of this scripture.
When I think of the man Paul, I see an individual whose whole life was turned upside down by the unexpected, powerful intervention of God. He was a man who excelled in his sphere of life. He was dogged and determined, devoted to his understanding of God and willing to persecute and murder others to keep his God safe. Jesus was nothing more to him than an imposter whose teaching and works could destroy that which he believed. In Paul’s eyes, Jesus was a blasphemer, rightly condemned to die a criminal’s death. Paul knew of the work and teaching of Jesus, but likely much of that was through the stories and frustrations he heard from the leaders of the Jews. He may never have seen Jesus or experienced his teaching and miracles in a direct encounter. But then, one day on the road to Damascus to persecute those who believed in Jesus, Paul (Saul at that time) met the risen Jesus face-to-face and his life was radically changed.
This 2nd Corinthians passage is from the heart of a deeply different man than the Paul we first meet in scripture. Over his years of knowing and loving Jesus, God has worked to use the incredible passion of Paul for His purposes. God has dug deep into the core of Paul to break down pride and to use this man for the most amazing gospel mission of all time. Because of Paul’s original mission to the gentiles, today I know Christ. There is no exaggeration in that statement.
I take great comfort in what Paul reveals about himself and about his relationship with God in this passage from 2 Corinthians 12. Here is a man who had seen the miracles of healing that God could do through his own hands and in the name of Jesus. Over and over again Paul saw the power of God at work in miraculous ways. How hard could it be for a God like that to heal Paul’s own thorn in the flesh? Paul was persistent in prayer and the prayer was fervent. The word translated ‘pleaded’ is the word ‘parakaleo’ which means invoke, invite, to call near. You may recognize this word, because it is one of the names Jesus gives for the Holy Spirit in John 14:26 when he calls him Counselor. Paul was fervently asking for God’s help in this thing that was tormenting him. Paul was a powerful servant of God and he had endured so much to gain so much for the Kingdom’s sake. Didn’t it make sense that God would give him this ‘little’ thing he asked for?
Paul did get an answer to his prayer. God made it clear that the thorn in the flesh was a gift of God to keep Paul from falling back into his personal sin of pride and independence. This ‘thorn’ that Satan intended to use for his own evil purposes was actually something God would use to keep Paul dependent upon Him. And even more, through that very real dependency and weakness, God would reveal HIS power at work in and through Paul.
Is there anyone who more ‘deserved’ healing than Paul? Anyone whose ministry could better benefit from the freedom and power that comes from operating at full strength? On the surface of it the answer seems to be straightforward and the miracle of healing seems a sure thing. But God had the best in mind when He said ‘no’ to healing and ‘yes’ to His power working at full throttle in Paul’s redeemed life. We can trust a God like that!
“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