"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Thorny is Good

By Micky Wolf

“She’s delusional!” Not really.

You don’t have to go far for evidence of what might be described as the unpleasant, thorny stuff—certain thoughts, attitudes, feelings, and personal behaviors—and how they impact us, as well as others in our life. Wouldn’t it be great if God would simply vaporize some of the darker, yuckier junk which seems to frequently rear its head, and without much effort to boot? Well, be at peace. We are in good company. Paul of Tarsus is an excellent example of beseeching God to get rid of thorns, only to have Him respond with a big, fat, Divine N-O. 

But that is only the beginning of the story…


“Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me,
‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’”

Uh-oh. Don’t you just love it when God puts His foot down without any ifs, ands, or buts? Not only does He respond no, He further clarifies, my grace is sufficient for you. Add to that—any real [God] power you may hope to wield is only made perfect in weaknessyour weakness, Paul. What?

For most people, the idea of being weak, or of experiencing weakness, is about as welcome as having the doctor tell you to lose at least twenty pounds, start a regular exercise program, and eat more vegetables. And, by the way, cut back on the ice cream and pastries while you’re at it.

Thankfully, in the spiritual sense, learning to rely on the grace of God as sufficient for any and all our needs and concerns—including the requisite strength and courage to make healthy lifestyle choices—is nearer than we might initially believe. God is more than able to lead and guide us; however, being obedient to His will means more fully relying on Him in all ways, rather than our own knowledge and strength. 

Each of us is allowed an ouchy thorn, unique to who we are, and particular to the ways and mystery of God. Why? At least, in part, to help us to eventually be able to say, with Paul:

“Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me,
an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.
[2 Corinthians 12:7-10]

Okay, maybe getting to that point [pun intended], will take time—till last breath kind of time. Nevertheless, could you believe, if just for a moment, that some aspect of “being you” which you heretofore have perceived as ugly or un-Christian, could actually be a thorn as gift from God? One through which He may more fully will and work His plan for you, and those He desires to touch through you?

Thorns serve many purposes, however, in the Divine economy, they serve a particularly effective one—occasionally poking us as a reminder we not God. Apart from their nudging presence, it would be oh so easy to rely on self and the things of this world, rather than surrendering and submitting to the One True God.

A thorn by any other name…

A thorn may take any form. What then, deserves to be considered thorny? Any aspect of human thought, feeling, attitude, or behavior which may potentially lead us away from God—from temptation into sinning. Well then, does that leave anything out? Probably not, which is further evidence of how God can effectively use whatever He chooses for His greater glory—and also a good indication we need to stay out of the business of comparing thorns. To each is allowed that which God alone knows can best serve the purpose of individual transformation as well as Kingdom-building purpose.

A thorn may be:

  • An ever-present temper, a tendency to go off on someone at the slightest supposed infraction
  • A prejudice toward keeping the law of the Lord, regardless of the circumstance
  • An inclination to look at a beautiful human being as an object of a  sexualized fantasy rather than as a lovely creation of God
  • A susceptibility to embellish the facts or distort a story to suit one’s own interests or objectives
  • A propensity to view others as less or better than self by focusing on perceived negatives or weaknesses
For Paul, he knew and understood clearly that in God’s refusal to remove his thorn [which is never clearly described], he could be assured that anytime he might be tempted to float into ego-centric elation, the pain of a prickly, pokey jab would remind him in no uncertain terms he was a son of God, not the master of his own personally designed universe.

Realizing the importance of God’s grace to help us in our journey cannot be underestimated. In fact, until we recognize His grace alone is sufficient, we stumble and tumble, again and again. Truth be told? Many of us have to get pretty bruised and beat-up—physically, intellectually, spiritually and emotionally—before we are ready to collapse, or in some cases leap, into the embrace of God’s most amazing grace.

Being content…

“Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, 
and constraints,for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

“Fine for you, Paul, but I don’t qualify." Weaknesses. Insults. Hardships. Persecutions. Constraints? “Well, God, not so sure I signed up for all that.”

Not so fast. If you truly believe you are a son or daughter of God, not one single ‘believer’ can escape, if you will, the encompassing net of His grace to shelter, protect, and guide us, regardless of what we may encounter. That is, unless you choose to say no, or persist in believing going it alone is an indication of intellectual or spiritual maturity.

The next time you feel a sharp poke or discomforting jab, especially in your heart, consider it a blessing and a gift. Or at least a good sign God cares enough about you and me to allow us some prickly ouches as reminders of our fallen human nature and of His willingness to use even the darkest aspects of self to redeem, restore, and carry us to fullness in Christ.

Do I hesitate in asking God to help me identify the thorn? Why?

Do I accept my thorn as a pathway for God to work in and through me?

What are my areas of weakness? Am I comfortable being weak?

How do I feel when confronted with the sufficiency of God’s grace?

Does God have a different idea about what it means to be content than I do?

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