Thorn in My Flesh


“…So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.”

– 2 Corinthians 12:7 NLT

We all have weaknesses of our flesh. Whether Paul’s thorn was a physical ailment or not has been, and will continue to be, debated. Despite all the research and speculation regarding it, Biblical scholars cannot give us a definite answer as to what his thorn was. I think that’s the beauty of God’s Word. If He wanted us to know, He would have told us, but because this particular detail is missing – we can all relate. We can all identify with Paul’s struggle in one way or another.

So what’s you thorn?

Is it a sickness or physical limitation that makes you feel weak? A mental illness or emotional burden that seems to drain you? An addiction or temptation that Satan consistently uses against you?

Thorns hurt. They’re uncomfortable, and humiliating, and they make us feel powerless. They empty us of our pride, of our strength, and of our sense of self-control.

And it all starts with sin.

In Genesis 3:17-18, God says to Adam,

“…Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains.”

Thorns were not part of God’s original creation. Thorns were  not what He intended for us. He didn’t breathe them into existence, didn’t speak life into them, and definitely didn’t say that they were good. But that doesn’t mean He can’t still use them for good.

Look at the story of Joseph. Joseph had 11 thorns in his flesh – 11 brothers who hated him. He was despised and rejected, thrown in a pit, and left for dead. But God rose him up to a place of power, and many years later when he stood before the same brothers who nearly killed him, he said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20).

Satan intends to destroy us with thorns, but those thorns can be turned around and used for good. Time changes our perspective. What we see as painful thorns today, we may be able to look back on and see as hedges of protection.

When Jesus teaches the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, He gives an example of seeds that fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked the young plants. In his explanation of the parable, He said, “The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s Word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced” (Matthew 13:22). Don’t let the worries of this life be the death of you. Don’t allow the thorns in your life to choke you out and prevent your growth.  Don’t just listen to the Word of God, hear it. Don’t let the lies of the enemy drown out the voice of God’s truth. Allow His Words to soak in and saturate every part of your soul. Allow His Words to refresh and nourish you, and give you the strength to go forward. Allow the light of Grace to shine upon you. Don’t just hear His Word, but make His Word come alive in you. Then you will begin see patches of wisdom growing through the patches of thorns – growing through, in spite of the thorns. Satan will yet again taste the bitterness of his defeat as you begin to rise above what was intended to take you out.

Thorns grow from the ground where sin in planted – They came about as a result of sin, as a result of the curse.

But Jesus came to reverse the curse.

He came to rescue us from the curse.

Galatians 3:13 says, “But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.'”

He took upon Himself the curse we deserved.

He took our punishment.

He took our shame.

He took our thorns.

Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire regiment. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.”

– Matthew 27:27-31 NLT

I have related to Paul’s thorn in different ways, for different reasons, throughout different seasons of my life. But this week, God laid a particular sin very heavily on my heart and identified it as a thorn in my flesh. Something that may seem so menial to someone else, became a very real and very big problem in my life. A little thorn can do a lot of damage. A little lie. A little disobedience. A little pornography. A little drink. A little pride. A little greed – It cost our Savior’s life. We don’t know the damage we are doing to ourselves and those around us when we sweep our sin under the rug and neglect to remember the cost that was paid to free us from it’s consequences.

I can relate to Paul’s struggle – My flesh is weak. But because of what Christ did for me on the cross, and because what I experienced on September 23rd 2006 and everyday thereafter – I can also relate to Paul’s salvation.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26 NIV).

That is why, like Paul, I can boldly proclaim, “I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me… For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT).

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Faith Begins with Fear

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Have you ever had a dream that scared you? That felt bigger than you? A dream that made you feel inadequate, like it required  more than you had to offer?

Ever felt called in a direction beyond the border of your comfort zone? Called to a place where you felt like your weaknesses would be exposed and your strengths would come up short of being enough?

If so, you’re probably right where God wants you to be.

If you’ve ever stood on the edge of a mountain and looked out over the expanse of earth beneath you and before you, then you know what it feels like to stand on the edge of God’s calling for your life. It is breathtakingly beautiful and simulaneously terrifying.

Imagine Abraham – looking up at the stars of the sky and hearing God tell him that his descendants would be just as  many, but knowing the barrenness of his wife and their continually increasing age (Genesis 15:1-6).

Imagine Moses – a murderer with a speech impediment, standing before a burning bush, hearing God tell him that He is sending him back to the place from which he fled to lead the people of Israel out of slavery and into the promised land (Exodus 3:3-6).

Imagine Mary – a young virgin, engaged to be married, hearing an angel of the Lord tell her she will become pregnant and give birth to the Son of God (Luke 1:26-33).

In each instance, these giant heroes and heroines of our faith had to be commanded not to fear. We revere and honor these names now, but in their own day and age their lives seemed so small and insignificant. Can you imagine?!

We serve a big God with big plans, and He desires to use the lowliest of servants to accomplish the grandest of goals. It’s only natural to be afraid when God calls us to something big. Faith begins with fear. But what I find so amazing, and hard to believe, is that God-sized dreams do not require God-sized faith.

In Matthew 17, the disciples saw Jesus transfigured on a mountaintop. The fullness and brightness of His glory was too much for them to behold. They were terrified, and in their fear they fell down before Him. As they got to the bottom of the mountain, a large crowd was waiting for them, and a man approached Jesus and knelt before Him seeking healing for his son. The son suffered from seizures, and although the father had brought Him to the disciples, they had been unsuccessful in their attempts to heal Him. Jesus became obviously frustrated upon learning of their failed attempts, saying, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me” (Matthew‬ ‭17:17‬ ‭NLT‬‬). After Jesus heals the boy, the disciples question Jesus about why they had been unable to usher the same healing. He responded by saying, “You don’t have enough faith… I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible” ‭‭(Matthew‬ ‭17:20‬ ‭NLT‬‬).

A little faith begins with a lot of fear.

But there are two different types of fear – There is fear that paralyzes you, and there is fear that propels you. Fear that paralyzes you holds you captive and keeps you from experiencing what God has to offer. It is a fear of the future, a fear of what people will think, a fear that you won’t be enough. This type of fear will keep you always looking for God’s promises, but never taking active progress towards them. On the other hand, fear that propels you towards God’s calling gives you drive and ambition. This is a reverential fear – It is a fear that believes in the power of God, and trusts that He is able to do what He says He will do.

The disciples feared God on the top of the mountain.  They bowed down before Him in their fear after seeing the brightness and fullness of His Glory displayed. But the father, desperately seeking Jesus, waited patiently and bowed down before Him at the foot of the mountain. His eyes had not beheld what the disciples had beheld, yet He wholeheartedly believed in what Jesus was able to do. That is the definition of faith – believing without seeing. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” This father believed in what he could not see – and his little bit of faith led to the moving of a mountain in his son’s life.

We aren’t all so faith-filled. Some of us are paralyzed with fear. We don’t believe because we don’t see, and we don’t trust because we don’t understand.

After Jesus was crucified and risen from the dead, He appeared to His disciples again. Infamously, Thomas did not believe Jesus was who He said He was until he was able to touch the wounds and feel the holes. Jesus responded to Thomas’ doubt by saying, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me” (John‬ ‭20:29‬ ‭NLT‬‬).

We are blessed when we believe, but Jesus is faithful even when we are faithless. He doesn’t give up on us when our faith measures up to less than the size of a tiny mustard seed. He doesn’t deny our requests for evidence of His Power. He continually reveals Himself to us and makes Himself known to us. We are simply holding on to the wrong kind of fear. We have no need to fear not being capable or powerful enough to complete God’s calling. This kind of fear will flee in the presence and truth of who God is. He is all-powerful, completely capable, and in control of all things. He dwells within us, and lives and moves among us.  We have no need to be paralyzed with fear.

We need to let our fear propel us towards our calling – the place where our fears and our faith collide.

When we focus on our inabilities rather than God’s ability, we are putting our faith in ourselves. And when we put our faith in ourselves, we will always end up disappointed. It is not the size of our faith that matters, it is the size of the God we are putting our faith in. A little bit of faith in the hands of a big God can accomplish unexplainable tasks – That’s what makes it miraculous. Our weaknesses display God’s strength, and our inabilities point to His abilities. Faith beigns with fear – Not fear of what we are unable to accomplish, but fear of what He is able to accomplish. The power of His presence should evoke a fear in us that brings us to our knees in complete surrender to His plan and purpose. Once we place our mustard seed faith in His faithful hands, anything is possible.

Any dream given by God is within your reach – Don’t let the wrong kind of fear hold you captive. There is no dream so great that God is not greater still. Where He leads, He provides. And where He guides, He strides. He won’t abandon you in the place of your overwhelming fear, but will walk along beside you every step of the way. He won’t plant a dream inside your heart that He is not prepared to bring to fruition. He will nurture and stregthen you to become all He wills you to be. He will make a way. Your vision will become a reality – You simply have to trust Him. You simply have to believe that God is who He says He is and that He is able to do what He says He will do.

His promise is true, His presence is with you, and His Power is within you. Trust and believe. Take hold of it. Step out in faith and watch as your fears fall. Christ is within you – You are capable, powerful, and destined for greatness. You are fearfully and wonderfully made – set apart for a high calling and divine purpose.

You. Are. Enough.

So don’t be afraid to dream big.