In a poignant and fascinating chapter, Paul, somewhat coyly, talks about a man (himself) who received visions and revelations, was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things.
But alongside these “surpassingly great revelations” he had “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.”
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 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 Cor. 12)
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Paul has a weakness (commentators suggest a psychological struggle, an emotional struggle, a physical malady, or demonic assault) and begs Christ to free him from this weakness which causes intense, continuous pain and harassment, this thorn in the flesh.
And Christ answers. “No. You are over-gifted. You can too easily grow conceited. You need a ever-present weakness to teach you that you need me. To prevent you from looking down on the 99% of Christians who are less gifted, less intense, less spiritual, less committed.
I will give you a weakness so that you will need to lean on me daily. And I will give you grace sufficient to overcome it—but only enough for the day.
I will not remove the thorn. Tomorrow, the pain will be as sharp, as excruciating, and again, you will need to turn to me, and again I will give you grace sufficient to overcome.
And again, the next day. Temptation, wrestling, deliverance.
You will need to rely on me every day.
And my power will be demonstrated perfectly in your daily weakness, your SOS’s for my strength, in my grace which will come perfectly in your heart of need.
Yes, perfectly, more perfectly than in the letters you wrote, the visions you saw, your intuitive understanding of me, the grasp of theology I gave you, the literary flair I gave you, the intensity and forceful personality I give you which you will so stamp on Christianity, that your name will be only second in influence to mine.
And Paul says, “Is that indeed true? Do I need to know weakness to be truly strong? Do I need to know powerlessness to know your power?
Then, I will no longer wrestle. I will accept my weaknesses.”
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Many, many years ago, when I was 16, a beloved nun at school, Sister Josephine, took me aside, read this passage to me, and explained it. Water off a duck’s back.
Even today, to be honest, I understand it intellectually, but not experientially.
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But I have a thorn in the flesh, I have not been able to pray off. And, the thorn in my flesh is my flesh. See above–too much of me!! Too many years of medicating sadness with chocolate, not scripture. Of seeking to feel hyper with crisps (potato chips for you, Americans) and chocolate biscuits (cookies for Americans). Of bonding over gargantuan meals. Of eating because I enjoyed the taste, quite apart from hunger or satiety.
Eating for comfort, for pleasure. Choosing immediate comfort, rather than the more esoteric and slower comforts of immersing myself in God.
Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. James says (5:13). Well, I have done so. Also.
But, but, but….though Scripture is like honey, like the choicest of foods, it takes longer for its joy to enter your bloodstream, and is slower to act than chocolate. I can get totally hyper over the things of God—however, chocolate gets me there sooner.
Some of it is not being able to tolerate sadness or low spirits. Not aligning myself with the Most High God until I see things with his heavenly eyes, until I am full of faith again, and full of joy.
Of instead choosing something with short-term relief and long-term misery.
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I cannot just accept my weight and eating habits, partly because unless I do something, I will continue to gain weight. (:
And I can see that putting it on a prayer list, even three times, is not going to do the trick.
It is going to be a matter of WORKING OUT my salvation, trusting God day after day in the moments of temptation, relying continually on his grace.
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Lord, I would so much rather receive visions and revelations from you, be caught up to paradise and hear inexpressible things.
But one way for me to experience your perfect power, and your strength in my weakness will be to lean and depend on you through daily battles with the thorn and weakness in my flesh.
So be with me, Emmanuel!