THANKS FOR THE THORN IN THE FLESH
I have asked myself many times, “Lord, what is wrong with me? Why do I have to live with a thorn in my flesh? Why did you not free me of my handicap when I began to serve you, Lord?” The Apostle Paul faced a similar problem and came to this conclusion. “To keep me from becoming too proud of having received many great revelations, the Lord allowed Satan to put a thorn in my flesh to torment me. I pleaded with the Lord three times to free me from my infirmity. The Lord replied, ‘Be satisfied with my grace; for it makes you depend on me for strength’” (II Cor. 12:7-9).
This is the way the message of Paul speaks to me. Paul may have had bad eyes (Gal. 4:15). Surgery has restored my sight. The loss of the use of my hands could not be restored, at least not in this life. I have met sincere Christians, who were of the opinion that I lacked in faith. For a time, I was struggling with doubts about my faith. I was also struggling with the question as to why I was so severely punished? It took time to realize that I was at fault, when I held a kerosene lamp on a slippery iced floor. I fell and it cost me dearly. Because of the accident; I, too, depend more on God. He does make me feel stronger. I discovered that, “I can do all things (that are needed) through Christ which strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Suffering does identify us with Christ and we do share in some glory here on earth (Ro. 8:17).
I had no interest in becoming a minister. The accident, in spite of its severity, led me to re-examine my life, and seek out new and different areas of service. In retrospect, the accident has opened a part of my life that became mentally or spiritually productive. My first twenty-one years, I spent on myself and the next sixty-three I served others. What seemed bad to me turned out good. What I lost physically, I received back, far more than double, mentally. The mind needs a body to exist and move about, but it is far superior to the best and healthiest body. I realized, “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Ro. 8:28). The plain fact was that before my accident, I did not hear that well. I required some stimulation.
It has not made my life easier, but harder. The Lord is not an easy Master or employer. Not anything or everything goes with Him or for Him. He does not care to share me with anyone. He does not look at my physical appearance, but at my heart. He does not even look at my belief, but at my behavior and in what I do. He has remade me in the image of his Son and He is not pleased when I do not glorify Him. The reason I was hurt, was not intended to make me feel guilty or blame some one else for what happened to me; but that I would come to my senses and glorify God with my life. It is similar to what Jesus told his disciples when they asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (Jn. 9:2-3).
I asked myself, “How do I glorify God or bring honor to His Son the Christ?” For a long time I believed that I was in this world to prepare myself for heaven. All I had to do was repent, believe in Jesus, be baptized in His name and I was on my way. I added a little lip service and felt seemingly satisfied with myself. The truth is that I was fooling myself. I was not created before the foundation of the world and send to earth in a human body to get ready for heaven (Eph. 1:4-6). While I am on earth, I mess things up so that God had to sent His Son to rescue me. There is more. I do not have to do a thing. Even if I could, it would not be good enough to satisfy God. I can only be saved by grace and all I need to do is believe it. The news is out of this world and part of it is true; only, it leaves out why God did all that for me (Eph. 2:8-9). One ready answer has been that God loves me, and another answer that I am worth more to Him than the world (Jn. 3:16; Mt. 16:26). Jesus did confirm that too; but there is another important, perhaps even more important reason.
In my research in the Scriptures, I have come to realize that my being saved was a preliminary preparation for something bigger. It has to do with not doing it for myself in order to get to heaven, but doing it for God so that others may become useful in God’s kingdom and do His will on earth. Faith must not stop with salvation; but with reconciliation, restoration and application. It is not just with words, but also with deeds that we praise and glorify God. We must be visible in the world for people to see what we are doing and because of what we have done turn with praises to God (Mt. 5:16). The Greek text says to me, “For we have been recreated in the image of Jesus Christ for works that are good, preordained (these works) of God in order that we walk (live) in them” (Eph. 2:10). It is a life-long job to do what is right from God’s point of view and not from mine. It has to do with being holy and spotless that praises and glorifies the grace of God (Eph. 1:4, 6). It is not a one-time conversion or a one beneficial experience; but, it is a continuous effort to sanctify and bear fruit. According to Paul, God wants a body that can offer living, holy and pleasing sacrifices and service to God (Ro. 12:1).
Paul’s use of the “body” as an instrument for serving God is very significant. Without a body man cannot render services or make sacrifices for anyone. All things are done while man is in a body. What the world sees is my body and especially what I do with it. One day a stranger came to my office in Church carrying a heavy rucksack on his back asking for food. I had no food or money, but I had an agreement with the grocer next door. I gave the man a note and told him to go and get what he needed and suggested that he put down his backpack while he shopped. He accused me of being a false brother in Christ, who did not trust him and he ran out. This is how the world sees us and I did feel guilty and surprised. The writer to the Hebrews touched on Christian behavior. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”(Heb. 12:1). The nonbeliever is more aware of the path I am traveling on than I am myself. We do not glorify God when we cross a “No Passing” or a “No Parking” zone. My wife has a legitimate Handicapped Permit. Without her, I do not use it and with her, we find it difficult to park because so many use these permits that belong to their handicapped relatives or friends.
Being handicapped does place a strain on faith and life. Paul begged the Lord three times to free him from his burden, but the Lord offered him mercy instead. I stopped counting long ago and accepted the inevitable. I have taken to heart what James, the half-brother of Jesus wrote. “Regard it as pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not missing in anything”(Ja. 1:2-4). It is an amazing description of what has happened to me. In myself, I feel complete, but far from being mature. I am still constantly being tested. Perseverance is still at work in me; for it is the hope in me that does not let me surrender to my own physical inability. Again, Paul has been very helpful. “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance builds character; character creates hope and hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given to us” (Ro. 5:2-5). The thorn in the flesh became Paul’s strength and so did my accident to me. Thanks for the thorn in the flesh!