Learning Lessons from Paul

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

7even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. 8Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

I’ve been on hiatus for a little while.  April 21 was my last entry, so it’s been more than a while.  That’s not to say I have not been reflecting or thinking.  In-fact, I probably hung out with those two a little too much over the past month of so.  I needed to take a break to gather those thoughts and take care of things on the home front.  I see a track in the distant future and I will make my way back on it but for now, I am sure things aren’t quite back to “normal” yet.

Then again, what is normal?

Look at Paul for example.  He had a thorn in his flesh.  I thought he was an egotistical guy to begin with.  Some people I know would rather listen to Paul than follow Jesus’ actions.  That would make anyone arrogant.  However that’s a story for another time.

Paul has a thorn in his flesh that keeps him from being too elated.  I have a new respect for him.  Despite the the fact people use his scripture against me – a woman minister and some of my friends who are trying to have the same rights as all other Americans, I still have respect for him.  He seems oddly proud of that thorn.  Not proud in the way of arrogance, but humbly proud in the fact that the power of Christ dwells within him in the element of grace.  How does one do that?

I am curious about something, something I know many people are.  What is that thorn?  Do you know? I don’t.  My professors didn’t know.  What type of messenger would be sent by Satan to torment Paul throughout his ministry?  What did Paul do wrong to deserve that bit of torture?  Does it matter really?  He answered a call.  He encouraged people by letters in jail.  The people listened and followed.  He had the power of grace to handle all of this and he did so for the sake of Christ.  That must have been what he did – he answered a call.  Is that all it takes to have a thorn?

There is a phrase that I used once at a goodbye reception for a colleague.  “We are not called into ministry to glorify ourselves.  We are called into ministry to glorify God.”   Paul was definitely not trying to glorify himself. Paul was glorifying Jesus Christ.  The fact of the matter is he was content with all that was coming at him: weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  Yep, those are certainly NOT synonyms for self-glorification.  How in the world would he be content with all of that being thrown at him?  Paul got stronger.  How did he do that?

Paul told us earlier in Romans.

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Maybe Paul is a reminder that “normal” is actually abnormal and thorns belong to anyone who is “normal”.  Does that make sense?  Imagine if you will, a group of people who were so elated that they didn’t recognize the thorns in their flesh.  How much would they grow and mature in the grace of Jesus Christ?  How far will they venture down the path lit by the lamp of God?  Jesus actually loved and had a deep compassion for all who had thorns in their flesh.  And if I remember correctly, He didn’t speak too highly from those who were a little too elated in their own flesh.   How much character have those people developed?  What have they learned?

“For whenever I am weak, I am strong.”  Do you have a thorn in your flesh? I certainly do and God bless the voices that remind me.  They remind me that I may be weak, but through the love and grace of Jesus Christ, I will endure all that comes at me and be made strong – and I might even develop some character and hope.  Thank you Paul for that lesson today.

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