So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
If you are thinking of great Christians, men and women who achieved great things for God, surely the Apostle Paul would appear somewhere towards the top of the list. The man wrote great chunks of the New Testament, and travelled throughout the Mediterranean, all for the purpose of spreading the gospel of Christ crucified. Yet for all this, he suffered from this “thorn in the flesh” which “kept me from being conceited”.
Unsurprisingly people have come up with all sorts of suggestions as to quite what this “thorn” was. To be honest it doesn’t matter, and if it did I am sure Paul would have told us. The point is this, at times God uses “thorns” for our own benefit. In Paul’s case, that benefit was keeping him from being conceited.
I really do hope this might be something of an encouragement. At times God uses our afflictions to draw us to him. At other times, we struggle with something or other which reminds us that we are not as perfect we as think. And then we fall upon God’s grace. Afflictions are, as in the case with the Apostle Paul, a means to a greater glory.
The old Puritan writer Thomas Watson (1620 – 1686) puts it nicely:
“As ploughing prepares the earth for a crop, so afflictions prepare and make us meet for glory. The painter lays his gold upon dark colours—so God first lays the dark colours of affliction, and then He lays the golden colour of glory. The vessel is first seasoned before wine is poured into it: the vessels of mercy are first seasoned with affliction, and then the wine of glory is poured in.”