Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. [2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NAS]
Over the years, many a debate has taken place over just what that thorn in his flesh was. Some have contended that it was poor eyesight, based upon a comment he made in his letter to the [Galatians], while others have leaned toward it being much more obviously spiritual.
Be assured that it was spiritual. For the Apostle Paul wanted to be as perfect in all of his own ways as his Lord and Savior truly is, and it grieved him deeply when he failed to be as such.
Be also assured that as it was with the Apostle Paul, so has it also been with me. For it grieves me deeply to know just how naturally unrighteous I truly am—despite understanding more about our Heavenly Father immeasurable grace than I ever did before He started making Himself real to me.
I was given a desire to publish this piece so that it could be of benefit to others after responding to a personal prayer request in an email yesterday afternoon. It came from a very dear friend of mine, who desperately wants to quit smoking on account of being asked to serve in a youth ministry. My response was as follows.
I hope you succeed in your hope of being able to finally quit smoking, but if it doesn't come within a reasonable amount of time, please consider: For bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. [1 Timothy 4:8 NAS]
Alas, many have been led to believe that only those who have cleansed themselves of all unrighteousness can be servants of our Heavenly Father when the absolute truth of the matter truly is that He delights in doing great and wonderful things through those who appear to be weak and foolish in the eyes of this world. For it is written: For what we preach is not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves [merely] as your servants (slaves) for Jesus' sake. For God Who said, Let light shine out of darkness, has shone in our hearts so as [to beam forth] the Light for the illumination of the knowledge of the majesty and glory of God [as it is manifest in the Person and is revealed] in the face of Jesus Christ (the Messiah). However, we possess this precious treasure [the divine Light of the Gospel] in [frail, human] vessels of earth, that the grandeur and exceeding greatness of the power may be shown to be from God and not from ourselves. [2 Corinthians 4:5-7 AMP]
Besides, who can truly cleanse us of all unrighteousness aside from Him? For it is also written: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? [Romans 8:28-32 NIV] Along with: For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. [Ephesians 2:10 NAS] As well as: [Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight. [Philippians 2:13 AMP]
Yes, it may very well be that I am just wanting to drag her down to my own pathetic level—albeit unintentionally. Ah, but a poisoning of the blood often comes with having a thorn in the flesh, and one of the deadliest poisons of all is self-righteousness.
By the way, the perfect prayer is to ask for His will to be done in all of our lives—regardless of the consequences. May we all be given the courage to sincerely offer such a prayer.
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