I don’t really like operating from a position of weakness. There’s something about feeling like you’re in control which helps reduce stress. Something about engaging a situation for which you believe you are equipped that helps maintain a sense of equilibrium. I really try to avoid getting in over my head because I know I can get really frustrated when I’m doing something — or something’s doing me — for which I really haven’t the ability to handle. Welcome to Paul’s world!
So to keep me from being too elated by 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 being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.
(2Corinthians 12:7-8 ESV)
Paul was a pretty capable guy. Well educated, a pretty good thinker, and an extremely disciplined and hard worker. Oh yeah, and He had also met the risen Christ face to face. What’s more he had been “caught up to the third heaven” and tutored one-on-one by the Son of God at Paradise U (12:2-4). To say Paul had all the tools he needed would be an understatement.
But, and it’s a big but, he was constantly working from a position of weakness.
Whatever that thorn in the flesh was, it was such a tormenter that Paul pleaded repeatedly for the Lord to remove it from him. The NKJV translates it as a messenger of Satan sent to “buffet” him–literally to strike with the fist, to treat with violence, insolence, and insulting language. Whatever Paul’s thorn in the flesh, it was abusive. Always seeking to set Paul back on his heels. Relentlessly determined to push Paul’s head underwater. And yet, apart from this passage in what is Paul’s most personal letter in the New Testament, we’d never have guessed that, in addition to all the overt persecution that Paul suffered, he had to contend with this inner demon as well.
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.
(2Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV)
I often glory in the amazing grace that saves, but what of the sufficient grace that sustains? Do I recognize that operating from a position of weakness is often exactly where God wants me in order “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us (2Cor. 4:7)?
I say that I want to know the filling and enabling and empowering of the Holy Spirit. Maybe I need to remember that you only can fill up that which is already empty. That you enable that which is first disabled. That you empower that which is without power.
Paul got it. He wasn’t a masochist. His wasn’t a “bring it on” attitude. In fact, he pleaded three time for the henchman of Satan to be removed. But when God said, “No,” Paul looked to receive the grace and power of God needed to sustain and enable the man of God. He saw it as an opportunity for God to increase and for Paul to decrease. Paul knew that it would demonstrate that the power in his life clearly belonged to the One he sought to magnify and not to himself.
Honestly, I’m not looking to get any weaker than I am. Sufficient is the frailty of this man for God to manifest His power. But perhaps I need to embrace my “thorns in the flesh” more as they afford God’s strength to be made perfect in my weakness. That the amazing grace which saved me might also be known to be the sufficient grace which sustains me.
For when I am weak, then I am strong . . . because the power of Christ rests on me.
All by His sustaining grace . . . all for His everlasting glory