When Is A Thorn A Good Thing?

When is a thorn a good thing? I suppose some might say, “Never! What good is something that, when physically encountered, causes pain and hinders our forward progress?” Well, if that was the limit of our reasoning, there’d probably be quite a few more bonfires and genetically altered roses in the world today.

But nature is not without examples of how thorns can play a positive role within certain ecosystems. So, like many things in life, context is important, and understanding the function of a thing in its place can make a world of difference in our attitude and what we can learn to live with.

In his letter to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul was speaking metaphorically when he referred to the “thorn in his flesh.” The Bible doesn’t tell us what it actually was, but it was serious enough that Paul prayed quite earnestly for God to take it away. Like most of us, Paul didn’t fancy pain or things that hindered his work. No doubt, he reckoned he had a solid case that warranted some quick intervention of the divine kind. Perhaps to the surprise of some readers, Paul’s request was not granted. It’s not that his prayers were unheard or unanswered – he just needed to learn the value of his thorn and the power that could be revealed in his life because of it. So, God’s answer was essentially, “I could take it away, but I have something better for you!” Paul’s weakness and humble dependence on God would connect him to a source of strength that would enable him to go farther and accomplish more than he ever could have on his own.

We all wrestle with pride. Sometimes we instinctively rally our strength and insist on doing things on our own. But if Paul insisted on doing things his way and in his strength, he would have accomplished only a fraction of what he did. or maybe nothing at all. Instead, Paul’s accomplishments, in spite of his thorn, were nothing short of monumental; even miraculous! So, apparently God’s vision for what Paul could do was bigger than Paul’s, and the key to Paul’s acquired strength came in the shape of a thorn. God’s strength was made perfect in Paul’s weakness (c.f. 2 Cor. 12:9)

We experience “thorns,” as well. We often struggle with things that leave us saying, “If this just wasn’t here.” or “If I didn’t have to deal with that, then I’d be able to..” We struggle to understand why these thorns exist and where they come from but the answer eludes us. Well, Paul’s experience teaches us that while our thorns are present and the pain they cause is real, they need not hinder us from realizing our spiritual potential and that, paradoxically, they can even be the key to unlocking that potential. Sometimes the purpose is obvious to us. Other times, we have to trust the promise that “God works for the good of those who love Him” (Rom. 8:28).


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