For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
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.
(2 Corinthians 12:7)
During my struggle with migraine, I have been blessed by the prayers of many fellow sojourners for healing. Some of them, very well-meaning and wonderful people, have told me emphatically that it is not God’s will that we suffer with such maladies, but that He would have us be free from them in order that our ministry might be effective.
Respectfully and without a trace of acrimony, I very heartily disagree.
You see, more than once when I have prayed to see the end of migraine, God has brought 2 Corinthians 12 to mind, particularly verses 7-10. In this passage, as in the book of Job, God has repeatedly reminded me that sometimes His work in the midst of affliction is what brings Him glory.
And in truth, He does not need me to be particularly efficient or even functional to accomplish His work. To the contrary, my weakness and inability provide a background that prominently displays His glory.
While I have to admit that I would love to be entirely free of migraine and all its myriad accoutrements, I also know that the ability to praise God despite them honors Him for who He is and not merely for what He does.
Do I believe that God is able to remove pain from my life? Yes, absolutely; I have no doubt that He can.
However, I also know that He knows what He is doing, and what He is doing often necessitates putting me in situations that I would avoid if given the chance. In the same way, if someone told me that eating a certain fruit every day would give me the body of a 25-year-old Olympic gymnast, well… Suffice to say that I would buy them by the truckload.
But I tend to learn best from hands-on experience.
Though I may understand the principal of a thing – how it works or how it is done – I never fully grasp it until I have experienced it myself. Just so, experiencing pain helps me to better understand how intensely my Lord suffered for me. Having a weakness of my own gives me a more complete understanding of how little God actually needs me to accomplish His will.
Perhaps this is why Paul wrote that his “thorn” was to keep him from becoming conceited. Personally, I am embarrassingly susceptible to swollen pride if I were allowed any credit for what God has done through me. As it is, I can only marvel because I am keenly aware of what is done by Him despite my weakness.
Pain, though unpleasant, is an excellent tutor.
In the original Greek, the word translated as “thorn” in the ESV is only used this once in the text of the New Covenant. According to Thayer’s Greek Definitions, it could be translated as “a sharp stake or splinter.”
The idea of a splinter resonates well with my experience of chronic migraine; specifically, the maddening type of invisible splinter inflicted by a thistle or nettle. You can’t see it, but you certainly know it’s there. (Perhaps this is on my mind because of a recent gloveless and rather silly attempt to rid my garden of an infestation of these wicked little plants…)
But the thistle is not without purpose. With its habit of propagating in neglected areas, it can draw attention to fields or fencerows in need of a little TLC. And though its needles are most unpleasant, its flowers do provide nectar for a wide variety of bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds, and its seeds are a favorite of many species of birds, including the stunning goldfinch.
Even so, my own pain is not purposeless. I fully believe God can and will heal me if it best serves His plan. However, I also know that He will not until He is finished pruning away my pride, my self-reliance, even my lack of faith and providing hope for others in the meantime.
I am not advocating that we never pray for healing for self or others, only that we do not allow it destroy our faith if His answer is, “No.”
Instead, while you pray for healing, also ask God to reveal any areas of your heart that may need a little TLC and trust Him to be enough. We can truly rejoice that no experience of our lives lies beyond His power to redeem. Not even our pain.
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.
2 Corinthians 12:9