The Lord had the power to remove Paul’s thorn in the flesh but He chose not to
(John Lathrop)

In my previous article (Read : Request Denied) I wrote about an experience in the life of a person in the Old Testament, that person was Elijah the prophet. He was a spiritual man who was greatly used by the Lord. In 1 Kings 19 he asked God for something that he did not get.

It was actually a good thing that he did not receive what he asked for because he asked the Lord to take his life. I think Elijah’s troubling circumstances prompted him to make that request. The Lord denied his request, at least in part, because He had more for Elijah to do.

In the New Testament we also find a spiritual man who asked the Lord for something that he did not get. I am referring to the apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 12 he tells us that he had a problem in his life, he had a thorn in the flesh, that he calls a “messenger of Satan” (NIV, v. 7). He does not supply us with anymore information about what this was.

The fact that it was a messenger of Satan tells us that it was evil and had evil intent. Paul confirms this when he says that it was given to him to torment him (v. 7). This was not a pleasant situation and Paul asked the Lord to take it away from him.

In fact, verse 8 tells us that he “pleaded” (NIV) with the Lord about this. This was not a casual or light request that he made; there was some urgency or intensity about it. The Lord did not do what Paul asked the first time that he made his request.

So, in keeping with Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:7 he kept on asking. The Lord did not do as Paul requested the second time he prayed or the third time. In fact, we don’t know that the Lord ever took Paul’s thorn in the flesh away from him.

Paul’s requests are certainly understandable; none of us likes to suffer. And if the suffering comes from Satan we surely want nothing to do with it. I think that each of us would probably make the same requests that Paul made if our experience was the same as his.

However, verse 9 indicates that the Lord was not going to remove this affliction from Paul’s life. Instead the Lord told him that His grace would be sufficient for him (v.9). Fortunately, Paul did not have to suffer without knowing why this affliction was not removed from his life.

By the time he wrote the book of 2 Corinthians he knew that he had the thorn in the flesh because of the greatness of the revelations that he had received (v. 7). This passage has some important lessons to teach us.

First, it doesn’t matter who we are, how spiritual we are, or what we have done for the Lord, none of these things guarantees that all of our prayers will be answered in precisely the way that we want them to be. The Lord had the power to remove Paul’s thorn in the flesh but He chose not to.

Second, sometimes things that seem to weigh us down may actually be holding us up. Paul’s thorn in the flesh kept him from becoming conceited (v. 7); it was part of the Lord’s plan for Paul’s good.

Third, the Lord can even make Satan fulfill His purposes.

Fourth, we should not fight God’s plan for our individual lives. Like Paul there are times when we need to accept our circumstances and the Lord’s wisdom.

Fifth, God’s grace is sufficient; it was sufficient for Paul and it will be for us as well. It is possible to continue ministering even when one feels opposed or weighed down. Paul did it and he came to recognize that when he was weak, then he was strong (v. 10).

Sometimes when the Lord does not answer our prayers in the way that we would like to see them answered it is because He is helping us be all that we can be for Him and reach our maximum potential.

 


John P. Lathrop - United States

John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Western Connecticut State University, Zion Bible Institute, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME). He is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies and has twenty years of pastoral experience.

 

 

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