GodReflection: Is Grace Still Amazing?
Wise parents and good teachers learn to set limits. I would guess both respect and fear cause a child or student, who moves forward in life, to recognize when a line is set that must not be crossed.
We have all heard it—”Stop that is enough!”
Intuitively, we seem to know when a parent or teacher makes that their final ruling. The matter is closed. To remain in the classroom or to not damage the trust relation with a parent we learn the disputed subject is closed.
To a degree, most of us continue to re-learn that lesson throughout our entire life. It is a process to be able to reach agreement with Paul the apostle, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Philippians 4:12).
We seem to have to learn the secret again and again. Paul tells me the secret is grace. I will come back to that in a moment.
Paul knew the value of his eyes. Like most young folks, I assume he enjoyed the benefit of clear and unhindered sight. After an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus Paul no longer took his eyes for granted.
For three days he was blind. At the conclusion of his soul-searching encounter with the grace of Jesus—spirit filled—Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again (Acts 9:18).
Paul tells another story that took place fourteen years prior to what we know as his second letter to the church at Corinth. Once again, it was a celestial encounter with the Holy. He did not seem to understand exactly how it happened, but he was placed in the presence of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit.
He heard inexpressible things that no one is permitted to tell (2 Corinthians 12:4). Shortly thereafter he states he was given a thorn as a constant companion, in his own words, “in order to keep me from becoming conceited” (12:7).
Raised in the Chihuahuan Desert it did not take long for me to know a thorn is not a fun companion. The only pain worse than a thorns entrance, was its removal AND, until its removal the thorn makes sure the host constantly knows of its presence. I can easily identify with Paul’s imagery.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My, grace is sufficient for you. for my power is made perfect in weakness“(12:7-9).
From his New Testament writings, it is speculated Paul’s thorn was some sort of inflammation that caused his eyes to degenerate. This educated man depended upon others to write his dictated communication. From time to time he would point out that he was inserting a sentence or signing his own name in large letters.
When he wrote to Christians in Galatia, he includes this insightful paragraph:
As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself . . . I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. (Galatians 4:13-15).
All indications are that Paul’s thorn was something that caused physical discomfort–perhaps even pain.
How does Paul’s experience help you or me with a thorn or thorns we experience along our walk-through life on this earth?
My first observation is this:
From the apostles Paul and Peter, and Jesus’ brother James, I conclude thorns do not come from God who only gives good gifts. Sharp painful thorns are thrust into us by Satan to distract us from the Holy.
God the gardener is in the business of transformation. He turns thorns into roses. While he goes about rose-making he assures us his power shines through the thorns. From punctured clay flowerpots God’s power glows to bring light into a dark world.
My second observation is this:
Neither Father, Son, nor Holy Spirit transported me to the Holy Throne to tell me to stop asking for thorn removal after my first three requests.
Like the persistent widow I will most likely keep knocking on the door. And, as I knock, I am assured knocking does not distract the gardener, as I await my transformation into God’s perfect flower. I hear him say:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
The lesson I continue to learn:
The sufficiency of grace is a lifelong challenge. It is one of those truths I know in my head but seem to need a daily reminder to accept in my heart. I think I can see progress.
The thorn to rose imagery helps. I hope to live with an increased sense of contentment each day. The thorns Satan shoots into our flesh or into our soul cannot kill or derail us. AND, we can live assured God will provide us the grace to keep on keeping on while he is at work to morph our thorn into a flower for his glory.
Does not that make grace still amazing to know his grace is sufficient for each one of us? Isn’t it amazing–his grace is all we need to bear thorns? What do you think? I would love to hear from you.
Dr. Gary J. Sorrells
A GodReflection on My Grace Is Sufficient