The Sparrow and the Heart: The Heart (Part 4)

I don’t know of anyone who likes to hear the word “no” to a request. My daughter certainly doesn’t like to hear it. But then again, neither do I. No is a hard word to swallow, but it is especially difficult when such an answer comes from God. We have been looking at Paul’s “thorn in the flesh, ” found in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. Paul has prayed, begged God in fact, to remove this so-called “thorn,” and God finally responds to Paul. It’s not a heart-warming response. But what we will see is that God’s “no” to Paul can teach us things about faith and grace that we need to know as we prepare for trials. This is the theology of the wounded heart: when God causes the struggle, He will also give you grace in the struggle.

Here’s how God responds to Paul:

8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  9 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 12:8-9)

There it is, plain as day. “No Paul, I will not take this thorn away.” God says to Paul, “beg, plead, cry all you want…start a prayer chain…get the whole church to pray with you and for you. But my answer is still no.” You see God has a point in Paul’s suffering and He will not relent. Remember this “thorn” was GIVEN to Paul. God has a purpose behind it, namely to keep Paul humble and dependent.

This is, of course, not one of those things that the church likes to talk about. Preachers all over the U.S. are telling us that God wants you to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. God wants you to have a new car, and perfect finances, and a luscious mullet. But here is Paul saying, God sent a messenger of Satan to harass me! That’s a bit different, isn’t it? David says the same sort of thing when it Psalm 51 he prays to God, “let the bones that you have broken rejoice.” I bet you didn’t know that God sometimes breaks bones. You won’t hear it at your next altar call. “Come forward, so that God may break your bones!” But there it is, friends, God may just break your bones. Or He may give you a thorn.

Now the obvious question is how can this be encouraging. I mean, after all, does it make one bit of difference that God is the one breaking your bones? A broken bone is still broke, regardless of who did it. Does it matter at all? The answer is, ABSOLUTELY YES! It matters greatly that God breaks bones. It matters greatly that God is in control of even our suffering, our trials, our pains, our brokenness. Note the rest of the way God responds to Paul, “My grace is sufficient.”

Now what does that mean? What does it meant to say that God’s grace is sufficient for Paul as he faces this trial? How can grace be better than just taking out the thorn? The actual language here is interesting. The word “sufficient” is actually a verb in the Greek. It carries with it the connotations of assisting. You see in the midst of this thorn, God’s grace is doing something. It is acting on Paul. God is going to transform Paul in the midst of his suffering. Do you see how that makes a difference? Satan breaks bones because he is the one who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. God breaks bones to remake us!

O, Friends, this is not a pat answer. This is not some theological solution to your pain. I honestly do not know why you are going, have gone, or will go through some of the things that God has brought into your life. I don’t know why you have cancer, why your son died, why you lost your job. I don’t have an answer for that. Just like I don’t know why my daughter was born with a spinal defect, or why my dad tragically died alone in a hotel room. There is no answer that I could give that would satisfy you. But what I do know is this: God can do great things in the midst of suffering!

Next week we will wrap up the exegesis of 2 Corinthians 12 by looking at what God’s grace did for Paul in the mist of his “thorny” situation. Read ahead and see if you can pick out how God used this trial to change Paul.

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