Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me– to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong (II Corinthians 12:7-10 NASB).
How in the world does one reach a place in life where he or she can “gladly boast about weaknesses”? How much spiritual and personal growth does it take to consider “thorns in the flesh” as “power being perfected”? How do you build the kind of mental capacity that concludes, “When I am weak, then I am strong?
If I’m being totally honest, I can’t say I’ve ever “boasted about my weaknesses”, or that I’ve ever said (by faith or otherwise), “when I am weak, then I am strong”. Typically, when any of my weaknesses are revealed, it makes me feel, well, weak. Not to mention frustrated, insecure, immature, and sometimes outright depressed. And it’s usually not too long before my language follows suit.
Like so many others, my deepest desire is to represent God well with the life I’ve been given. For me, that means figuring out how to not only start well, but also how to end well. I wish I could tell you this desire was born out of a positive place, but it wasn’t. It was born out of our own Christian history, both biblical and beyond, which is filled with the accounts of many called, anointed, spirit-filled, miracle-working individuals who failed miserably at the end of their lives – Saul, Solomon, Samson, and Judas, just to name a few (scary right?). There are more recent accounts that I won’t mention out of respect and honor, but the point is we can’t continue to overlook this reality and possibility because the truth is none of us are immune. If it can happen to Solomon, the wisest man to have ever lived during his time on earth, it can happen to you and I. As uncomfortable as it may be, we have to discipline ourselves to study the mistakes of those who have gone before us in order to learn from them because as the great Spanish philosopher, George Santayana, once said,
Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.
I’m not sure that I have a final answer as to “why” these failures occurred then or “why” they continue to occur now, but I’d be willing to bet that it has something to do with weaknesses or, more specifically, unconfronted weaknesses.
The truth is we all have weaknesses. And, they come in all shapes and sizes. An even greater truth is not many of us like to acknowledge them, much less confront them. And herein lies the problem.
What you don’t confront, you can’t strengthen.
Romans 4:18-20 states, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God (Romans 4:18-20)
Paul and Abraham have this in common: they both knew how to flip the script on their weaknesses, turning them into places of strengths. Unsurprisingly, both of these men also had lives that ended in what Paul later referred to as a “flourishing finish” (see Philippians 1:6). The question is, “how did they do it?” Lots of answers could be given, but the foundation of them all is this: THEY DIDN’T JUST STATE THE FACTS OF THEIR REALITIES; THEY CHOSE TO FACE THEM.
Abraham “faced the fact that his body was as good as dead, yet did not waver regarding God’s promise” and “was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God”. Paul embraced the “thorn, weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties, so that the power of God may dwell in him.” Choosing to face weaknesses instead of fleeing from them brings strength – if not immediately, then eventually. A huge trick of the enemy is to get you to believe that if you state the facts of what you’re facing then you’re weak or not “full of faith”. Don’t fall for it! Weakness doesn’t come from stating facts. It comes from not facing facts.
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As a strength coach for athletes, what do you think would happen if I took the same approach with them? I’d be doing them a great disservice wouldn’t I? Of course I would. Choosing not to focus on developing and strengthening their weaknesses would be positioning them for inevitable failure, or, worse yet, injury. To make sure that doesn’t happen, we have to face the facts concerning the athlete’s weakness(es) and begin working to make them better. How?
By getting comfortable with being uncomfortable through putting them face-to-face with it on a continual basis until it is no longer an issue.
God didn’t remove the thorn from Paul’s flesh, He just said, “My grace is sufficient”.
Like any good coach, there are some things God will deliver us from, but there are far more things that He wants to deliver us through.
When He does, it is always to make us stronger. Remember, “He works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28)”.
Can you identify any area(s) of your life that you’d consider a “thorn in the flesh”? Concerning the area(s) identified, have you faced them or have you been avoiding them? What are 1 or 2 things that you can do RIGHT NOW (besides praying) that will help you “flip the script” on those area(s), making them places of strengths?