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!
2 Corinthians 12:7 (NASB)
Beyond a doubt the reality of adversity is that it humbles us! In 2 Cor 12
Paul is telling about the thorn in the flesh that he was given. In the preceding verses Paul was telling the
Corinthians of his trips to the third heaven. He had been in the place where
God dwells and he had surpassing great revelations.
Scripture tells us
that God afflicted Paul with the mysterious thorn in his flesh to keep him humble. We don’t know for sure if it was physical
affliction, a church issue, or a literal messenger of Satan. Affliction lends itself to self-focus, we focus on our situation, on our pain and before long all we think about is “me.” I am not saying that was Paul's focus but we do know that at this point Paul was begging for relief.
What we can learn from this is when relieving adversity or pain becomes the goal and focus of daily life, whether we realize it or not we are committing idolatry. This is because the focus is not on glorifying God, or on His agenda but on self.
Paul asked God three times for relief. In his
case God determined Paul would continue to suffer and that he would learn dependence upon the grace of God would be enough as he did. Through the life of his ministry Paul learned suffering has a purpose. He understood that adversity is designed to remind us that we need God.
When you and I are in the midst of adversity we also ask God for relief, and sometimes God says we will also continue to suffer. It is possible that God allows us to suffer
because suffering is a humbling thing.
When we suffer, we
call out to God like we do at no other time.
As Christians we know intellectually that He is our only hope, and our
only relief, but in our flesh we often hate the application of that truth. We
also fear being weak and vulnerable and dependent, yet this is what God wants.
There is sometimes fear in this full dependency, because we know God is not required to handle the situation the way we want it handled. God intentionally
places us in positions were we must rely only on Him. Our comfort and our
provision comes from Him. When we see our
weakness and inability to fix or change whatever has befallen us God
rejoices! Total dependence on Him is
what He desires for us.
Each time we by God’s grace successfully navigate through the trial God reminds us how faithful He is. This builds our confidence for the next time a trial comes. We know He is only going to allow it to go so far and that it will not steal away my faith in Him.
The end of self-sufficiency signals the beginning of dependence upon Him. Each trial is a building block of faith. We see He sustains, carries, and directs us. We see He is true to His Word and that He loves us.