20–26 August 2017.
For years Paul had been suffering. He doesn’t tell us what his problem was, only that it was a “thorn in the flesh”, something that hurt him deeply and brought him great pain. In v. 8 Paul tells us that he prayed earnestly to God three times that God might take this pain away. But each time, God said no.
In our own faith lives, one of the biggest challenges we face is when God says no to us. We plan out our lives, set a clear direction, and come to God for his help and care. But then God says no. When that happens we feel completely lost. Doesn’t God love us? Doesn’t he want good things for us? So why doesn’t he help?
But God’s “No” is never just a straight rejection. It could be a temporary no, telling us that the plan is good but that the time is not yet right. But even if it is a permanent no, God never just turns his back on us. In Paul’s case, God says to Paul “No”. But he also gives Paul a promise, to support him with as much grace as he will ever need.
So often we approach God in prayer because we worry about our survival. Will I have the money to pay those bills? Will I recover from this terrible sickness? Will I pass that exam? Maybe Paul feared that the thorn in his flesh was stopping him from being the great apostle he wanted to be. Can’t God help a little? But as far as God is concerned, Paul doesn’t need anything extra; all he needs is the grace he already has.
God tells Paul that he shouldn’t worry about overcoming his weaknesses, instead he should know that God’s power in his life is made perfect in those weaknesses. That’s the answer that God gives us too. When something is taken away in our lives, we know that God’s hands will strengthen us in other ways. That’s a really hard promise to believe, and an even harder one to trust in, so it’s no wonder that Paul needed so many years of praying and waiting before he could accept God’s answer.
Sometimes in life getting the things we want actually leads us to problems. And sometimes it’s the challenges in life that push us to achieve great things. Of course when those problems arise we feel so helpless. But Paul has learnt that it’s exactly in those times of helplessness that Christ’s power and grace work the most in his life. In our lives too, it’s often when we face the biggest struggles and the most difficult challenges that we feel the power and grace of Christ most at work in us.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis