St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Celebrate God’s Grace In Time Of Trouble

Sermon on 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Text: In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

We like to celebrate happy occasions. We get excited when we receive a wedding announcement or a birth announcement in the mail. We celebrate with these people who will have or have had this exciting moment in their lives. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, new homes, and championships. We get together to celebrate the holidays and often will have a special meal that accompanies the celebration. We like to celebrate the good things in life. However, can you imagine getting an announcement in the mail inviting to celebrate the news that someone lost their job? Would you feel reason to celebrate if you received news that there was some problem with your health? Of course not. That does not make any sense. However, as we study God’s Word this morning, we see that we can celebrate in times of trouble. This is not because we are going through the difficulty. Rather, it is because it gives opportunity for the love of God to show forth. CELEBRATE GOD’S GRACE IN TIME OF TROUBLE. 1. Recognize His Power. 2. Call On Him For Strength. 3. Trust His Answer.

In the first verse of our text, Paul refers to a “thorn in my flesh.” There have been many speculations as to what exactly Paul is referring to. Some have suggested that Paul had severe headaches or epilepsy or malaria. He may have had some severe problems with his eyesight. Whatever it was exactly does not matter. The fact is that Paul had some sort of physical problem. We do know that it was more than just a little annoyance. He says that it tormented him. This was something that he dealt with on a regular basis. When we hear the word “thorn,” we think, perhaps, of a thorn on a rosebush. Those can be very painful. The word can also be translated as a “sliver.” We know how painful and annoying slivers can be. Sometimes, we cannot see them, but we know that they are there every time that we rub against them the wrong way. They can be a constant irritant. The word “thorn” can also be translated as a stake. Now the picture gets very graphic. It felt as though a stake were being driven into Paul whenever this problem flared up. It is no wonder that Paul refers to it as a “messenger of Satan.” Since sin is present in the world, there will also be pain and suffering. It is very easy to say that Paul was going through a time of trouble.

Yet, Paul also realized something. The thorn that he was experiencing was not by accident. It was given to him. Though he refers to it as a “messenger of Satan,” he also knew that, ultimately it did not come from him. God allowed this thorn to come into Paul’s life. We think of the story of Job. Every difficulty that came into Job’s life was regulated by God. Satan, thinking that he could turn Job away from God, said that Job was only faithful, because he had so much. If he lost everything, he would turn his back on God. God allowed Job to lose everything, but God said that the devil could not touch Job. When Job remained faithful to God, Satan said that if Job lost his health, he would turn his back on God. God allowed Job to be covered with painful sores, but God did not allow the devil to take Job’s life. Every single time that something bad happens to a believer, the devil is the unwitting tool of God. The devil sees the thorns as opportunities to bring evil upon a child of God. God uses these thorns for his own purposes. This answers the question that so many people pose: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”. The answer is that God allows them to enter into people’s lives for his purposes.

What thorns are you dealing with right now? Some of them are more public. Others are more private. It is so easy to think that God is getting back at us for something that we have done. The thought goes through our minds that God is punishing us for some sin that we have committed. Our consciences flare up, reminding us of this sin or that sin that we have committed. It is true that we do deserve God’s punishment for our sins. We know how often we have complained about our lot in life. We know how many times we have sought our own pleasure instead of that which pleases God. We deserve to be punished by God during our life while we are here on this earth and forever in the torments of hell. However, we have been blessed with the knowledge that Jesus came to the earth to be punished in our place. While Jesus was on the cross, he was being punished for every single sin that we have ever committed. He suffered the torments of hell, so that we would never have to. Because Jesus was punished, our Father, who is a just God, does not punish us. When your thorns are feeling like stakes, do not despair of God’s love. Nor should we ever think that things have gotten out of control. Your loving Father is still in charge of the universe. He is still in charge of your life. He reassures us of his continuing love with words such as we find in Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” When you are dealing with your thorn, recognize God’s power in your life.

What do you do about that thorn when it comes into your life? What is our first instinct? When difficulties come into our life, we start to plan how we are going to deal with them. When we lose a job, we start to plan how we will survive and where we will find our next job. When we face a medical difficulty, we start to figure out the best course of action. Do we do this treatment or that? Do we have this procedure or that one? We may find ourselves worrying about what will happen to us. These are common things to do when we face our thorns.

However, look at what Paul did as he dealt with his thorn. We read in verse 8, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.” He went to God in prayer. His was no casual prayer, either. It was not just something he rattled off without thinking about what he was saying. Paul says he “pleaded with the Lord to take it away from him.” This is reminiscent of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, in praying that the cup be taken from him, prayed to the point where his sweat was like drops of blood running down his face. There was work involved. Both Jesus and Paul put their all into their prayers. We should not think that Paul only prayed three times about this and then thought he had done his part. Rather, Paul points to three specific times when he pleaded with the Lord that the thorn be taken from him.

May we learn from Paul’s example. When we are going through the difficulties in life, when the thorns are tormenting us, may it be that we go to God as our first response rather than our last resort. All other sources of help and hope can fail us. There may even be the best of intentions by those to whom we go. However, they can only do so much. You and I are blessed with a loving Father, who promises to hear and answer every one of our prayers. He makes this invitation to you in Psalm 50:15, “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” May we also learn from Paul to pray earnestly. We come to him with all that is on our hearts. We lay it all out there. We can boldly and confidently pray, because we know that our dear Father in heaven hears us. In times of trouble, call on God for your strength.

It is likely that Paul was not just praying for this to be taken away because of the suffering that he was going through. In his mind, he probably thought that he could do so much more for God if he did not have this thorn. In his mind, it was hindering his work of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. If it was gone, he could tell more people about Jesus. To him, the perfect answer to his prayer would be that God would take way the thorn from his life. However, listen to God’s answer to Paul’s prayer: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” God told Paul that there was a reason why he was suffering this thorn. His grace was sufficient for Paul. He gave him everything that he needed which, in this case, included this suffering. The reason that God gave him this thorn was that Paul might, first of all, continue to be reminded that the strength and the ability to carry out this task did not come from Paul. God had richly blessed Paul with many gifts. Just prior to our text, Paul spoke of the visions that God had given to him. How easy it would be for Paul to think that he was something special, as though God liked him a little better than anyone else. God brought Paul to the conclusion in verse 7, “In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh.” God told Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” ‘Paul, remember to lean on me and trust in me, for I have given you all that you have.’

Another reason that Paul had been given this thorn was so that his hearers would not think that this message came from him. They would be drawn to him because of whom he was. Rather, as the people noted Paul’s thorn in the flesh, they had to conclude that Paul’s power did not come from himself. The source of his power, and therefore, his message must have come from outside of him. This took the people’s attention away from Paul and to God, who gave the message to Paul. It is because of these reasons that Paul could conclude this section of God’s Word by writing, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul had received from God an answer he did not expect, but he knew that it was the answer that was the best, not only for him, but also for the furthering of God’s kingdom. God led him to remember to look to God for his source of strength as he carried out the mission that God had given him to do.

When we come to God in prayer about the thorns in our lives, we may also do so with the purest of intentions. ‘If I didn’t have these money troubles, I could give more to the Lord.’ ‘If I didn’t have these health issues, I could serve the Lord better.’ It may well be that God hears our prayers and says, ‘Yes. What you have asked for is good. I will answer the prayer in the manner that you had hoped for.’ It may be, however, that God will answer our prayers, our pleadings, with, ‘No. I am not going to answer your prayer in the way that you have asked. I have a different course for your life at this moment. It may not seem, at first, that this is the better way, but trust me. I only have your benefit in mind.’ Sometimes, in the course of time, we will understand why God has allowed some thorn to come into our lives, as Paul was able to do. Sometimes, we will not understand this side of heaven, why God has given us this thorn. Yet, we have the assurance God that Paul writes in Romans 8:28, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In any case, these thorns help us to draw closer to God. I learned this bit of wisdom for a lady that I would visit in South Dakota. She said, ‘God sometimes puts us flat on our backs so that we remember where to look.’ Our weaknesses only illustrate and emphasize our strength is in Christ. The world thinks, “When I am strong, then I am strong. Only when I have status, power, influence, wealth, then I am strong.” The Christian says, “Only when I am weak, only when I realize that the world’s symbols of strength mean nothing, even if I have them all, only then I am strong.” Since I know that I have a God who loves me, a God who only wants the best for me, a God who will not forsake me, I can trust in whatever answer God might give to me.

Since this is true, we can say along with Paul, “For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” We can actually thank God for the thorns, whatever form they may take. They remind us that we are weak. When we know that we are weak, then we can be strong – in Christ. Those who find their strength in Christ can then be strong for Christ. We will have opportunities to serve Christ in ways that we may never have dreamed of. It is in this confidence that we say with the hymn writer:

What God ordains is always good; He never will deceive me.
He leads me in his righteous way And never will he leave me.
I take content What he has sent;
His hand that sends me sadness Will turn my tears to gladness.

What God ordains is always good; This truth remains unshaken.
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine, I shall not be forsaken.
I fear no harm, For with his arm
He will embrace and shield me; So to my God I yield me. Amen.