“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:10 (ESV)
Many of us find encouragement in the writings of the apostle Paul. We like verses like, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) or “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). We like the idea of being strong and capable, of being chosen to do something special for God.
The truth of the matter is that we are neither strong nor capable when it comes to God’s purposes. But we labor under the delusion we can somehow control our own lives and circumstances, and the thought of weakness and lack of control is an anathema to our minds. We like to think of ourselves as “spiritual warriors” and “doing great things for the kingdom”. We consider ourselves failures and worthless when we discover we can’t live up to the standard we set for ourselves.
Paul experienced something like that. In chapter 12 of Second Corinthians Paul is telling of a vision he had been given. With it came the temptation for arrogance and boasting because he was chosen to experience it. In verse 7, he says, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh”. The Scripture never tells what it was, but it distressed Paul enough that he prayed three times for it to be taken away. God’s answer: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v.9). Paul’s response was to boast in his weakness, knowing the strength of God was revealed by it.
Paul’s focus was on holding up Jesus Christ to the world, not making Paul look good. He understood that his weakness allowed God’s glory to shine in his (Paul’s) service. Paul was able to endure what he did because God was glorified no matter what the circumstance may be. He understood he didn’t need to worry about being strong enough; God was, and he sustained Paul through hardship and difficulty as well as periods of joy and spiritual victory.
We all have a “thorn in the flesh”. It distresses us because we feel inadequate for how we think we should serve God. Like Paul, it keeps us from arrogance and puts our view of ourselves in perspective when we honestly acknowledge its presence. But we also need to remember that God will supply what we need to accomplish his purpose. We can rejoice that we are weak because that’s when God supplies us with his strength if we will let him.