“I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. … So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 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 12:1, 7-10 ESV)
Paul begins today’s reading with a very roundabout story in which he seems to be talking about some wonderful visions God gave him. It’s not entirely clear, because Paul’s being deliberately unclear about whether they happened to him or to someone else. But then he gets to the meat of his story: “To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me.” In other words, God deliberately stepped back and allowed the devil to afflict Paul with something—an illness? a temptation? We don’t know, but it was something that would prick Paul’s ego any time he started getting proud and conceited. It’s hard to think you walk on water when you have a painful or embarrassing problem!
Of course, everyone wants to know what it was. But it’s equally plain Paul doesn’t want us to know—because then we’d spend all our time speculating about the problem, instead of getting his point. Which is that Paul prayed earnestly for God to take the thorn away, and God said no. God said no, even to an apostle, because “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”
How frustrating! I can imagine Paul suggesting, “Lord, wouldn’t You maybe this one time like to make Your power known by fixing this problem?” But no, God’s got other plans. Moses stuttered; Samson wasn’t too bright; Noah seems to have had a drinking problem; David had a sinful past he regretted but couldn’t prevent from harming his family well into the future. We, too, have our thorns—illness or disability; a past action with consequences we can’t shake; a temptation that comes to trip us, again and again and again.
But to us, too, God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” When God acts through us, it is obvious to everybody that the power isn’t ours. The mercy, the holiness, the endurance, the forgiveness—whatever good thing they are seeing shine through us is clearly not us, but God. And through this the Holy Spirit will draw them to Jesus their Savior.
God understands and uses our weakness—how should He not? It was through His own self-chosen weakness on the cross that all our sins were taken away, and we were made whole. It was through His own death—the greatest weakness there is—that He gave us life. And He will use our weaknesses, too, to bring others to faith in the Jesus who died and rose again, so that we may all celebrate together with Him in His kingdom forever.
Prayer: Dear Lord, help me with my weakness. Use it for Your glory. Amen.
This Daily Devotion was written by Dr. Kari Vo.
Reprinted with permission from the Lutheran Hour Ministry.
1. When you were growing up, were you allowed to be weak? Why or why not?
2. If you’re willing to share, what is one of your thorns in the flesh?
3. How has God used it to His glory and to be a blessing to someone around you?