This is one of my favorite passages, one which the Holy Spirit directs me back to continually. But I still felt like I was missing something, something important, something I knew in my head but needed to be moved to my heart. I then read the remaining of Chapter 12 and a portion of Chapter 13. My eyes were opened to the first key phrase the Lord wanted to instruct me on!
But let’s regress just a moment. The Apostle Paul was a man who suffered many trials and tribulations. He, like the Lord Jesus Christ, was a man of many sorrows, but yet he, also like the Lord Jesus Christ, was a man full of joy and the Holy Spirit! Seems like a contradiction to many of us today but the two really do go hand in hand. Without the joy of the Lord and the filling of the Holy Spirit, he would have been crushed to death in spirit.
The Apostle Paul had a thorn in the flesh but we truly need to understand this affliction. “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 emphasis mine) Paul understood his weaknesses, his prideful sin nature. He had obviously prayed about this problem multiple times and the Lord had given him wisdom to understand that his current problem was actually sent from the Lord because of his own sin nature! Can we be that open and transparent with the Lord that we could receive this kind of revelation?
Just like the Lord Jesus Christ, this was not an easy “cup” to drink! Now, as I read the next passage, which was also very familiar to me, I knew I was missing something important. “Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.” (2 Corinthians 12:8) Why three? I assumed Paul prayed more times than three to have this thorn removed. And then I got it! Who else prayed three times to have the “cup” removed? Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane! “And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.” (Matthew 26:44) What prayer did Jesus pray three times? "...My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." (Matthew 26:39 emphasis mine) He completely and utterly submitted the situation into His Father’s hands. By doing so He had a peace, a steadfastness of purpose, that made it possible to walk the path that the Lord had chosen for Him.
This wasn’t a quick prayer. There may not be many words but it was not a quick prayer. This prayer was so deep, so incredibly excruciating that blood actually was seeping through Jesus’ pores! I am not, in any way, saying that the Apostle Paul experienced this same bleeding. But the Apostle Paul had been taken up to the third heaven and shown things that were so overwhelming that he was forbidden to talk about them. He, like the Lord Jesus Christ, had a very personal relationship with God. When we have that personal and intimate relationship we are not only blessed with great revelation and wisdom but we are also responsible for walking uprightly and having the Lord glorified through everything we say and do. He carried a burden, not one that he regretted or didn’t want, but that burden gave him such a passion and longing to share the gospel with everyone that it placed him in a position where he was a prime target for Satan’s attacks.
There is much speculation as to what the “thorn in the flesh” was that Paul experienced. I really don’t think it is for us to know. The actual thorn is not the issue, the issue is what we do with it! Paul took it to the Lord. The results of this thorn were causing him much pain and sorrow. Whether it was spiritual pain or physical pain I believe that they go hand in hand. Paul didn’t pray lightly when he asked the Lord to remove the thorn, he prayed with deep groanings. “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;” (Romans 8:26)
When the Lord told Paul that His grace was sufficient, He also reminded Paul that in his weakness, God’s strength would abound. The Apostle Paul understood what it meant to become “weak”. Today we get hung up on words and become offended or misunderstand what the Lord was saying. Would you say Jesus was weak? Absolutely not! But yet the Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus was weak. So I think we need to stop and totally understand what weakness means when God tells us we need to be weak. Weak does NOT mean feeble or cowardly. Weak does mean fully surrendered, sorrowful, afflicted, distress of mind. Surrendered, totally submissive, putting aside our desires of the flesh (including our thoughts) and instead totally obedient to God’s plans. We can’t do that unless we are in the Word, submerged in the Word and have allowed the Word to transform our minds.
These following two Scriptures give us much understanding about these two principles. "Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." (Psalms 46:10) Cease means to STOP! Striving means to use your plans to accomplish your will! Stop trying to do it your way and KNOW with every fiber of your being that God is God and He knows what is best! Our purpose on this earth is to be a vessel for God’s glory to be seen, to be a light that draws the lost to Him. We are not the focal point, or main attraction, God is!
"’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD.” (Isaiah 55:8) I really don’t believe the Lord could have been any clearer in His message. We most certainly do not want to be disobedient, as were the children of Israel when the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel were trying to give them the Lord’s message and their response was that they believed they knew better. Listen to the Lord’s response, "Yet you say, `The way of the Lord is not right.' Hear now, O house of Israel! Is My way not right? Is it not your ways that are not right?” (Ezekiel 18:25 emphasis mine) If we are to be imitators of Christ (Ephesians 5:1) we too must become weak like Jesus.
All of this was leading up to the culmination of my prayer this day. We know that the church of Corinth had a number of problems and in this letter the Apostle Paul was addressing some of them. When I came to 2 Corinthians 13:4, I understood just what we’ve been talking about here and seeing things from God’s perspective. ”For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we will live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you.” (2 Corinthians 13:4 emphasis mine)
Are you beginning to see it? Sometimes we know something but at certain times in our lives we must LEARN it all over again. I said it earlier in this devotional, we are the vessel, it’s not about us. But what we often forget is that it is often very difficult to be that vessel. It can be uncomfortable, it can be painful, it is tiring and seems as if the circumstance will never end. But if we are honest and know the Scriptures, we know that the life of a disciple was never easy. Jesus told His disciples that! "You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22) "Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.” (Matthew 24:9)
Years ago the Lord gave me my life’s verse and over and over again the realization and truthfulness of that verse performs a deeper work in my heart. "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20 emphasis mine)
When my husband got sick it was a shock. But the Lord had also sent a message to me prior to let me know that something was going to change in my life. He was going to allow a major upheaval. Oh, His grace is so abundant! While it was the last thing I wanted to hear, I felt a bit like Job must have felt. I don’t know everything about God but I trust Him. I don’t understand now what the future holds, God alone knows His plans for me and the number of my days.
I hear the pain and the anguish of others in my shoes and they are mad and have no hope because they do not know the Lord. It breaks my heart! So in the midst of my weakness His strength is abundant and I pray for these lost souls and trust the Lord that a kind word will open up their hearts to meet the Living Sovereign Lord! I share of His goodness and provision and leave it in God’s hands.
So once again, in a very different season of my life, I am being reminded that “...it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God…”. No matter how difficult it may be for me, His grace is sufficient. I am to be poured out so that others may experience the river of life. That they may come to the fountain to drink of His love, His grace, His mercy, His compassion.
As I close I need to share one more verse that may now be understood in a totally new light as we read it, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you--unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5) You know what? Sometimes I fail the test. Sometimes you fail the test. We miss the mark at times but the key is that it is not consistently missing the mark. The questions we must answer are: 1) Are we truly surrendered? 2) Are we truly followers of Christ? 3) Are we vessels for His love to flow out of? 4) Are we willing to be poured out to death? “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (Psalms 139:23-24)
Each day is a gift from the Lord and I am so grateful for His unending love! I know that many of you are also suffering and pray that you find comfort in His presence. The Holy Spirit always reminds me that out of adversity can come beauty and new life. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Are you called according to His purpose? "For many are called, but few are chosen." (Matthew 22:14) All of us are called but few are actually submitted to His Word and His Will. Scripture warns us that many will be led astray by false teachers, by false declarations, by false prophets. Today we are being deceived by Buddhist prayer chants and yoga, by New Age practices that are being adopted into the Christian Church. My friend, go back to the beginning. God’s desire through this message is to have you see if you truly are a reflection of Him. Don’t follow man, follow the One and only true God, the Sovereign Lord, Creator of the Universe who teachings are written out for our instruction. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 emphasis mine)
“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,” (1 Timothy 4:1) “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15 emphasis mine) The Holy Spirit is challenging each of us to test ourselves and see if we truly are of the faith. My dear friends, time is short. We aren’t promised tomorrow. “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’" (Isaiah 6:8) What response do you give to the Lord’s call?
Our Heavenly Father, hallowed is Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, here on earth as it is in heaven! Oh Lord, we live in such a fallen world, there is no hope except through Your Son Jesus Christ who died for us and rose again to give us new life! Father forgive us as we view our circumstances through a narrow perspective of our time on this earth. The reality is that when we were given new life through Jesus Christ we were regenerated to an eternal life that began in that instant and will lead us to the Kingdom of God for all eternity, if we indeed pass the test! Thank You Father that You never take Your eyes off us. Thank You for conviction through the Holy Spirit that warns us when we leave the narrow way. I pray for those who have been deceived that their eyes may be opened to Your truth and that they may repent and turn from idols to the Living God! Thank You that those who are truly Yours are firmly planted in Truth; Jesus Christ is the truth! “He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the LORD.” (Psalms 40:2-3) Amen!