2 Corinthians 9:7b-9 (New Living Translation)
To keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”
We don’t know what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was. People have debated it for years. Some say it might have been a physical weakness, such as malaria, depression, or epilepsy. Or was it an emotional thorn, maybe guilt over his past in persecuting the church? Others imagine the thorn to be those who ended up persecuting Paul, keeping him from sharing his message of hope and love. There are about as many theories as there are authors writing about it.
But, perhaps, we don’t need to know. It well may be that the power in this verse comes from the not-knowing. For we all have our own thorns that bother us. We all have places in our lives that we beg God to heal. We all have areas where we would like to be stronger. We do know that his “thorn” was a weakness that bothered Paul, maybe even angered him, and that he desperately wanted God to take it away. But God answered clearly, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”
Each of us has natural limits, places where we are not as strong as others around us. And that is part of God’s design. What if you literally had it all — every talent, every resource? What if you possessed the perfect balance of gifts: administration, creativity, teaching, preaching, mercy, evangelizing, music, leadership, languages, giving, serving, wisdom, knowledge, healing, everything wrapped up in one neat package? (Sounds pretty awesome, right?)
Well, with no weaknesses whatsoever, why would you need the rest of us? And, even more important: why would you need God? From the scriptures, we can easily see that Paul was a talented preacher, gifted teacher, excellent motivator and administrator. He said that he was given this “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from becoming proud.
Just as our skin defines the outer limits of our bodies, so our weaknesses define the outer limits of our strengths. Our strengths enable us to be a part of God’s great work in the world. And our weaknesses remind us of our dependence upon God, and our interdependence with the people around us.
What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? How do you imagine God could use both?