The Rose and The Thorn
There are so many different varieties. I have a huge old-fashioned, rose hip bearing rose that produces flowering stems over 10 feet long. I have a second old-fashioned bush rose that only sometimes has fruit, but the blossoms smell so strongly it makes the best jam and tea. Then I have some of the smaller tea roses, which smell nice and are amazing for the ridiculous number of colors you can grow.
One thing is true of all of them....the stems are all filled with thorns. Big thorns that you can break off, little hair like thorns that just prick and you can't get them off, so beware. In order for me to grow plants that produce flowers and fruit, I have to prune, manipulate, water, treat for black-spot and rust, nurture and fertilize. Every spring I end up with pricks, pricks and more pricks. Maybe this is where the phrase, 'no pain, no gain' actually originated? I endure the pricks so I can enjoy the result. Even leather gloves are no match for some of those thorns!
In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Paul talks about his 'thorn'. So let me do some serious paraphrasing here: Paul had visions; Paul was prone to conceit and pride; God sent a 'messenger' to torment him; Paul was unhappy about this; Paul begged God 3 times to remove it; God said 'NO' (actually, God said, suck it up buddy because I'm right here); Paul resigned himself to the thorn and chose to see it as a blessing in his life. I've heard sermons and more sermons on this passage. Generally they all follow the same pattern: Paul was dealing with a hard time physically; God allowed it to demonstrate His power; Paul trusted God; God is in charge; we should trust God in hard times and remember He is with us.
Many years ago I began doing battle with an unknown physical ailment. Doctors, tests, more doctor visits, more tests, more things to rule out, more things they found wrong. It's now been almost 10 years of doing this. Can you say FRUSTRATING!! Early on, like year 2-3, I decided that this thorn story was going to be motivator. Maybe God was allowing this mystery ailment to remain as my 'thorn'. I made a decision to trust that God knew what was up, and He allowed it to remind me, Miss Type-A, that I needed to rest, I needed to trust, etc... Remember all those sermons I had heard? My decision was met with some very different reactions. Some thought I needed to be more forceful with the doctors, demanding answers; some thought that I needed a miraculous healing; some thought I didn't have enough faith, so there was no healing; some thought I was hiding sin in my life and needed to confess; some thought it was ridiculous to claim a 'thorn', after all everyone has hardships; some thought I was using it as an excuse. UGH!
This morning as I was looking for a good place for devotions, I came back across this passage and figured I ought to read it again. It's been a few years since I have it memorized pretty well. However, since I'm claiming this to be The Year of Renewal, I figured I'd read it with a renewed mind. It doesn't say what I thought it did. So I re-read the commentary too. It doesn't say what I thought it did, either.
Paul had just finished 'boasting' (his words, not mine) about his visions and revelations. He then goes on to say that he won't do it any more, but even if he did it would be okay because he'd only be telling the truth. But he'll stop because otherwise other people might think he was special too. He says that God knew Paul would require something that would humble him and keep him from his own pride. He was not real happy with God about this, and since no one knows what the thorn actually is, whether sickness or physical ailment, it's hard to know what Paul means when he says 'it tormented' him. He shares God's words to him, and then says that the humility and opportunity to be reminded of God's power is a blessing.
Here's what I got this morning: Paul knew his own shortcomings; God knew Paul; Paul had work to do; God forced Paul to rest; Paul wasn't lacking faith or hiding sin or doing too much or hiding his own shortcoming; God never accused Paul of anything; Paul sought healing multiply times; God said 'NO'; Paul was persistent, but also willing; Paul KNEW it had come through the hand of God intentionally; God confirmed it. Paul saw that although there would be pricks and pain, ultimately beauty and fruit would come forth. You can't have the beauty of the rose without the thorns.
I don't think this passage is just or only a reminder of the sufficiency of God's grace, or how we should rejoice in trials and how they make us stronger and more dependent on God. I read that Paul had a bigger struggle - pride. He couldn't overcome it, so God was helping him. Notice he went on to boast about his weakness which made God look stronger. Sometimes we see an area of our lives that we struggle with. We ask God to help us, to change us, to work in us. So, is it possible that God allows 'thorns' in our lives because we NEEDED them? Could it be they are there for our benefit? Could we have actually prayed them into being?
I certainly didn't ask for trials, but I have always asked God to help me be more Christ-like. I've also asked for miracles, direction, help, support, faith, growth, patience, patience, patience. Beyond that, I've come to see today, that God actually was using this thing in my life for a great and intentional purpose. Not just for my benefit, but for the benefit of others. He ordained it for good, but there was another force at work that used it for evil. And being myself, I 'sucked it up', ignored what I could, and soldiered on....that's what everyone was encouraging anyway.
So what is my renewed sense of this passage? Well, I plan on processing through the rest of it today. It may take all week. But I do know that I don't need to pray for miraculous healing, there's nothing to confess, my faith is where it is and that's enough for today. I don't need to suck it up, soldier on, ignore it. While I take my physical health pretty seriously right now, I also know that God is taking my spiritual health pretty seriously right now. A renewed vision and sense of who He is is only the beginning.
I love roses. I hate the thorns. I want to be a rose....God can deal with the thorns.