THANKSGIVING 2018 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
GIVE THANKS EVEN FOR YOUR ACHES AND PAINS
What are you thankful for? Below is an online top five list from one individual.
1. A roof over my head and warm home
2. Plenty of drinkable water
3. I don’t have to go hungry
4. My health
5. Internet access
It is natural for us to be grateful for the things and events in life that give pleasure, comfort, and joy. But not every experience in life is pleasant. How are we to respond to God when our home is burnt to ashes, chemo and radiation therapy leaves us without hair? What about the empty chair at the Thanksgiving table. These things hurt and cause misery. How can we give thanks when the most significant event in our lives this past year was painful? Aren’t we being dishonest when we sing “Now Thank We All of God” from a bitter heart? Wouldn’t complaining be the more genuine expression?
The apostle Paul had a complaint, “I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.” (2 Corinthians 12:7,8). Paul wanted the thorn in his flesh and the discomfort it caused removed. He longed for relief. He cried out repeatedly for respite. God’s answer…“NO.”
Which of your prayers for relief this past year were met with “NO?” “Lord, help me get ahead financially.” “Lord, my sister still holds a grudge against me. Move her to forgive me.” “Jesus, my arthritis is wearing me out. Please give me a break.” “My critics at work just won’t let up. Holy Spirit open a door to a better job for me.”
While God doesn’t share every specific reason for denying our requests for relief from misery and struggle, he does provide his overarching reason in the explanation he revealed to Paul. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Through the persistent pain he allowed Satan to inflict on Paul, God was highlighting his grace and his power to Paul. His purpose was to keep Paul becoming conceited and proud. St. Paul was given glimpses of paradise by God. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write two thirds of the New Testament Bible. Under such circumstances Paul’s sinful nature could easily lead him down a path of arrogance and entitlement to where he thought, “I am a cut above the rest of my peon brothers and sisters in faith. They need God’s grace more than I do.”
So, what did Paul’s thorn in the flesh teach him? “He was chief of sinners, who needed God’s grace as much as the next man. The paradise he saw and his place in it was Jesus’ gift to him. Paul’s thorn reminded him who was sinful and who was holy.
Our painful experiences teach us the same. Good Friday evening two years ago I was stricken with debilitating abdominal pain. It was so intense I couldn’t keep anything down to alleviate the pain and couldn’t even stand up straight. After the emergency room doctor told me it was a kidney stone, I asked how large it was. “The size of a grain of sand,” he said. Now that’s humbling. A grain of sand wiped me out for three days. It’s one thing to have head knowledge of our frailty and another to experience it. The Lord taught me not to put any confidence in my own toughness or strength.
Paul wanted to enter the paradise Jesus won and prepared for him. That would only happen if Paul’s trust and pride remained planted in Jesus not himself. “Therefore,” Paul said, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” God afflicted Paul with a thorn because God wanted to Paul to be with him heaven. By keeping Paul’s pride in check, the Lord was keeping Paul in the true faith. This is why Paul thanked God for the things that hurt. His physical weakness only left room for trusting God.
The Lord wants you in heaven just as much as he did Paul. He didn’t treat us as our sins deserve, he treated his Son Jesus as our sins deserve. In Jesus as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12). This gift and our heavenly home remains our only so long as we continue trusting in Jesus. Pride in ourselves directs trust away from Jesus to ourselves. If that happens our peace with and heaven are lost. So we Paul we boast all the more gladly about our weaknesses, so Christ’s power may rest on us. Praise God for the things in life that hurt because they redirect your trust to Jesus.
If your home was reduced ashes like those in California, what would the Lord be teaching you? If would be an object lesson of his words in Matthew 6:19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.”
In Christ, the empty chair at the dinner table today is more than a reminder of our mortality and sin. It’s reminder of the better banquet our believing departed loved one is enjoying at Jesus’ table—the same table we will we sit at when our time comes. Praise God for such powerful reminders.
The hostility we endure from our critics hurts, but it accentuates the sufficiency of God’s grace. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Popularity is a false god and that gives false hope. The only acceptance that matters is God’s. Praise him for teaching us that through the rejection of others.
A warm home, clean water, a full stomach, good health, and modern technology are undeserved gifts from God. Praise him for these and every other pleasant, exciting and joyful thing in your life. They are gifts of grace. But don’t stop with giving thanks with the pleasant things. Thank him also for the aches, pains and challenges that humble us and teach us the sufficiency of his grace. In the end it’s everything and the only thing we need. God’s grace in all its fulness is ours in Christ. To God be praise and glory forever and ever. Amen.