I remember first hearing about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” when I was young. There was debate on whether it was a physical handicap that happened to him or a person who heckled him everywhere he went or something else. I don’t God told us what it was because we don’t need to know. I know it’s fun to speculate, but whatever it was it humbled him and limited his effectiveness in his mind. We know that he was surprised that after asking God three times to remove whatever it was that God didn’t remove it. God allowed whatever it was to bother him or limit him to continue so that Paul would be humble and learn to rely on God’s strength and wisdom instead of his own.
Think of something in your life that is happening or has happened that bothers you or feels like it’s limiting you. It probably consumes a lot of your thinking of how to get rid of it or to escape it. Has it caused an increase in your prayer life? Has it caused you to depend on and seek God more? If it has, then what looks like a curse, may actually be a blessing in disguise. I know it’s hard to look at something annoying or painful in our life and to see that as a blessing, but anything that draws us into a closer relationship and dependence on God is a blessing though it may not seem like it at the time. We like having an easy life and smooth sailing, but those things don’t produce mature believers. They produce overconfidence in our own abilities. One of my favorite quotes is that smooth seas never produced a skilled sailor.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says, “then he told me, My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become” (MSG). Learning to take our limitations in stride is hard, but necessary in our maturity. Difficult things happen to everyone. How we respond matters. We can get angry and depressed or we can let them push us into greater dependence on God and His grace.
One of the Bible Verses I memorized as a kid in song form has helped me through some pretty tough times. If you grew up in church, you probably know this little song too from Nehemiah 8:10. In some of my most painful, sleepless nights, I’ve laid in bed singing, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” When I’m too mentally tired to fight any more or begin to feel defeated or overwhelmed, I sing this little song to remind myself that I can’t win the battles I’m facing in my own strength. I need God’s help and His strength in the toughest of times. I can have tears streaming down my face and begin to look for God’s joy that’s not circumstantial. He gives strength in our weakness and helps us to rise up like eagles, to keep running and not grow weary and to walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).
Another promise to us who find our strength in the Lord comes from Psalm 84:5-6. It says, “How enriched are they who find their strength in the Lord; within their hearts are the highways of holiness! Even when their paths wind through the dark valley of tears, they dig deep to find a pleasant pool where others find only pain. He gives to them a brook of blessing filled from the rain of an outpouring” (TPT). Each of go through the valley of tears in our lives. Some of us spend longer times in that valley, but we’re encouraged to keep looking to the Lord for strength during these times to stay renewed and to keep us moving forward, especially when we feel we have nothing left in the tank. God wants us to dig deeper inside to find those pools of refreshing through our pain and sorrow.
The brook of blessing refreshes us in the valley. It gives us hope that God still sees us and hasn’t forgotten us in those dark times. He reminds us that we are His and He’s giving us the chance to experience the depths of grace most people will never know because they only see the pain. But we have a peace that passes understanding knowing that our trials produce endurance, character, and a hope that will not leave us disappointed (Romans 5:3-5). We also know that His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), but we have to look past the pain to see that He is doing something in us that can’t be done any other way. He’s showing us we are capable of enduring anything when we find our strength, hope and joy in Him.
Throwback Thursday is a new feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other writing ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
One of the things I like to tell people is that the deeper the sorrow or harder the trial, the greater amount of God’s grace you will experience. God gives us grace sufficient for our trials. When Paul was faced with a trial that God wouldn’t remove after much prayer, God spoke to him in II Corinthians 12:9. He said, “My grace (My favor and loving-kindness and mercy) is enough for you [sufficient against any danger and enables you to bear the trouble manfully]” (AMP).
God gives grace, favor, strength, and mercy according to our need. He knows what we are facing and what we need in order to bear the weight of our situation. You’ve heard of Newton’s Third Law, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” To me, it is the Law of God’s Grace. For every force or trial that comes against you, there is an equal amount of Grace to support you. God gives you enough grace to enable you to stand in times of sorrow and tests.
Paul wrote about this Law of God’s Grace in Ephesians 4:7. He said, “Yet grace (God’s unmerited favor) was given to each of us individually [not indiscriminately, but in different ways] in proportion to the measure of Christ’s [rich and bounteous] gift.” Each of us receive a different portion and type of God’s grace according to our need. It is proportionate to our circumstance and is given as a free gift to us. That grace that God gives is tailor made for us because He knows what we are facing and cares for us.
The greater the trial, the greater the grace. I’ve hit rock bottom in my life, but I’ve never found the bottom of God’s grace. It is deeper than anything you or I will ever face. It will always be sufficient to your need. When you go through deep struggles, you get a glimpse of the depths of God’s grace that few people ever do. The longer you endure hardship, the longer you can remain in the crucible, the deeper your knowledge of God will be and the firmer your trust in Him will be. The Law of God’s Grace proves He will not fail you when you need Him most.