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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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.
For when I am weak, then I am strong.
II Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV
He had encephalitis as a young child. Seizures developed not long after. By the age of 2, he was on medication for his seizures and he had a stutter. As he grew older, he knew God was calling him to be a minister. Naturally, he was laughed at when he told people what his career plans were. But as he grew older, that is exactly what happened. He studied hard and became a pastor. In fact, he married and had a family.
I heard him speak at a presbytery meeting to other pastors a few years ago. It was very touching. Despite his difficulties, he has been a pastor all these years. He is now in his 70’s and is still preaching. A few days ago, I met one of his daughters in a totally different setting. She said he is doing well and loves preaching despite the fact that he is semi-retired. He is a wonderful illustration of this truth today. Not all of us illustrate this truth as dramatically.
Reading these verses in context is helpful in understanding them. If Paul wasn’t always healed, how can we expect to always have physical healing for ourselves?
Reading this verse in its context is helpful. Paul had some very exciting and dramatic experiences with God that few of us will ever experience. He had seen some exciting visions. It would have been easy for him to have spiritual pride over that. But he had some problems. Many think they were health issues, that kept Paul very humble. Some think he had eye trouble, maybe even messy eye trouble. Others think he may have had epilepsy. It is good we don’t know. This is what we do know.
He says he often prayed for God to take this thorn away. It happened on at least 3 occasions. God said, “No.” But it wasn’t simply “No.” It was, “I won’t take it away, I will make you weak. But my grace is going to be enough for you in this area of weakness so people will see my power through you.” (my paraphrase)
Perfect health and no death is for heaven, not our time here on earth. Any healing is a gift, not a promise.
I cringe when I hear people say it is always God’s will for people to be healthy and have no illnesses of any kind as we live in this fallen world. I consider them to have never read this passage very carefully. God doesn’t deal the same with everyone. He often used Paul to heal others. Yet Paul was unable to be healed of whatever his ailment was. Of course, He does heal some people today just as He healed some when He was here on earth. But, depending on HIs purposes for each individual, He often causes us to have to live with thorns. They may be physical, emotional or other kinds of problems we have to contend with. But the wonderful thing is that His grace is enough to help us live with the thorns in our lives.
Why? There are probably many reasons. But one is that Paul was naturally a very gifted man. Whatever his thorn was, it slowed him down or limited him in some way that he had to depend on God in his ministry. And because of it, God’s power came through to those Paul served. They knew He had to depend on God to be effective in his ministry to them.
Have you known people in ministry who are kind and considerate too? Look closer at their lives. You will usually find they have experienced loss or pain…a chronic disease, an ill child, a parent who died when they were young. Watch for it.
Have you ever known a person who is highly gifted in ministry who has very few limitations? I have. They are often insensitive to the needs of others around them. But I have found that those who are gifted and used by God often have thorns. It may be a sick child or wife, or someone they love deeply. It may be a health issue of their own that slows them down and makes them more sensitive to the hurts and needs of the people around them.
We never know how God is going to use us, how He is going to use people around us or even use the circumstances in our lives. But He often uses weak people to show His glory to the world. As God allows you to be one of those weak people, find joy in that weakness as you minister to the people around you. He is going to be glorified. He is going to be honored as you become weak. Then people will know that whatever happened was because of Him, not you. That is a good place to be!