A popular verse is put into perspective.
7 Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
As I was reading this passage today in the context of what Paul has been talking about, a strange thought came to mind, “if we are given ‘thorns’ to keep us humble, why do some people still exalt themselves?” This part of the letter is usually referenced to help us keep in mind that we are imperfect and have problems, yet God’s grace is good enough for our relief. The point Paul is making here is that because of all the many gifts he has (Apostles generally have a slew of gifts since their calling is to build churches) God has put something in his life to remind him that he isn’t that great on his own. Yet, we still have a choice to acknowledge and use God’s grace or try to go it on our own.
I’ve always seen this to demonstrate that we all have at least one thorn in our sides. There is some sort of struggle that we all deal with that we cannot fight on our own without God. Unfortunately, we are taught to do things that either ignore or mask our problems because we have been given the image of societal perfection to attain. Nobody can know that we struggle with pills, booze, porn, infidelity, depression, or anything else. As a society we either hide it or embrace it as a normal part of life, something to be celebrated and considered normal behavior. Neither of these approaches help people through their struggles nor do they honor God. Even Jesus had struggles and temptations while on earth and He is God. Whenever we see these instances in the scriptures, they become opportunities to honor God and this is exactly why we experience them too.
What exactly is grace, anyway? The original Greek word charis used here (ever hear of “charismatic”?) can be translated to mean, “that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: grace of speech good will, loving-kindness, favor.” How does this fit in dealing with our struggles and humility? Too often we shortcut the meaning or implication of God’s grace. We think it only means forgiveness and outside of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, it really has nothing to do with us or our relationship with God. What we miss is that it has everything to do with our relationship with God. It is the word that was invented to explain how awesome it is to have a God that cares for and loves us.
In my recovery from my addiction to anger and control, I had a realization that has since driven me to better understand and realize the true meaning of God’s grace in my life. I realized that those moments when we struggle with things it is an opportunity to focus and on God. It is an opportunity we have been given to rely on Him more instead of our own willpower. Sufficient grace isn’t about us living a life without struggle and pain; sufficient grace is about living a life reliant upon God because He is in control and He has our best interest at heart. Whenever your flesh starts to chase that next high: shopping, sex, substances, helping others, etc. realize that God is the ultimate high that feels better with every hit. The other things we give in to just keep us more in slavery.