flower on thistle

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul told the Christians that he had asked the Lord to take away a “thorn in the flesh,” a “messenger of Satan” sent to “harass” him in order to keep him from becoming conceited because of the “surpassing greatness of the revelations” that had been given to him (2 Corinthians 12:1-8).

The Lord denied Paul’s request to remove this satanic messenger and said this interesting thing:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:9).1

What does God’s grace have to do with denying the removal of a satanic messenger? Doesn’t grace mean God’s unmerited favor? Really? It is God’s unmerited favor to allow this thorn from the devil to remain?

Was God thinking clearly?

Of course He was. We are the ones who do not think clearly.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8–9).

That’s quite a difference, the distance between the heavens and the earth.

So, a couple of questions. Why was it the Lord’s grace, his unmerited favor, that the thorn in Paul’s flesh, the messenger of Satan, not leave the great apostle? Wouldn’t it have been an act of God’s amazing grace, instead, to take the thorn away?

The Lord supplied the answer to this question in the last part of His word to Paul: “My power is made perfect in weakness.”

Thus, here is the difficult lesson all Christians must learn, just as Paul did. God’s grace is not bestowed simply to make you happy, strong, and content. His unmerited favor is not intended to make your ministry successful, as we tend to measure “success.” It is actually to weaken you. It is God’s grace toward you to weaken you because, as He said, “My power is made perfect in weakness.”

God must make us weak to show His power through us, but not so we can become powerful.

Paul, bless his heart, responded in a way that humbles me, and I hope that I will respond in similar fashion should a messenger of Satan be sent to harass me: “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” (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).

God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.

Is this the kill shot to the way we view Christian strength?

Probably not.

But it is the truth, nonetheless.

One more thing. Many Christians, particularly those in the Pentecostal/Charismatic camp, would be ecstatic if they should be taken up into the third heaven as Paul was. They could write a book about it. It would enlarge their ministry. They would be asked to come and speak at meetings.

Well, ok.

However, my fellow brothers and sisters should be aware of the accompanying cost. They should be aware of the action the Lord would take to humble them.

Be careful what you ask for. You may think such an experience would be a kickstart to greatness, but the Lord God Almighty has very different ideas. His power is made perfect in your weakness.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.