The Holiness of the Here and Now – Part 74
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
–2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (ESV)
Your passive role in sanctification is even easier than your active role. It is only to accept what you cannot normally avoid anyway. It is only to bear with love—that is, with comfort and sweetness—what you would otherwise have to bear with boredom and spite.
–Jean Pierre de Caussade
Paul pleaded with the Lord three times about his “thorn in the flesh.” By doing so, did he violate his own injunction against complaining? After all, he was clear, in Philippians 2:14, that we should “do all things without grumbling or disputing.”
But let us take a closer look. Paul recognized that his problem was not one that he could solve; and it was something over which he had no authority. (For this reason, I think is it best to understand Paul’s “messenger of Satan” as a human being, someone devoted to stirring up persecution against Paul. The “it,” therefore, is really a “him.”) Having no other responsibility in the matter, could we not say that Paul’s one remaining duty was to ask God to solve the problem? This looks more like obedience than complaining. The key difference is that Paul was able to take “no” for an answer.
What is unusual about Paul’s testimony is not that he “pleaded with the Lord” about this problem, but that he did so only three times. This was all that was necessary. Paul was able to hear from God, even when the answer was not what he wanted. He knew where the line was between pleading and complaining. By not crossing it, he showed it to us.
The Holiness of the Here and Now is a daily devotional that I am currently working on. When I am finished, there will be 365 chapters like the one above. Meanwhile, I am sharing this work-in-progress. Like the Facebook page to see content like this in your feed.