Have you ever been faced by a mountain? Nope, you think, I’ll never be able to climb that. Sports was one mountain for me. I gave up after soccer and avoided all highly competitive team events. I felt I would let everyone down, I was too weak. Then I moved to a church of people who have a lot of fun with sports. And so I tried knee boarding. And that was fun! So I signed up for basketball and got some lessons from my pastor. I practiced during my lunch breaks and found I could learn to aim. It shocked me!
Sports are a pleasant way to find that God provides strength to us when we lean on Him, sometimes through other people. But Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 had a much bigger problem.
The Corinthians thought that Paul did not have authority to challenge their behavior. Or, not more than anyone else. Paul began establishing his credentials in chapter 11, and continued his “foolish” boasting with stories about “another guy.” Paul could not even come out and say that God had given him visions of heaven that he was not even able to describe. It was more than most humans are allowed to see before death. And it could have inflated his ego like a hot air balloon. So he says,
“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. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.”
Now, Paul is an apostle, right? He has learned his lesson, and his prayers have to be effective. After all, he’s trusting God for strength to take away this pain, right?
“9 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. 10 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.”
No, the pain did not go away. And he had to live with it every day. And that was God’s good plan. Paul had to lean on Him in the middle of ongoing physical pain. And he came to see it as a strength.
Paul went on to challenge the Corinthians – would they learn, or be stubborn? What would he find when he got to them – the same old sins left to rot in the closet? It may have felt like another thorn of sorts to see people stubborn in sin…but Paul trusted God in that as well. His weakness was where God’s strength could show best. And God had it under control.
Oh God, I do not see Your strength at work very easily. I tend to look to mine, and it is not enough! Right now I am in the middle of some life-altering decisions with details swarming around my head. And You are with me…right in the middle of the stress. Thank You for my lessons with Paul, and learning through sports that You can help me climb mountains. It is humbling that You provide so graciously, and always give me enough for the journey. Please help me direct the glory to You as I lean into that strength. I love You! Amen.