Why Do Bad Things Happen?
by Steve Mays
Looking at Thorns
Paul gives us great insight, showing us four aspects of overcoming weakness. He tells us (1) the purpose of thorns, (2) the problem with thorns, (3) the provision of thorns, and (4) the power in thorns.
Before we explore these four aspects, let me focus your attention on the fact that the thorn was given to Paul: “A thorn in the flesh was given to me” (2 Cor. 12:7). He said in response, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (v. 9). Paul said that these thorns come from God—therefore, in the midst of the pain, the loneliness, the agony or the failure, God is trying to speak to our hearts. Verse 10 continues the same theme: “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul helps us realize the power of the thorn for doing God’s will. The thorn is an instrument in the hand of God. Though Satan might have brought it, Jesus Christ is going to purify it. So no matter what happens to us, things are going to work out for our good. With all my heart, I believe that Paul came to understand that the secret of having victory in any situation is seeing Jesus Christ lifted high upon that cross.
Paul was now laying out to us the hand of God and how He works in our lives. Often people will spend a lifetime begging God to get rid of something, hoping that He will take “this thing” and remove it once and for all. Paul begged; we read in verse 8, “Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.” People might say, “God, please take it out of my life.” This “thing” might be a particular person: “God, get this person out of my life.” But then we realize that the “thing” we have been trying to get rid of has now become the very instrument that God is using to bring us to the end of ourselves.
I find that when God desires to do a major work in my life, He will often cause me to lie down at His still waters, calling me to listen quietly to His voice rather than all the screaming voices of my pain and sufferings. The following great quote from Scottish preacher and theologian George Matheson (1842-1906) really encapsulates this point:
To lie down in the time of grief, to be quiet under the stroke of adverse fortune, implies a great strength. But I know of something that implies a strength greater still. It is the power to work under stress, to continue under hardship, to have anguish in your spirit and still perform daily tasks. This is a Christ-like thing. The hardest thing is that most of us are called to exercise patience, not in the sick bed, but in the street.
Paul said, “We were burdened beyond measure… We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God” (2 Cor. 1:8-9). James said that we have need of this trial in our lives (see Jas. 1:2). Peter said that when we are tried, we will come forth as gold (see 1 Pet. 1:6-7). James further declared, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (Jas. 1:2-4).
Excerpt from Overcoming by Steve Mays.