2 Corinthians 12:7-10
“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
After reminding us that pain is part of life and that pain has a purpose Paul now points to the:
- Power of pain
It is here in his pain, that Paul receives a special message from the Lord. Jesus tells Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Both the message, and the messenger, provided Paul with both perspective and power in the midst of his pain. I think one thing that is important to note here is that Paul didn’t hear from the Lord very often. According to most scholars’ time-lines, Jesus was crucified about A.D. 30. Paul was saved about five years later, while on route to imprison Christians in Damascus. It was a miraculous salvation experience as Paul experienced both the blinding light as well as the booming voice of Jesus. Only a few weeks later Paul had another supernatural experience when he “saw the Lord speaking” while in a trance, Acts 22:17-18, “After I returned to Jerusalem, I was praying in the Temple and fell into a trance. 18 I saw a vision of Jesus saying to me, ‘Hurry! Leave Jerusalem, for the people here won’t accept your testimony about me.’” It was here that Jesus clearly told Paul to go and preach the gospel to the Gentiles, an instruction that represented a major shift in missions as well as in Paul’s personal life. Before this instruction from Jesus, Paul wouldn’t have shared left-over bread with a Gentile, much less God’s message of hope and love. After clearly hearing from Christ twice within a few weeks, now sixteen years passes before Paul hears from Jesus again. Two miraculously personal encounters with Jesus occurred in maybe sixteen weeks, and not another one for sixteen years. Then after the third miraculous message, it would be another six years until the next one, and according to the record of Acts that was the last one. Paul also had a vision, of a man from Macedonia in Acts 16:9, and an angel of the Lord in Acts 27:23–24. He may have had other such encounters, but Luke only tells us of these. What is important to note is that for most of Paul’s pain, Jesus didn’t show up and speak to him. Peter, the leader of the post-Pentecost church, had only two such experiences, according to Luke. And Stephen only miraculous appearance from the Lord came at the last moment, as he was being stoned to death. None of the New Testament heroes had a personal appearance from the Lord at every painful beating, scourging, or arrest. For most of their suffered God was silent, and they must have wondered why He was allowing His servants to suffer. We too may wonder why the Savior seems silent through much of our suffering. But when Paul kept asking for his “thorn” to be removed, rather than removing the pain Jesus promised His power. Paul got a life altering lesson in pain’s power from the Lord himself. But rarely do we consider the power of pain, most of us are so quick to get rid of the pain that few of us ever learn the life-altering lessons or experience God’s supernatural power in the midst of our suffering. What Paul discovered was Christ’s power in the midst of the pain, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The problem with most Christians today is that they see suffering as a lack of God’s love. They believe that a good God should provide a pain free and problem free life. As a result many Christians have bought into the lie that a pain free life is proof that they are loved and living right. But what about Paul he was pursuing God’s Will and yet he was experiencing a pain filled life not a pain free one? Our tendency to see pain and suffering as evidence of sin or a lack of God’s love is one of Satan’s favorite lies. It’s the tool Satan often uses to get us to question God and ultimately give up on God and leave His love. What Paul discovered was that God’s grace becomes greatest in the groaning times. Our problem is that we want a pain free life more than a power filled life. Paul experienced the power of pain, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” Have you noticed how people pay attention and listen to those in pain with a special intensity? People watch those who are hurting to see what matters most and if the pain is great enough, you’ll find out where the strength of a person really lies. Challenges don’t build our character they reveal it. Our pain can be a prime-time witness, when all eyes are on the person who is hurting. In the world of sports, it’s the quarterback who has just been sacked for the tenth time, limping back to the huddle to take his team from behind to win the Super Bowl. In the movies, it’s Rocky, getting up off the mat, down but not out. It’s the runner limping to the line after tearing his hamstring, refusing to let the pain stop him from participating and finishing the race. In the New Testament, it’s Paul crawling out from underneath a pile of rocks in Lystra, dusting himself off before heading to Derbe. You see when we witness that kind of passion in the midst great pain, we applaud it, follow it, and find inspiration for our own lives. There is some pain that is so great it seems impossible to bear and when we find ourselves in that place only God can heal the heart. You see it’s in the place of greatest pain, and there alone, that the discovery of God’s sufficient power is realized. The lesson is so difficult that the only way any of us would discover it is if God allows pain to be a part of our lives. Our tendency is to look at pain through the lens of self instead of the Savior, and when we do we miss the miracle God can bring out of our misery. Throughout history, the pearl, with its warm inner glow and shimmering iridescence, has been one of the most highly prized and sought-after jewels. But how do pearls come into being? Pearls get their start when a grain of sand slips inside the shell of an oyster and starts to cause discomfort. With no way to expel the grain of sand and no way to ease the pain, the oyster coats the sand with layer after layer of the inner lining of its shell making the sand smooth. What we price as a pearl is the product of pain and suffering. Maybe it’s no accident that the 12 gates of the New Jerusalem revealed in Revelation 21:21 are made of pearls. It’s because our Savior suffering that we have a home in heaven. The truth is pain happens, but pain has a purpose and for those enrolled in the school of suffering they have the privilege of discovering God’s power in the midst of their pain. We are not called to rejoice in the pain but we can rejoice in the power of God that is revealed in the midst of the pain. If you are currently going through a season of suffering are you focusing on the pain or on God’s power?