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)There has always been, and will probably always be, a lot of debate over what is meant by Paul's "thorn in the flesh." I personally think it's most likely that it was just some person that was continually bugging him, but that's not what I'm here to talk about. I'm here to mention something very interesting that I noticed several weeks ago, not about the "thorn in the flesh" but about the "power made perfect in weakness."
There have been any number of times in my life, and I'm sure there have been in yours as well, when I felt helpless. Unable to cope with something. Pleading with God to make it go away. Sometimes it felt like my pleas were falling on deaf ears. That seems to be what Paul is describing: praying, no answer, praying some more, no answer, then finally receiving an answer. But look again. Does it really say that God waited until the third prayer to answer? I think it's probable that God gave him the same answer every time, and it just took Paul three times to accept it! But whether God answered three times or only one, God did answer, and His answer is quite interesting.
God's answer has two parts: 1. My grace is sufficient for you; 2. My power is made perfect in weakness. The grace of God is the favor of God, Him saying to you that He loves and accepts you. All of us who have accepted the gift of Jesus' righteousness by faith are smiled upon by God's grace. God is happy with you when you are in Christ; that's the message of grace. But how does our weakness "make" God's power perfect? Isn't God's power perfect already?
Of course it is. We're not doing anything to God's power by experiencing weakness. What we are doing is exposing that although we ourselves are weak, God's power is so strong that it is able to work through us. When we are weak but we allow God to work through us, we show the perfection of His power.
I think it is interesting to note that Paul prayed three times for his difficulty, whatever it was, to be removed before he mentally accepted God's answer. There is another character in the Bible who did basically the same thing: he prayed three times that he would not have to experience a difficulty, but he received strength from God and went on to triumph over the situation by the Father's power, not by his own human effort. Ironically, although Paul probably did not literally have anything embedded in his flesh, later on in this second story, the character ultimately does. Let the example of these two major Bible characters come to your mind the next time you are experiencing a "thorn in your flesh." Here's the story:
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. (Matthew 26:36-44 ESV)More about these stories: Pleading Three Times
...saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. (Luke 22:42-43 ESV)