The Thorn in the Flesh

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Paul wrote of having been “caught up” to the third heaven, and for an indescribable moment was exalted to a rarified realm beyond time and space. There he heard “things that man is not permitted to tell” (2 Corinthians 12:4). He did not wish to boast about his experience. All he could boast about was his own weakness, his own insufficiency and utter dependence upon the Lord.

It is against this astonishing background that Paul speaks of his thorn in the flesh. God permitted the affliction “to keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Whatever it was, the affliction was so severe and disturbing, that on three different occasions the apostle “pleaded with the Lord to take it away” (2 Corinthians 12:8).

As a lad I often wrestled with the meaning of the Lord’s promise that,

“Whatever you ask in my name… I will do it” (John 14:13-14). Does God really answer all our prayers? It appeared that some were overlooked! It was some time before I realized that praying “in the name” of the Lord means praying in tune with His will and purpose. When Paul pleaded with the Lord to remove his affliction, the answer was a positive refusal. “My grace is sufficient for you,” the Lord replied, “for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

On one occasion during my service as a World War II military chaplain I came perilously close to becoming a victim of self-pity. My battalion was camped on the edge of a forest. With 22 days of cold rain and submarines busy in the North Atlantic, mail was not getting through. A padre is supposed to help maintain morale, but how can you do that if your own morale is oozing through the bottom of your boots?

At long last mail arrived and there were over 20 letters from my wife Janet. I arranged the letters in order of dates on my rickety homemade desk, told the batman to keep my tent clear of visitors barring emergencies, then settled down to read the mail.

In one letter Janet told me about our six-year old son who got into such a tantrum that she had to order him down to the basement to cool off, where he whooped it up as loudly as he could. Close to bedtime he went to his own room. A few moments later she heard him talking. Tiptoeing to the door which was ajar, she peeped in. Clad in his pajamas, Donald was kneeling by the bed, having a conversation with God. She heard him say, “Dear God, help me not to cry when there’s nothing to cry about, and make me a man!” How well I remember dropping to my knees in that dank, mildewed tent, and offering the very same prayer, word for word.

Clarence D. Wiseman, The Desert Road to Glory

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