from Nancy Guthrie’s Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow, Tyndale, 2009. www.nancyguthrie.com. Nancy and her husband, David, lost 2 children of a genetic disease. She’s written a number of books and has a website with articles and short blogs speaking to and about bereaved parents. “Emptiness can be good when, in our emptiness, we come to Jesus to be filled.
“When we do, we have the opportunity to find out for ourselves that Jesus really can fill us up – that he can be enough for us.” Paul experienced a long list of emptying circumstances in his life, as listed in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27. “It seems far more than any one person should have to endure… Did Paul ever want to say to God, ‘Enough already!’” (Have you had that thought?) “…as much as Paul suffered, there was still more suffering in store for him. He described it in a letter to the Corinthian church: ‘I was given a thorn in my flesh.’(2 Corinthians 12:7)
“We don’t know exactly what Paul’s thorn was, but we know it was far more than a slight discomfort. The Greek word for ‘thorn’ is literally stake – a sharpened wooden shaft used to impale someone. So whatever his struggle was, Paul must have felt impaled by it, pinned down by it. Surely someone who willingly endured repeated beatings and shipwrecks and stonings and hunger and cold would not beg God again and again to remove a minor irritation. Whatever the thorn was, it brought unrelenting agony. (You know about agony that seems unrelenting too.)
“...Paul didn’t ask why. He knew exactly why… Paul looked at the thorn and recognized in it the loving hand of God reaching into his life to prevent him from falling into…sin… And at the same time, in the same thorn, he saw the destructive hand of Satan, seeking to wreak havoc on his faith. He called the thorn in his flesh ‘a messenger from Satan to torment me’ (2Corinthians 12:7). Paul was tormented by the temptation to resent God (sound almost familiar?) for allowing the thorn to pierce his already pain-ridden life.
“So often we want to nail down a singular source for our suffering. Was it God who did this to me? Did I bring this on myself? Or is there some evil force at work in my life? Paul’s experience shows us that what Satan sends to destroy our faith can, at the same time, be sent by God to develop our faith. What Satan inflicts in an attempt to make us turn away from God in resentment, God intends to strengthen us as we turn toward him in dependence.”
But even though Paul knew where the pain came from and why it came, ultimately it didn’t matter, because he simply wanted it to go away, just like we do. We want God to reach inside our world and make the hurting stop. INDEED!
“Jesus responded to Paul not by giving healing, but by giving himself. Jesus said to Paul ‘My grace is all you need’ (2 Corinthians 12:9). Jesus spoke into Paul’s emptiness and agony, saying in essence, ‘I will be enough for you. I will fill up your emptiness.’ Jesus was telling Paul – and he’s telling you and me when we repeatedly pray for relief from that pain in our lives that does not come – that he will be enough for us in whatever sorrow we are laboring under. He will strengthen us for it. We can be confident that his grace will be delivered to us in the form and quantity and timing in which we need it. He will give us the grace to endure the pain he does not take away.”