DEVOTION:

OUCH!  Have you ever wondered why God designed many of the most beautiful and fruitful plants and flowers with thorns on them?  These thorns, though unattractive to the eye and painful to the touch, are of great value and use to the thorn-bearing plant.  Not only do these thorns provide protection by warding off impeding harm from herbivorous predators, but they also reflect the dependency of the plant or flower on its caregiver for the necessities of life.  You see, without these thorns, the plant or flower would be self-sufficient and unprotected, vulnerable to the threats of its environment.  With this literal hedge of protection, the plant can comfortably and securely rest in the assurance and dependability of its caregiver to provide for its needs.  What this unpleasant, thorny armor lacks in aesthetic beauty is redeemed exponentially in its magnificent purpose of offering protection, for only that with inestimable significance and value requires such a daunting shield from harm.

You and I are no exception, for we are priceless treasures to the Lord.

Much akin to these plants and flowers, we too are thorn-bearing creations.  God knows our human nature is rooted in pride and self-sufficiency, separating us from recognizing our need for salvation through Christ and our need for sole dependency upon His grace for daily sustenance as we strive to live fruitful lives for His glory.  Thus, our thorns of the flesh are not intended for harm or discomfort.  Rather, they serve as reminders of our desperate need for God alone to provide for our needs, to protect us from the temptations and snares the enemy has awaiting us, and to equip us to live effectively for God and serve Him more impactfully, with humility, as His all-sufficient grace increases in power and is manifest in our life in spite of our weaknesses.

You see, everything has divine purpose.  Nothing is ever wasted.

Over four months have passed since our last health update and blog post.  Glory be to God, I’ve been blessed with more asymptomatic moments than those plagued therewith.  I’ve learned to speak in momentary terms, as one of the primary curiosities of living with a pineal cyst of the brain is its unpredictability from moment to moment.  I can greet the day feeling terrific, and later experience a sudden onset of symptoms that will linger for hours or days, then peculiarly resolve just as mysteriously as they initially appeared.  The only element of consistency is God’s grace in direct proportion to my need as I walk in faith moment by moment, day by day, in the security of His perfect provision.  And while some days it’s easier to do than others, I’m learning to live with this “thorn” and continually seek the beauty of its presence in my life.

Being overly appreciative of organization and meticulous about planning, this lack of predictability definitely cramps my style.  I often find myself asking questions such as, “Can I make it through the day with minimal discomfort?  Should we schedule that trip or book that ministry engagement…how will I feel that day?”  In retrospect, it’s undeniably clear that the Lord has never failed to show up in the past in an overflowing portion for my need, so why would I question His ability to do so in the future?  Why would I choose to allow tomorrow’s doubt to overshadow God’s faithfulness yesterday and today?

Perhaps this is precisely the enemy’s agenda – to render me ineffective for the Kingdom.  John 10:27-30 says, “My sheep recognize my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them real and eternal life. They are protected from the Destroyer for good. No one can steal them from out of my hand. The Father who put them under my care is so much greater than the Destroyer and Thief. No one could ever get them away from him. I and the Father are one heart and mind.”  Thus, while my salvation is untouchable to him, the enemy can certainly work to cripple my witness and ministry by attempting to disable me physically and discourage me spiritually.

As if my physical circumstances weren’t valid enough evidence, consider the last few weeks’ events to substantiate my claim.  And let me preface this account by stating that prior to these events, Greg and I radically changed how we’ve been seeking God’s will, pursuing His dreams for us, and have been audaciously praying for God to make His glory known through our lives.  So, without further delay…

Three weeks ago tomorrow our house was hit by lightning during an epic thunderstorm, much to the demise of many appliances, computer hardware, internet and phone equipment, and random other pieces of technology that we continue to find on a daily basis.  The running joke in our home has become, “So, I wonder what surprises we’ll find today…!” as Greg and I daily muse over what time-consuming or life-interrupting discovery we’ll make.  And each day since the strike has not failed to disappoint us, you can rest assured of that!  Two days later, we found out that a dear friend and ministry colleague (who helped kick-start our ministry) unexpectedly suffered a stroke, only to be called home to glory two days after that.  The following Monday (a week to the day of the lightning strike), a large piece of retreaded tire was ejected from the vehicle in front of me on the highway and smashed into my car’s hood and windshield, completely destroying it, landing it in the body shop for almost two weeks.  It is no understatement that the Lord’s own hand restrained my windshield from completely imploding into the car, and the tire from breaking through the glass where serious injuries could have been inflicted.  Three days later, our friend’s son (and another ministry colleague to us) was shockingly diagnosed with a brain tumor that demanded necessary surgery, and on the same day, Greg’s father was admitted to the emergency room where it was diagnosed that a blood clot from a previous heart surgery had broken loose and had it gone undetected, could have traveled to his brain and caused a stroke.  A week later, Greg discovered a frighteningly significant appliance fatality in our garage from the lightning strike…complete with billowing smoke, as an electrical fire nearly broke out.  Thank you, Jesus, for your protection!  And this past weekend’s surprise was anxiously awaiting our arrival home from church – a sump pump back-up in our basement due to equipment malfunction from…wait for it…the lightning strike, of course!  How fitting that the sermon was from Psalm 13; we can empathetically relate to David’s lamenting and questioning God, “How long, Lord?”  Heaven knows that three weeks has been long enough for us!

Now, before you offer us your sympathies, understand that soliciting them couldn’t be farther from our intent!  Rather, we want to reiterate that the enemy knows well our Achilles heel, and he desperately wants to disable us from bringing glory to God, be it through the fire of physical affliction, or his fiery darts of discouragement and interference.  For us, time and technology are sure-fire areas of our life and ministry where the enemy has become quite the maverick in his target practice!  Further, we want to expose the reality that there is unfathomable spiritual warfare raging all around us.  The enemy attacking us; our Savior defending us.  The enemy’s legions scheming to ambush us; God’s angel armies surrounding us as He goes before, beside and behind us.  Having experienced and witnessed the warfare engaged this side of heaven, I shudder to think about the ensuing spiritual battle in the unseen world!  We have to trust that God has “got our 6”, as Greg says, lest we yield to the doubts, fears, anger or frustration brought on by challenging circumstances and afford the enemy a victory that he didn’t earn, a victory already won by Jesus Christ!  By no means are we advocating a denial of reality or superficial gratitude for life’s thorns; however, we can choose to believe that what the devil intends for harm, the Lord will intend for good (Genesis 50:20).  Surely the Lord could prevent that which we encounter, but He sees the divine potential for our spiritual growth and His glory through such circumstances.  As our Pastor said at church today, “God is more concerned with our character than our comfort.”  These painful thorns provide the opportunity to intentionally look to His strength, seek His face, recognize His provision and protection, and experience His presence in ways that are often overlooked and taken for granted during seasons of simplicity and peace.

Still need convincing?  We do too.  These last few weeks have been wearisome, and in the spirit of transparency, we’ll be honest and say that our responses to these circumstances have been, at times, anything but stellar.  But thanks be to God for His grace, and for His Word that has much to say about our thorns in the flesh!

Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (MSG) says of his own thorn in the flesh:

Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees.  No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need.  My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

Glory to God!  This passage fills my heart with a holy confidence and peace that only comes from Christ!  Let’s briefly revisit a few significant phrases in this passage:

“…I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations.  Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees…Now I take limitations in stride—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks.  I just let Christ take over!  And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”

First, consider how vastly different life would be if adverse circumstances were received in light of God’s sovereignty as blessings, even gifts, instead of resisted as inconveniences.  Please do not misunderstand that statement.  As previously stated, in no way is it being suggested to adopt a manufactured response of falsified joy and peace in the face of life’s challenges and trials.  Avoiding the reality of our circumstances invites the enemy to quickly call our bluff and weaken our faith by replacing God’s truth with deceitful lies.  I do believe, however, that the Lord can minister to and through us in powerful ways when we choose to trust the motive behind His omniscient will: His incomprehensible love for us.  And, we can rest assured that He will be faithful to the promise made in Romans 8:28, that while all things aren’t inherently good, they will be worked for good.

Now ponder this: our thorns are purposed reminders of our human limitations, God’s unlimited capabilities, and our potential through Him.  In the original Greek language, the word “thorn” (or “handicap”, as used in verse 7 of our passage) is derived from two word origins: “the leg, from the hip to the toes” and to “look at; to allow oneself to be seen; to become acquainted with by experience.”  How ironic that the very thorn(s) in our lives we so desperately want to disguise, diminish and dissolve are actually meant to be disclosed, discovered, endeared and drive us to our knees!  Moreover, they are meant to be exposed to the watching world as a testimony to God’s supernatural strength at work in and through us!  I don’t know about you, but this revelation was like releasing the steam from a pressure cooker for me!  Not only can I be unashamed of my weaknesses and trials, but I can drop any excuses or pretenses rooted in conceit, fear, and the pursuit of perfection and instead invest my efforts into living dependently on God, with transparency and authenticity, expectantly waiting for my God to show up in my time of need.  This, my friends, is empowerment to live confidently in the life-giving, resurrection power of Jesus Christ!

Finally, meditate on this thought for a few moments…what if adversity is the essential component to living out our life’s calling?  While we may not be able to choose every life circumstance we encounter or every thorn we bear on a daily basis, we do have control over how we choose to respond to them.  We can choose to be either a victor or a victim, embittered or empowered, fearful or fortified, defeated or determined.  In verse 10, we learn that it is in our weaknesses that we become stronger.  We can certainly choose to become weaker, but doing so is also choosing to live apart from God’s purpose for our life.  In fact, the word strong in verse 10 means, in the Greek,”to bear calamities and trials with fortitude and patience; strong in soul; excelling in something; having power for something; mighty in influence.”  Please re-read that last definition, for it’s too significant to simply gloss over….strong means “mighty in influence.”  Need you any more convincing that our thorns are vital to living with abundant purpose?  Our human tendencies and social culture encourage us to succumb to self-pity, resentment, and spiritual apathy.  But when surveyed in light of God’s Word, obstacles and challenges poise us for embracing a platform of Godly influence that surpasses our most daring dreams, and are tools of divine equipping for the ministry of living the Christian life.  In earthy terms, are they painful?  Indescribably.  Frustrating?  Without a doubt.  A hindrance?  You bet.  Untimely?  Of course.  Defeating and discouraging?  All too often.  But from God’s perspective, the possibilities for good are limitless because He specializes in redemption.  He makes all things new.  He repurposes that which was meant for harm.  With God, no circumstance, loss, misfortune, sickness, or trial is a loss.  With God, nothing is wasted.

Maybe your thorn is physical, a challenge you have lived with since birth or an ailment that has developed later in life.  Perhaps it’s mental or emotional, manifesting itself in addiction, a broken relationship, the death of a dream, depression, the pain of failure, the loss of a loved one.  Your thorn might be spiritual, such as a fear of fellowship with God or fellow believers due to painful experiences in the past, or a struggle with surrender and obedience to God’s Word.  Whatever your thorn, consider the purpose that that lies therein and claim that promise as your encouragement and inspiration to press on through it, or in spite of it.  Your long-awaited breakthrough, desired spiritual growth, or greatest dream materialized is waiting on the other side of your circumstances.  Sure, the outcome may look differently than you’d imagined it to, and you most likely won’t make it out of the battle unscathed, but you can stand firm on God’s faithful promises and redemptive character that the experience wasn’t without lacking in significant purpose.  You can be assured that your unique story, cloaked in thorns, has the potential to inspire others struggling with similar situations to live a fruitful life for Christ, and plant seeds of faith in unbelieving hearts.  There is only one you, and God has a story for you to tell through your life’s experiences – the story of His redemption, and of His goodness and greatness.  No one can live out your purpose but you. 

In God’s grand design for life, nothing is wasted, unless we choose for it to be.  What will you choose?

PROMISE:

 “Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees.  No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need.  My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (MSG)

REFLECTION:

What is/are your thorn(s) of the flesh?

Identify one way your thorn could be:  a gift; a reminder of your human limitations and need for God’s unlimited strength and resources; a means of divine equipping for mighty influence.  Ask God to help you identify your Achilles heel and how this area in your life can be better safe-guarded to offensively stand firm against the enemy.

What thoughts, attitudes and actions need to be surrendered and transformed to start living forward with purpose?

How can God use these challenges for His kingdom agenda in your life and in the lives of others?  Name one person God has placed in your life with whom you can share the love of Jesus and your testimony of God’s goodness and greatness through your challenges.

WORSHIP:

Spend a few minutes worshiping the Lord through this powerful song by Elevation Worship called “Nothing Is Wasted”.  Ask Him to write the lyrics on your heart and seal it with the promises of His Word that the weaker you become the stronger you become because of Christ in you, and that He will work all things in your life for good.

“Nothing Is Wasted” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrgmjZU1ivI

We would love to hear how you have been encouraged through this post, what the Lord is doing in your life, and how we can pray for you.  Feel free to comment or send us a message at greg@ovworship.com or heather@ovworship.com.  And if you’ve been encouraged, we would be grateful for you to share this blog with others.  Thank you!

In Spirit & In Truth,

Greg & Heather

One Voice Worship Ministries

Learn more about the ministry of One Voice Worship by visiting www.onevoiceworship.com.

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