content with weaknesses

It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Weakness seems to be a part of life in this world. I’m not referring to actual sin here, nor is Paul in the above passage. That’s another matter, and certainly God’s grace covers that as we confess our sins to God and when need be to others. God alone can parse out some of the issues which need to be resolved in the kind of weaknesses Paul is talking about here, and give us insight in that. But interestingly enough, these were problems that were not going to go away, or a problem more likely, though we see Paul include a list of things at the end.

Thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to no less than torment him, that doesn’t seem like anything good from God. And surely none of that came directly from God. Yet God not only used it, but somehow actually gave it. Yes Paul was given this, I take it from God. You would easily guess that those who are God’s servants in ministry might somehow feel elated and on top of the world. I at least think they ought to have God’s peace as they go about their lives and work. But Paul’s peace and more precisely contentment came in the midst of experiencing something quite less than elation, the kind of thing that could easily plunge one into the depths of despair.

Note that three times no less Paul appealed to the Lord, that this torment, thorn in the flesh, whatever it precisely was would be removed. Paul knew the Lord could do that. But the Lord’s reply: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul’s response to that was an acceptance which opened the door to experience Christ’s power resting upon him as never before. All for the sake of Christ. Something again that I want to learn to live in much better than I do.

no excuses. go on.

Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:10; NRSVue

I’m not sure why anyone would like any weakness in and of itself. If you’re looking strictly at the problem and what accompanies that, whatever it might be, you would simply want it to be solved, to become a thing of the past. There is nothing in the list from Paul here that we would naturally say, “Yes, I want that.”

But Paul did learn something profound in the midst of whatever his thorn in the flesh was. He was content because he knew that the power of Christ was present in his weakness. And yet it’s weakness, which is paradoxical. We naturally want to feel okay, even strong, and certainly not weak. It’s another case of paradox within the Christian faith.

By faith we need to quit making excuses, even excusing ourselves, and move on. God will help us, and the Lord’s strength will become evident yes in our weakness, if we by faith go on. In and through Jesus.

continuing on in weakness

This is the third time I am coming to you. “Any charge must be sustained by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” I warned those who sinned previously and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not be lenient— since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you but is powerful in you. For he was crucified in weakness but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

2 Corinthians 13:1-4; NRSVue

Paul ran up against some of the expectations out there today. Charismatic, flashy, powerful preaching in a way that somehow is appealing. Let’s add to that a kind of personality that just draws people in and with always the right word. I doubt myself that Paul had much of any of that. It seems like instead that he was characterized by weakness. There’s the thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment him which we find in the previous chapter. He was a person who not only was looked on by others as weak, but who lived out a felt weakness. And learned to do so, even delighting in that, since Christ’s power became evident in that.

But did that make it easy for Paul? Or was he not tempted to wish such would be removed. Yes, I think at least early on such was probably the case, that he indeed still would have wished the weakness to be removed. But later on, I’m guessing that he had learned to live that way as simply part of his identity, who he was in and with Christ. That he was sharing our Lord’s weakness in a cruciform way, and thus sharing in the resurrection power and life accompanying that.

For me, I really would rather not feel weak and even oppressed at times. But that’s where I live so much of the time. That doesn’t come without trial, and too often feeling on edge, so that I can be edgy myself. But because of that I am much more in prayer than what I would be otherwise, at least in prayers of weakness. I don’t think people have to feel this to be people of prayer. But I also think in some measure that this is meant to be the experience of all who follow Christ, who take the way of the cross. And that helps me to go on, believing that God is with us in a peculiar, saving way for ourselves and others in that weakness. In and through Jesus.

that same “thorn in the flesh”

It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10; NRSVue

I am in an off and on, seemingly perpetual battle to overcome anxiety over this or that or something else. Usually house related over this or that concern, which sometimes for me can seem overwhelming. I would like to get rid of anxiety once and for all. I think decades back I naively wanted to simply make a commitment with necessary follow through to not be anxious, never worry again. If we seek to apply passages like Philippians 4:6-7 which tells us not be anxious about anything, but what to do so that in the end the peace of God which surpasses all understanding would guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, that’s all well and good. But we have to apply those scriptures and keep doing that, realizing that we’re never going to do it perfectly, and that it’s a matter of being in a process of spiritual growth.

Your besetting sin, or propensity toward what’s unhelpful (Hebrews 12:1-2) might be something different. Let’s add to that felt weakness, which actually might not be categorized as besetting sin. It is important that we seek to address all such in the best way we know how. And that might well include some professional counseling in the mix. But seeking to apply scripture prayerfully throughout.

But now to the main topic. The thing is that our experience in this life is going to be pretty bumpy with ups and downs, sometimes down and outs. We just can’t control how we feel, at least not directly. Indirectly we can have some influence on our experience by doing what Paul did in the passage above. He certainly prayed to the Lord to take his thorn in the flesh away, three times, likely extended times. What was that thorn? We don’t know. That’s part of the genius of this passage. It might have been some human enemy since thorns are said to be that in the Hebrew Bible. Or maybe Paul’s eye malady. Whatever it was, Paul’s description and application open the door for its application to us, regardless of what our own “thorn in the flesh,” even a tormenting “messenger of Satan” might be.

We seek to do all that is right in total dependence on God, waiting on God. But if the answer we want doesn’t come, we continue on regardless with the promise that God’s grace is sufficient. That power probably meaning the Lord’s power (as in some Greek manuscripts) is made perfect in weakness. So we press on, looking forward to the day and time when this is removed, but realizing that it can all be somehow for our good and the good of others. God will help us, even if it’s not the help we would choose ourselves. And in that we’ll find something far greater than the help we wanted. Yes, even in the midst of the weakness. God’s strength and presence. In and through Jesus.

learning to feel good when feeling bad

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

Yesterday I quipped to someone that I was learning to feel good feeling bad. And though I look up to him, he said he does the same. For me the dam broke then, and a peace eventually flooded my heart, taking away the angst and deadness which had me down for a couple of days. But getting home, something came to my mind, another problem, and by and by I was submerged in something of the same fear.

I turn back to the same passage, which has become go-to for me. And the part when Paul accepts the Lord’s word to accept his weaknesses, even that “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan.”

I like the way Paul sums it up. As The Message puts it, taking limitations in stride, letting Christ take over. The first part might be easier than the second, but it seems a prerequisite, meaning necessary for it. We learn to live well with our weakness, in Paul’s case it seems both exterior and interior. Paul’s list would include all the above.

Naturally we humans resist any of that. How easily we drift when all is going well inward and out. We want to avoid problems. But life is lived in the midst of problems, including weaknesses and limitations. It’s how we deal with that which is important. Where is our faith? Do we trust God to see us through? To work in those things for good, even for our good? To deepen us and help us grow in ways we haven’t and actually can’t imagine?

We need the Lord’s help for sure. We want that sense of the Lord’s strength in the midst of our weakness. His grace is indeed enough for us. We keep doing what God has called us to do as we read in Scripture, “in Christ Jesus.” Knowing God will help us in ways that only God can do. In and through Jesus.

back to accepting/embracing weakness

You’ve forced me to talk this way, and I do it against my better judgment. But now that we’re at it, I may as well bring up the matter of visions and revelations that God gave me. For instance, I know a man who, fourteen years ago, was seized by Christ and swept in ecstasy to the heights of heaven. I really don’t know if this took place in the body or out of it; only God knows. I also know that this man was hijacked into paradise—again, whether in or out of the body, I don’t know; God knows. There he heard the unspeakable spoken, but was forbidden to tell what he heard. This is the man I want to talk about. But about myself, I’m not saying another word apart from the humiliations.

If I had a mind to brag a little, I could probably do it without looking ridiculous, and I’d still be speaking plain truth all the way. But I’ll spare you. I don’t want anyone imagining me as anything other than the fool you’d encounter if you saw me on the street or heard me talk.

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 12:1-10; MSG

This is one on which I go around and around. It never seems any easier, but I think it gets shorter, because even though it’s taken me some time, I think I’m more and more getting it. When I feel completely weak, I also don’t sense God’s grace present. I think we can safely say that something like that was going on in Paul’s own experience expressed here. Paul cried out to God three times for the weakness to be removed. But then accepted the Lord’s word to him, realizing that though it certainly didn’t feel good or sit well, it was for his own good, and most importantly, so that Christ might be made known through him.

And so we must first accept it. When we do, we might even learn to delight in it. And that’s because God’s grace meets us as we accept whatever weakness it is that seems to hold us down, make us feel lost, or whatever. That’s when relief comes. But that doesn’t mean the weakness is removed.

It needs to be spelled out clearly here that when we refer to weakness, we don’t mean out and out sin. Perhaps temptation to sin is a part of it. But it’s more in line with what Paul refers to: “a handicap” as well as “limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks.” Perhaps what may have been a disease affecting his eyesight was in view here, but he adds more. So that will include whatever difficulties we experience, while seeking to remain true to Christ. 

Something I have to come back to again and again. A nice fresh rendering of it in Eugene Peterson’s The Message. The answer to help us through. In and through Jesus.

looking for the good

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given 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.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Back to a difficult favorite passage of mine. I say that, because it just seems like an important passage for me to return to again and again because of my own weakness. I’m not sure at all, in fact I doubt it, that I can equate my weaknesses, like anxiety struggles and the like with Paul’s thorn in the flesh. They can feel tormenting, and I’m trying to manage them better in terms of Scripture, what I have called over the years, God’s written word. We do return again and again to Scripture, because that’s where we hear God’s voice, and where God’s revelation to us in Jesus begins to take shape for us. This passage from Paul is definitely an important passage for me.

The thorn in the flesh served Paul in helping him appreciate his weaknesses, all of them. Not just that of the thorn itself, but others. This is not easy, because weaknesses and struggles can seem crippling. It can seem like we can’t go on, at least not well, not cheerfully, and we have to watch ourselves, lest we come across offensively to others.

Finding the good in what itself is not good is part of what is going on here. Paul felt more than ever his utter need for God. You can see that throughout this letter (2 Corinthians) right from the start. It is important for us simply to realize that this is a part of our condition in this life. Paul found Christ’s power in the midst of his weaknesses. Not an easy place to live, and I have to return to this passage again and again. Who wants to live in that experience, sometimes even torment? No one, really, certainly not me. That part does not get easier for me. But I have settled better into it. And God’s help does become evident along the way, so that the experience is not always bad.

We need to look for the good, at least the needed humility that comes, as well as the sense of lostness helping us seek and find God and God’s help. In and through Jesus.

the poor in spirit/ the thorn in the flesh

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given 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.

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

Once again I visit Paul’s thorn in the flesh and couple that with what’s become one of my other favorites, the start of what’s called the Beatitudes in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.

The poor in spirit I think by scholars has been equated with simply the poor. But I think “in spirit” adds something more. What it precisely means might be hard to pinpoint. It likely includes a number of things. Like the wealthy not living high on the hog, and being generous to the poor. For me in general it’s meant something like the sense of a deep, gnawing inward need, a dearth of spirit.

I couple that with the thorn in the flesh passage, something which tormented Paul either outwardly, or I think inwardly. But Paul took that experience and applied it to all that troubled him, and whatever weaknesses he experienced as he followed the way of Christ.

It’s so important to remember all of this, because otherwise we can really be discouraged and give in to despair. And act in ways which are not helpful. We appreciate the times when this seems lifted, and we can simply enjoy. But by and large I find that I mostly live under this cloud. But in that I find God’s help in receiving strength and consolation. And that struggle helps me focus in ways that sadly otherwise I would be slack in. And it certainly helps keep one more humble.

So we need to embrace this, even when it’s hard. Learn to do so just as Paul did. In and through Jesus.

“in acceptance lies peace”

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given 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.

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

It is not fun to live in weakness. Ask someone who suffers migraines, or some other physical pain. Or those who suffer from depression or whatever other malady.

One of Amy Carmichael’s poems I think provides some wisdom, entitled, “In Acceptance Lieth Peace.” That is what Paul had to do. Naturally he asked the Lord, even pleaded with him to remove the thorn in the flesh, even a messenger of Satan to torment him. Who wants to live in torment?

But God taught him a deeper lesson. Unfortunately for many of us who probably live with something far less than what Paul experienced, we can easily give in to despair. Or just plain refusing to accept the difficulty we experience, whether inwardly or outwardly.

Instead we need discernment from God to accept what we can’t change ourselves. I have found over and over again in my life, when I finally accept the brutal rough patch, God’s comfort and peace, yes God’s help comes.

I like the fact that the door seems so wide open as to what the weakness might be. We’re not talking about actual sins, though in the weakness the temptation to sin in one way or another is certainly present. We have to learn to embrace our weakness, and weaknesses which surround that. For example my weakness might make me want to isolate so as not to be exposed when God instead wants me to learn a healthy interdependence with others. And above all, a new dependence on him. In and through Jesus.

settling into what is unsettling

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.

2 Corinthians 12:10

A major theme of mine is Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and the necessary embrace of weakness. It’s interesting in the passage (click link above) how Paul’s thorn, whatever it is, is not made known. I can easily imagine Paul elaborating with a paragraph, or a few lines on just what he went through. But somehow he didn’t, and I think we’re all the richer for it. And actually that thorn taught Paul something more: his need to embrace all weakness.

It’s not easy to settle into what is inherently unsettling. Maybe a new weakness or situation on top of another, or others. What we really don’t want, or want to deal with, or end up living with. Maybe something chronic, which could seem or even be potentially life threatening. We don’t want to go there.

Paul certainly didn’t want any part of what actually tormented him, and strange as it may seem, a messenger of Satan himself, to torment Paul. He pleaded in prayer with the Lord three times to take it away. Somehow the Lord was in it, what literally would seem to be an attack from the enemy, which instead of taking away, God actually using for Paul’s good and for the great blessing of others, including us today, through this passage, and through Paul’s life and ministry. Paul needed to be kept humble, because of the great revelations God had given him. And you might say, he needed to be kept weak, so that he would trust in God alone, and that others might trust in God as well, instead of being taken up with just how great Paul was. It wasn’t at all about Paul, but only about Christ. That’s hard for us to learn. Somehow God wants us to become something of the message we testify to. That the gospel, the good news in Jesus would be vital and personal to us everyday of our lives. And that our lives would conform to Jesus’s life, us becoming weak in him, so that his power might be evident even through us, yes through our weakness (2 Corinthians 13:4). Counterintuitive to us for sure, but what even we ourselves need in and through Jesus.