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Not My ThornNot My Thorn
by Michael Harbour

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    Everybody hurts.

    You didn’t think that you were the only one, did you?

    Go to the mall sometime, sit on a bench, and watch the people. The next time you are in the airport with a layover, don’t bury your head in a book. Watch the people. When you attend church services, when you go where the crowds are, do you have the tendency to believe that everyone is doing pretty well? Some folks are doing pretty well... today. I was telling my young friend Tyler, who has begun ridding a 100cc dirt-dedicated motorcycle, that there are two kinds of motorcycle riders, those who have fallen and those who are going to fall. That is how life works, too. Everybody hurts... or is going to hurt.

    Paul was a man chosen by God to deliver a message of good news for the whole known world in the first century. I know God loved Paul. Paul was in the midst of giving his whole life to this task — to sharing his heart, his love, his life — as he shared the message about the the benevolent, compassionate, graceful rule of God in the world. At one point God gave Paul a glimpse of heaven itself. Wouldn’t that be a great gift? Wouldn’t you like to go look? Paul says he was caught up to paradise and there he heard things that he was not permitted to repeat. That was a great gift of encouragement for him. After receiving such a great gift, Paul also received what he called a thorn in the flesh. He describes it as a messenger of Satan that beat him, to humble him, lest he become proud.

    Do you have a thorn?

    I have thorns. Confessing that we have them, that we wrestle with the messengers of the devil, is important. If we think that we are the only ones who are struggling, or hurting, or facing temptations, we tend to isolate ourselves. In our isolation, the thorn digs painfully deep.

    This week more than one of my friends has come to me with pain. A lady came to say that she had lost her job because of drug use on the job. She had turned herself in to the company hoping for mercy, but received none. Now she was coming to me, her friend, to find out if she could hear mercy. Yes! I told her that when I was young that I had abused alcohol. I had used illegal drugs. Now, however, that was not my thorn. She might be tempted to use drugs, but she was trading something artificial for the real life that God had in mind for her. She was not required to yield to the temptation. She should see that hunger for what it was, a messenger of Satan, a lie that was seeking to destroy her. Sin was crouching at her door, seeking to posses her. She could win that fight, even if the hunger, the thorn in the flesh never went away.

    There were others who came, with other problems. One of my guy friends had a hunger to be relieved from financial pressure. Would he handle that hunger within the boundaries of righteousness? He had not been. “Something for nothing” is a powerful temptation and a dangerous lie. There is no such thing as a free anything.

    Another lady came. Her struggle was with alcohol. Our habits become our character and our character determines our destiny. I remember the day that I looked at a bottle of beer in my hand and made the choice. This is not the man that I want to be. Now, that is not my thorn.

    Another guy is struggling with a thorn. He is on the run tonight. He is running from his failures. He is running from his wife. He is a guilty man. He had a thorn, a messenger of Satan, that he did not fight. He has shipwrecked his life. His wife is hurting. His wreck has deeply wounded many.

What do you do with your thorn in the flesh?
    What do you do with your thorn in the flesh? How do you keep them from shipwrecking your life and the lives of those around you?

First, you pray.
We cannot do spiritual battle with the power of your flesh. To use your own strength alone, is to be ill prepared. You cannot pull yourself up by your bootstraps and win a head-to-head battle with the devil. Throwing ourselves on the mercy, grace, and might of God is the only way!

Second, tell the people who know you and love you about your struggle.
You are not alone. Tell people who will hold you accountable, who will pray with you, and who will encourage you. Paul told the Christians, My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. (Galatians 6:1) God meant for us to be open and graceful about our thorns and willing to help others who come to us with their thorns.

Finally, you can ask that the thorn be removed.
I think it would be great if I were never tempted to shipwreck my life. It would be great if my hungry heart always turned to God for satisfaction. However, that does not appear to be the plan of God. Paul prayed three times to the Lord to remove his thorn. The Lord said no. He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) God may grant your request. Or you may be like Paul let God’s grace triumph in you over the pull of the thorn.

    Every day we fight the urge. Every day we must choose the kind of people that we want to be. Every day we pray for help. Every day we tell the truth, at least to ourselves, about our thorn. And every day we rest in the grace of God. Only his grace, mercy and might are enough to help us past our thorn.

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      © 2002, Michael Harbour. Used by permission.

      Title: "Not My Thorn"
      Author: Michael Harbour
      Publication Date: July 5, 2002


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Michael Harbour is the preaching minister at Southeast Church of Christ in Houston, Texas.


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