Sailors on the high seas understand the importance of securing themselves to something sturdy in a fierce gale. You learn to cling to what’s secure in a storm. Paul learned to cling to what he knew to be true about himself and the Lord who held him in His grip.
I see an interesting tension here. While Satan punched and pounded the apostle’s resolve, the Lord’s purpose was to humble him, to keep him from exalting himself. Pride doesn’t reside in the hearts of the broken, the split-apart, the wounded, or the anguished of soul.
Many years ago I read these words: “Pain plants the flag of reality in the fortress of a rebel heart.” Mothers and fathers keeping vigil in the leukemia ward of a children’s hospital do not wrestle with issues of pride. They are humbled to the point of despair.
I’m not qualified to give you the intimate details of how Paul’s thorn affected him. However, he does confess that he begged the Lord on three separate occasions to remove it from him (v. 8). And you know what? We would have done the same. You and I would have prayed and prayed and begged for relief. “Father, please take away the thorn. Lord, I beg of You, remove it. Take this pain away from me.” That was Paul’s response.
I see amazing transparency written in those lines. The world needs more followers of Christ who embrace pain and hardship rather than deny them. How helpful for us to see all this as God’s plan to keep us humble. That can’t be taught in Bible colleges or seminaries. Those lessons are learned in the trenches of life. What people of prayer we would become! How often we would turn to Him. How fully we would lean on Him. And what insights we would glean.
That is precisely what happened as Paul turned again and again to his Lord. And God gave an answer he never expected.
Excerpted from Charles R. Swindoll, Great Days with the Great Lives (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2005). Copyright © 2005 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.