The Profit from your Pain
“…there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” II Corinthians 12:7-9
Paul lived with something that he hated. This man — who had seen the risen Saviour, who had been given a glimpse of Paradise, who wrote most of the New Testament, who cast out demons and raised the dead — begged God for relief from something in his life that seemed unbearable. Yet, God chose to entrust Paul with purposed pain.
As I ponder and meditate on the Book of II Corinthians, I see a common theme flowing throughout each chapter: PAIN. The second letter to the Corinthian church was written for the primary purpose of defending Paul’s ministry which had been verbally attacked by false prophets seeking to deceive the Corinthian believers. It is within this defense that Paul is forced to speak of himself (something he detested). But it is in his defense that we see who Paul really was. No other New Testament book gives us a more personal look into the Apostle’s personal life.
In chapter 12, he had just written of his surreal experience in which his consciousness (maybe his body also?) was transported into the presence of God. While in Paradise, Paul was given revelations that, even if he could articulate them, he was prohibited from sharing with others. Perhaps no other person on earth had more of Heaven stirring within him than the Apostle Paul. Yet, he testified that these profound revelations might have made him susceptible to spiritual pride, so God ordained a humbling teacher to keep him constantly aware of who he was: A SERVANT.
Listen to how Paul spoke of this unnamed agent of humbling in his life: It kept him from becoming arrogant in light of his vast spiritual experiences (12:7a); Satan was the direct agent of the pain, whatever it was (12:7b); it affected his practical, everyday living (12:7c); it was a constant source of trouble (12:7d); Paul focused purposed prayer concerning his desire for it to leave him (12:8); GOD SAID NO TO HIS REQUEST (12:9); God explained a higher purpose than Paul’s relief — to experience the all-sufficiency of God’s grace in his pain (12:9a); Paul learned to view the pain as a positive aspect of his spiritual journey (12:9b-10).
That is a very short summary of what Paul learned but it is one that needs to be examined in our era of comfortable, complacent Christianity. Accept this irrefutable spiritual truth: God is willing to have you forego ease so that you might experience depth. The pain in your life cannot always be blamed on the devil or the actions of others. Sometimes God desires you to hurt at the shallow end of the pool so that you will flee to the deep end where He will uphold you. We must not allow our minds to reject the thought that God uses pain as an instructor in our lives.
Job got his Ph.D. in this seminary of suffering. John the Baptist graduated first in his class as he “decreased” in prison while Jesus “increased” in public ministry. Ruth watched her husband die, her homeland disappear into the background, and her mother-in-law embrace bitterness. David was a fugitive from his God-anointed throne while lesser men sought to kill him. All of these men and women seem larger than life but biblical history proves that their faith was forged in the undesirable flames.
And did we forget the Lord Jesus Christ? It was only after His suffering and death that His glory could be fully known by those whom He came to save. God did not even exempt His own Son from this truth.
For you today, I submit that there is the necessity of trouble in your life. We are simply not spiritually healthy without it. The extremes of comfort and chaos are both enemies to our Christian testimony. Some Christians would be tempted to say that, ‘Chaos is clearly unprofitable, but comfort indicates order.’ My reply is that spiritual order goes much deeper than a surface calm and quietness. Comfort never breeds consistent character. Plush lives do not produce profitable lives. Ease begs for more of itself and cannot lend a hand in the battles of life. No, the pain is not imaginary but please remember: it is also not random.
Ask God to help you understand what lesson He seeks to teach you under the thorn He is entrusting to you. Strive to move past the pricking of your flesh and find the passion of His purpose. Paul’s thorn was first an intruder, then an instructor. Yours and mine can be the same.