Sermon – July 22, 2018
If we are honest, the majority of our prayers consist in attaining good in the here and now. We pray for jobs and relationships, health and contentment. We are told, in many quarters, that God is always desiring to give these things to us, if we just ask. Indeed, Jesus says as much! If we have faith, we are told, all these things are ours. But what if our greatest blessing comes not in health, comfort, contentment, but in strife, difficulty, pain, and suffering? Would this change how you pray? Today we look at Paul’s prayer for provision from suffering, and God’s strange comfort.
1. Paul’s boast
While the Corinthian “Super-Apostles” boasted of their favor and blessing in God, Paul is content to boast in his sufferings. Yet Paul has also had a demonstration of God’s favor unlike anyone else: he had seen the true heaven, and heard things that man cannot utter. Paul’s blessing and favor trumped anything that the so-called Super-Apostles could boast of.
2. Paul’s burden
Yet, Paul knew that he could not boast of such visions. God, to keep him humble after bringing Paul into his throne room, sent him a thorn, a messenger of Satan. It is impossible to know what precisely the thorn is, and that is the point. The thorn represents any suffering that we might face as well, and ask God for relief from.
3. God’s benevolence
But God’s answer was not precisely what Paul wanted. He refused to remove the thorn from Paul – but rather insisted that his grace was enough for Paul at this time. While eventually the thorn would be removed, God wanted to make sure that Paul understood that his grace was enough for all Paul’s problems, even when they still surrounded him. What is more, the fact that the thorn was left in place demonstrated the greatness of the power of God. A power demonstrated not in taking away the suffering, but a power that gave hope and grace even through suffering. When Paul is weak, then he is strong.
We need to learn to pray, not just that God might take away our suffering, but rather that God might demonstrate to us his sufficiency even through our suffering. In this, we become like Christ, who was assured of God’s favor over him, even as he drank the cup of God’s wrath. Sometimes, the provision we need is not the removal of pain and suffering, but the reminder of God’s grace.