It seems counterintuitive to thank God for our trials, tears, and thorns because we naturally see pain as an unwelcome guest or an unlawful intruder in our lives. Suffering and sorrow are things we find unpleasant and often pray that God would immediately remove from our lives. It is one thing to thank God for His goodness and mercy, that comes easily; but it is quite another thing to thank God for trials, tears, and thorns. Being grateful for the things that add to our lives makes sense, being grateful for the things that subtract from our lives makes no sense at all. Yet the Bible and biography teach us that God’s saints have come to see the value of thorns.
In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul makes reference to a “thorn in the flesh” which was given to him by God, but evidently used by Satan to try to defeat him. We are not told the nature of this “thorn in the flesh,” which some have speculated to be either a physical ailment or personal enemy (v. 7). Either way, Paul found himself in a harrowing situation, which led him to pray that God would remove the thorn. God did not (v. 8)! Instead God promised grace for the grind, strength for the struggle, and power for the pain (v. 9). Amazingly a transformation of perspective began to take place in Paul’s life where he started to see his thorn as a gateway to God’s grace. It was in his weakness that he found the compensating power of God, which made him strong (v. 9). This was so much the case that Paul boasted in his infirmity, because through the pain he had come to experience a greater measure of God’s sympathy and sufficiency (vv. 9-10). Paul’s weakness had provided the perfect platform for the display of divine power. When Paul counted his blessings, he included this weakness producing “thorn in the flesh”. I like the way The New Living Translation Bible renders verses nine and ten: “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses, and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamites. For when I am weak I am strong.”
Turning from the Bible to biography, this thought of thanking God for our thorns is wonderfully expressed in the life of the Scottish preacher George Matheson. Most people know two things about George Matheson, one, he wrote “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go” and, two, he went blind at a very young age. But like Paul in the crucible of this bitter providence, Matheson learned to lean on God in his weakness and disability. He came to appreciate his affliction as a means of glorious grace gaining. He later wrote: “My God, I have never thanked Thee for my thorns. I have thanked Thee a thousand times for my roses, but not once for my thorns. I have been looking to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross: but I have never thought of my cross as itself a present glory. Teach me the glory of my cross: teach me the value of my thorn. Shew me that I have climbed to Thee by the path of pain. Shew me that my tears have made my rainbow.”
As we go through life let us not only stop to smell the roses but value the thorns!