Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Thorn In My Flesh

There are certain passages of scripture that I've heard and read for my entire life that had little meaning to me until now. This is one of them. But before I talk about it, I want to begin by thanking the amazing Nicki Morgan, the daughter that I never had, for this beautiful image. I asked her to create this piece of artwork especially for this post. Thank you, Nicki! You really need to start signing your name to these things.

The full passage that struck me when I heard it again this past Sunday in church goes like this:

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9a) 

For much of my life, I struggled with being conceited. That's a struggle for any performer who's good at what they do. You get a lot of praise, and it tends to go to your head. I think I pretty much overcame conceit in my 20's and early 30's, and eventually became merely self-centered. You know, the guy who only cared about himself and his music, according to one very perceptive friend. The kind who can tell you the truth and get away with it.

The trouble with me was that I had never had any real tribulation in my life. No thorns in my flesh. I felt like I could pretty much take care of myself. And most of the time, I did. I had no experience with weakness.

A good friend of mine was recording in my studio a few years ago, and I expressed an insensitive opinion about someone that I won't share here. She laughed, and said, "Oh, Mark, you need more challenge in your life." Boy, was she right.

You know what I'm going to say next. Long time readers, say it along with me. Then, I got hit by God's 2 By 4. To quote the Apostle Paul, I was given a thorn in my flesh. I was made weak, and unable to take care of myself the way I used to. And it changed my perspective for good.

Paul says that he was given his thorn. But he doesn't say who gave it, or what it was. But I will, at least when it comes to my thorn, cancer. First, let me say that I don't think the devil gave me cancer. I don't regard my cancer as a "messenger from Satan." Messengers from Satan don't reveal the truth of God the way my cancer has made God so real to me.

So am I saying that I believe that God caused my cancer? Yes and no. No, I don't think that God decided one day that he'd had enough of my big head, and gave me cancer to teach me a lesson. My cancer was caused by one thing, which I discussed in an early post last November; Genetics. I have prostate cancer because my father and his father both had it. No other reason.

Of course, I believe that God created all life, including DNA and our genetic code. So ultimately, he is responsible. He could have stopped me from getting cancer if he had chosen to do so. He could cure me now if he chose to do so. 

But I'm not asking him for that, though many have, and continue to do on my behalf. Unlike Paul, I'm not asking God to remove the thorn from my flesh. I'm too busy being amazed at the way his power is being made perfect in my weakness.

While I don't believe that God gave me cancer in order to get me to depend on him, or to get me to care more about others and less about myself, he certainly has used it to do those things and more. Many continue to ask God to remove my thorn, but God keeps showing me that his grace is sufficient for me. And it's so much more than merely sufficient. It's overwhelming.

I have made friends with weakness. It's my daily companion. I have to account for it in everything I try to do. It slows me down, but it hasn't stopped me from doing the things I love. Maybe one day soon, it will. But for now, God's strength is being made perfect in my weakness. Or as another translation puts it, his power works best in weakness. (NLT) I like that translation better. God's power is perfect whether we're weak or strong. But when we think we're strong, we don't allow his power to work in our lives. It's when we're forced to confront our own weakness that our need for God is apparent to us. At least, that's been true in my case. I don't think I'm alone in that. If I was, this passage would not have been written 2,000 years ago.

I don't know what the thorn in your flesh is. It may not be cancer, though for many, it is. It may be another illness or disability, for you or a loved one. It may be depression. It may be a compulsion, or a toxic relationship, or any one of a million other things. Or you may not have one that you're aware of. I didn't for many years. But one day, you will, like I did. We're all subject to the same human frailties. I only hope that, in your difficulty, God makes himself as real to you as he has to me. I hope that his power works best in your weakness.

Well, this post has turned out to be an all-out Bible lesson, hasn't it? I'm sorry if this post hasn't been your cup of tea. If it isn't, you probably haven't read this far. But I've felt strongly since Sunday that this is what I should write about next. I think there are some who need to hear this today. Whoever you are, this post is for you. So let me close the same way I began; with scripture. The rest of the passage I'm quoting today goes like this:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10)

I can't really say that I delight in my weaknesses, hardships, or difficulties. Thank God, I haven't experienced much in the way of insults and persecutions. But I am at peace with weakness, hardship, and difficulty. Because of those things, I've experienced blessing unlike anything I've ever known. As Paul said, Christ's power has rested on me.

If you've been praying that God would remove this thorn from my flesh, thank you! Please keep right on asking him for that. I never have, and I don't think I ever will. Because I thought I was strong before, and now I'm learning what real strength is. For when I am weak, then I am strong. #waroncancer

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