Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Embracing The Thorn

“You’re just going to have to accept it!”

This was the last sentence of a recent conversation I had with myself about the ever-present pain and dysfunction that has become a part of my life. Believe it or not, after 5 years of ups and downs on this yoyo of health issues, I still struggle to accept the fact that, unless God chooses to heal me, I will deal with pain and problems, difficulty and expense related to it, for the rest of my life.

The physical issues have been tough, but the spiritual issues are on a whole other plane of struggle. The physical pain pales in comparison to the emotional and spiritual struggle that has ensued. Wrestling and fighting against my flesh, to trust the God who allowed this, has been the hardest thing I have had to do as a believer. Yet, the Lord has been so patient and so strong, sustaining me through it all. I love Him, and I know that He loves me. But oh, how I long for healing!

I believe that this is a struggle I will have for the rest of my life. I will not give up hoping for improvement, and I will never stop trying new things. I don’t think trying to get better tells the world I haven’t “accepted what God has for me,” as some have suggested. I believe the Lord has given me a brain and discernment, and if He puts something in front of me that could help, I will get wise counsel about it and consider it. But, while I won’t stop trying to get better, I must learn to keep my heart from sinful focus on the pain and the ways that it limits me.

So my question today is, how do I get to the place where I am content and satisfied in Christ, even as I am suffering and working to improve my current circumstances? How do I move on from my mental whining and complaining, and gain peace and whatever measure of happiness a believer in this world can have, while at the same time refusing to give up on healing? I believe the answer can be summed up in one word: Gratitude. As a believer, I’m sure that you are thankful for the many mercies the Lord has shown you in your pain and suffering: medicines that help with pain, a soft bed, comfortable shoes, a dear friend—there are thousands of provisions the Lord has made for you as you have struggled with your health problem.

But I’d like you to consider being thankful for something else. I want you to be thankful for your suffering. Grateful for your pain, your problems, your sickness. If this is the first time you've received this challenge, you might think it is one that is impossible to meet. Be thankful for the thing that has ruined my life? Grateful for the condition that has forever changed me, my family and my future? Can I really thank God for something, and pray that He would take it away, at the same time? Wouldn’t it seem insincere to thank the Lord for my pain, and ask Him to heal it at the same time?

As I pondered this prospect, I discovered that I could indeed be thankful for my pain, even as I begged the Lord to take it from me. How did I do that? By meditating on the mercy of God. Would you believe that I discovered that God was merciful in allowing my suffering? He provided that suffering for a number of purposes, I’m sure, but the one that is most evident to me is the way it has drawn me to Him. As I have gone through these past 5 years of ups and downs, one thing has been constant: The Lord has been with me. Psalm 32:8 promises the Lord’s guidance, and I have not been disappointed. He has led me through many peaks and valleys, and because of that, I have grown to trust Him more. Though attempts to strengthen physical muscles have been futile, I am stronger spiritually than I have ever been in my life.

There have been many days when I felt that I could not go on, yet He was there, urging me along through His Word, even giving me the desire to read it in the first place! I am a better, stronger Christian today because of this thorn in my flesh. And though I have asked Him many more than three times to remove it, His reply is always the same: “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9). So far, that has proven to be a trustworthy promise. By His grace, I am still walking today. By His grace, I have many undeserved comforts in my pain; many human representatives of Christ to encourage me; and a rich history of His faithfulness, just in my own life, just in these past 5 years; not to mention the entire Bible full of evidence and documentation of that same faithfulness.

Because of His mercy, I was afflicted. He knew exactly what it would take to make me the person He wants me to be. So, I will thank Him for this bittersweet provision. Though I would not have chosen this particular affliction, I see now that it has been, and continues to be, the perfect tool for breaking down my pride and my self-reliance. It has humbled me, and I’m sure it will continue to do so. I am not the same person I was before all this happened, and I must tell you today, I’m glad: Glad to know that I am not entitled to perfect health, or even my next breath. Glad to see that it really is true that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, even as He shows me my weakness. As Job 5:17 and 18 so clearly states,

“…blessed is the man whom God corrects,
so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
For he wounds, but he also bandages;
he strikes, but his hands also heal.

While I don’t believe that my physical pain was directly brought on by my sin or anyone else’s, I do believe the Lord uses it to correct many sinful heart attitudes, and I am thankful for that correction. I have a big, ugly scar from the surgery that was the start of all these physical problems. That scar will be there for the rest of my life. It could be a sad reminder of that fateful, life-changing day. But I choose to let it represent the wound of mercy that my creator granted me, so that I could glorify Him, fulfilling the purpose  for which I was created. By His mercy He has wounded me, and by His mercy He will heal my sinful heart through those wounds.

So, how do I answer that statement at the beginning of this post? Must I accept this affliction? No. Much more than that, I  must embrace it as God’s perfect tool to mold and shape me into the believer He wants me to be. I am far from perfect, but because of His mercy that brought this thorn, I am more like Him than I was before it came. Oh my friend, won’t you consider the mercy and love of God in your physical pain, and begin to thank Him for His work in you? I hope that you will say with me, Hallelujah! What a mercy! What a Savior!