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Just dropping by ... ‘Thorns in the Flesh’

Yevet Tenney Published on 27 April 2012

Friday night I watched Superman the Movie. Superman sailed across the dark sky with the city glittering far below him. He swooped down when he saw a crime and, with precision, he solved the problem. I couldn’t help but wonder how he could solve all the problems around the world.

In the real world, there are crimes happening simultaneously and plots of intrigue brewing everywhere. Impossible! Yes, for Superman, but not for God.

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God is omnipotent and omnipresent. In other words, God is all-powerful and all-present. He is infinitely aware of everything and has the power to reach out and stop the eruption of a volcano, turn the night into day and to cause mountains to become valleys.

He is aware of the flight of every sparrow and cares for the lilies of the field. He can raise the dead and cure every disease. He could stop poverty and wars. He could stop every crime before it happened. If He is a merciful God, why doesn’t He?

It is the same reason smart parents don’t solve every problem faced by their children. If a parent were able to shield their child from every disaster, the child would never learn to walk. Children need to be able to make mistakes to grow.

Some of my greatest blessings have come when God has said, “No.” When I was a 3-year-old child, I was burned severely by a pot of boiling soup. I teetered between life and death for many days. I had to learn to walk again.

I was healed by the miraculous power of God, but I had scars from my chest to my thighs. How could a merciful God allow such a terrible thing to happen to a child and to parents who were God-fearing and filled with Christian love?

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It was not fair! I became a phenomenon – my mother was eager to share the miracle, but I was embarrassed about my scars. I hated to go swimming and wear a bathing suit. I made sure I was always modest and kept my midriff covered.

I feared the day when I would get married and my husband would be repulsed by my scars. Why didn’t God erase my scars? Why did I have to go through that?

When I met my husband-to-be, I worried that he would not accept me. With some trepidation, I told him my story, and I showed him the scars on my tummy so he could reject me if he wanted to. He reached out and touched my tummy and said, “Those are battle scars. They make you who you are. They are beautiful.”

Tears of gratitude slid down my cheeks. I knew God had answered my prayers. He had given me a godly man. How else would I have ever known that my future husband loved me for me and not because I was a trophy for the world to see?

All my fear and embarrassment was erased. I was able to discern the kind of man God had planned for me to marry. He gave me that gift through my suffering.

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Many other things came from my childhood tragedy that only time has made me realize. Because I had hurt, I knew what it meant to be different. I learned compassion for differences. I became less judgmental of appearances and learned to look on the heart. I learned that everyone has pain and embarrassment they want to hide.

I wrote a play about a boy who stuttered. I have never stuttered, but I knew what it felt like to have people stare and make fun. His pain was my pain. Hundreds were touched by the play.

One girl even wrote that she changed her mind about committing suicide because of my play. What if my life had been filled with roses and sunshine and no thorns? My plays would have been shallow and empty, without the power to influence.

Because of the many prayers that were offered at my beside, I learned to trust God. Those prayers were not the everyday grocery list prayers. “God please give me this. God give me that.” They were son-and-daughter talks with a loving Father, pleading for my life. Those prayers were answered and my faith was strengthened.

My parents didn’t ask for no scars, just life. God literally answered their prayers. Today I am glad that the miracle didn’t include the absence of scars. Today, I know God is real. I know He hears every heartfelt cry. Sometimes, in His infinite wisdom, He has to say, “No.”

I learned another life lesson from my childhood tragedy. When I lay there in the bed day after day, my body grew weak. The scars were tight and constricted, causing me to bend together. When I first began to walk after the burn, I was nearly bent double.

My mother, bless her, encouraged me to stand up straight no matter how it hurt. Gradually, I was able to stretch the scars enough to where I could stand up straight. It wasn’t long before I was able to run and play like other children. I learned that obstacles are only setbacks, not dead ends, and pain is not an enemy but a teacher.

I learned, like Paul the Apostle, that we receive “thorns in the flesh” because we need to feel the grace of God and learn humility.

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, 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.

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
—2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Paul asked for those “thorns in the flesh” to be taken away, but God allowed the thorns to stay because He knew that Paul would need those “infirmity teachers, those patience tutors” to make him able to withstand what he would have to endure. In his life Paul would be shipwrecked, bitten by a viper, thrown in prison many times and finally would die for the sake of Christ.

It would be easy to go through life if everything was perfect. If we could overcome every obstacle on our own, what would we give up? We do not understand or feel the infinite power of God until we know we cannot make it on our own and must depend on His power. We don’t understand what prayer is all about until we must plead for mercy and recognize that we are nothing without His grace.

We become strong as we realize where our strength comes from as we tap into His wondrous power. Paul came to glory in his infirmities and persecutions because he knew he would never be totally alone. Jesus would always give him strength to bear any trial, and He would walk with him over every ragged path.

It would be wonderful if every prayer was answered with a yes, if every blind child was given sight and if every cancer diagnosis was healed with a simple thought. If that were the case, I wonder if the world would really be a better place.

Sometimes we have to walk though our own Gethsemanes to understand the sorrows and pains of others and know the sacrifice Christ made for us. We must walk through darkness to perceive the light. We must have pain to understand wellness. We must have tears to comprehend joy.

Christ is not Superman. He is an infinite being who views the plight of sparrows with compassion. He sees glory in the lilies of the field and foxes that have places to go when they want to go home. He understands what it means to be homeless and hungry. He saw the suffering of the leper and the blind man.

He wore the crown of thorns and felt the lashes of the cat-o’-nine-tails. He was not spared the nails in His hands or the sword in His side. He descended below all things so He could rise above all things. He gained wisdom by the things that He suffered. How can we expect to appreciate Him, if we have every cup of sorrow pass from us? PD

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