Thursday, July 9, 2015

Grace for Your Thorns

I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago.  Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows.  Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body.  But I do know  that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.  That experience is worth boasting about, but I’m not going to do it.  I will boast only about my weaknesses.  If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth.  But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God.  So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.  Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.  Each time he said,“My grace is all you need.  My power works best in weakness.”  So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.  That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.      2 Corinthians 12:2-10 (NLT)

Long ago Spain owned everything on both sides of the Mediterranean.  It was imagined that there was nothing beyond the waters that stretched westward.  They even stamped Ne plus ultra (nothing beyond) on the empire's coins.  Then came Columbus, a new world, and all the nothing beyond thinking had to be recalled (along with the coins). 

The apostle Paul may have felt like a defective coin.  It is possible he had written "ne plus ultra" on his ministry.  Suffering from the beatings and isolation of imprisonments, he was literally driven to prayer, begging for some sort of relief from a thorn in the flesh.  The word means a stake, and lends itself to pictures of excruciating pain. 

Some have suggested physical ailments of poor eyesight, malaria, a speech impediment, or migraine headaches. 

There is also a case to be made for spiritual problems, caused by Paul's guilt at recalling the persecutions he had personally directed at the church before his conversion. 

Still others believe that Paul's thorn was the enemies he encountered wherever he attempted to minister the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Whatever the thorn, Paul testified in our text verse that the bottom line as he sees it, as God taught it to him, was that GRACE IS ENOUGH!  God's grace was enough for Paul, and it is still enough for anyone who will believe. 

I want to share with you some of the WAYS GOD'S GRACE STILL SHINES...

His Grace Shines In Us

God's grace is always most evident in the act of salvation.  A man once told me that he knew he ought to trust God, but he didn't think God could forgive someone like him.  I've done every wrong thing a man can do.  If you wrote a list of my sins on that wall, there wouldn't be an inch of space left

I wish I'd been wise enough then to tell him to do write 'em all. 
     ·        Cover the wall with all your sins. 
     ·        Make sure you list everything...don't leave a one out. 
     ·        And when you're done, I could write one sentence in flaming red letters over all of it 
                from God's Word to you - The blood of Jesus Christ...cleanses us from all sin

The bottom line here is that:


Rather, He wants us to experience the freedom that only forgiven people know about. 

Some years ago my bride and I fell into the same trap so many people experience; we had charged our credit card to the max!  The minimum monthly payment was just barely enough to cover the interest charge.  Struggling to pay this was a bondage that occupied my thoughts. 

And then some very loving people decided to give a gift to us and paid off the debt.  I wanted to sing and shout from the housetops - FREE AT LAST!  My debt was forgiven. 

There were no strings attached to that gift.  It has never been mentioned since that time.  I never again have to think of the debt...but I often reflect on the love that caused the gift to be given. 

In just such a way, God's grace separates us from being defeated.  We can be separated from gloom and fear in a world where these abound. 

Just like a huge electro-magnet will draw any metal from a pile of debris, God takes His grace-magnet, and extracts the very last vestige of my sin and guilt…and sets me free – free to love Him, serve Him and love my neighbor as myself. 

He did that all for me…and you!

As David prayed, Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow...(Psalm 51:7)  That’s what makes a Christian shining on the inside, because of God's shining grace.

His grace shines in us, and…

His Grace Shines Through Us

It would not be possible to serve God if it were not for the grace that makes us a fit vessel for His use. 

There is simply one requirement to see that grace shining through us and operative in our lives; we must be DEPENDENT ON GOD. 

Having the grace of God shine through your life is possible when you recognize that, like a pilot chooses the direction of the airplane, or a ship's captain chooses the course, a Christian is governed by the Lord Jesus Christ.  We don’t re-write Scripture to accommodate what we want to do; we allow Scripture to inform us what God’s plan for our life will be.

Jesus likened the church to lamps.  Lamps give off a reflected light.  He is the light of this world; we are reflection.  We must have transparent lives, a clean vessel for His light to shine.

How do you begin? 

How do you become dependent on God, and available to Him? 

How do you allow His grace to shine through? 

Prayer is that beginning.  Prayer is the opening of the heart and life to God in honesty, saying, 
God, I hereby release control of the direction of this life.  
Whatever I am; whatever time you wish to give me; 
wherever you wish to send me; I am yours. 

The apostle Paul came to the conclusion that God’s grace released in a life through that kind of surrender IS sufficient.  The word is arkei, meaning that it is always enough, wherever, and whenever needed. 

God's grace shines in us and through us; and it shines best through the darkness; especially the kind of darkness that tempts us to give up, deny the faith. 

Let’s face it, this is not an easy life; there are always difficulties – health, finances, relationships, job or school…if it isn’t the car breaking down, it will be the dog biting the mail carrier.   It’s been said that when it comes to trouble you’re either in it, or just been through it, or just hold on, because it’s coming round again!

Job said it:
People are born for trouble as readily as sparks fly up from a fire.  Job 5:7(NLT)

But trouble, my friend is just exactly where the grace of God abounds.  Do you remember the words of that wonderful hymn writer, Annie Johnson Flint?

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials He multiplies peace. 
His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.[2]

Some people think because you write gracious words like that you’ve had it easy; not so with Annie.  She and her sister were orphaned twice.  Her birth parents died suddenly and then her adoptive family all died.  She was gripped by many physical ailments and barely made enough money writing greeting cards to keep her and her little sister alive.

But grace made Annie Johnson Flint an overcomer; a person who had gladly exchanged her thorns for His grace!

The Gloriosa Superba is a flower indigenous to South India.  It will grow anywhere – desert, or wide-open field.  But the place it is most prolific and spectacular is in the dense undergrowth, crowded by the aggressive pushing of cactus and aloe.  There, entangled and troubled on every side, it pushes 8-10 feet high.  It is glorious in color, making the dense landscape spectacular.  It shares the hardships of struggle, blessing the life of all who watch.  Truly, this is a flower made for life; it is a wonderful example of grace exchanged for thorns! 

Wherever you are today – if it is
      ·        dense, choking undergrowth of problems at home, or at work or school;
      ·        if you live with the choking weeds of guilt that crowd-out the enjoyment of life;
      ·        If you struggle with hardships, and never know a minute's peace,
                    …tap into God's shining grace. 

The grace that was sufficient for Paul's life is not tarnished.  It is still abundant and available for anyone who wants to settle it in his heart today!

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

[1] By Vaikoovery, via Wikimedia Commons & By Simon Speed via Wikimedia Commons

No comments:

Post a Comment