While this seems a conundrum, Paul wrote of this odd paradox so that all who struggle to stay on this line would understand how God works in their lives.
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7–10)
Imagine what Paul might have been like had God answered his prayer and removed his thorn in the flesh. The Bible does not reveal what that thorn was, but it could have been the hardships that he endured, as the last line in this passage describes. The Bible is clear about hardships; God uses them to deepen the faith of His people and develop patience in our lives. James says,
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4)
In the beginning, Paul may not have understood the purpose for these insults and calamities, but later he realized that God knew what He was doing. Whether trials were the thorn or not, all his troubles kept him from thinking too highly of himself. It also kept him depending on God for strength to carry on, and in doing that, observers saw the power of God in his life.
No one likes to feel weak. I don’t. For me, the fine line is often between throwing in the towel and having faith that God is using me even if I cannot comprehend what He is doing.
This month, I started praying differently for unsaved loved ones. At first, I felt confident about these prayers. But soon a sense of helplessness and mental discouragement has become overwhelming to the point that praying is a struggle and even a sacrifice. It is not that I have other plans or want to do something else. I just don’t want to pray. If I didn’t have a habit of it, I might not even remember prayer or even think of it.
In my distress over this, I’ve tried praise and worship as they are supposed to bring joy into the prayer closet. This is not happening. Every effort, every aid and prayer help I’ve tried is not aiding or helping. Yet an odd thing has happened. Deep in my heart wells up an unexpected song. Also, I have a certainty that the way I am praying is penetrating the fog and darkness that has been around those persons on my prayer list. In all of the frustration and struggle, I know that my spiritual enemy is doing everything he can to stop me from praying this way and forcing him to back off. I don’t understand it, but I do know this is true.
Lord, I’ve asked more than three times — if this sense of almost dreading prayer is a test to see if I will pray anyway, then I will pray anyway, but if not, if it is merely our foe trying to thwart my prayers, then You know what to do about that. One way or another, Paul knew, and I know too, that Your grace is sufficient. As for Your power being perfected in weakness, I am extremely aware of the weakness. It is up to You to do the power part, whether or not I am aware of it.