“It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. 5 Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities. 6 For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me.
7 “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12)
This is an account from the life of the Apostle Paul which has been recorded and preserved as an example of a not so unordinary happening within the life of a faithful follower of Christ. The mysterious thorn in the flesh. The thorn was never identified. Was it a physical ailment? Was it an emotional struggle? Could it have been a spiritual weakness of faith? Doubt? Depression? A limp? A backache? A toothache? A negative companion? A wayward child? Blurred vision? Or the advancement of old age?
I had a pastor say this to me years ago in a moment of spiritual arrogance: “Brother Jerry, I can’t believe that the Holy Spirit revealed to me what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was!” I said rather as a matter of fact, “I can’t believe it either!”
Beloved, nobody knows! And there is a very good reason why God nor Paul never spoke of how this infliction affected a point of identifying with the struggle his body, mind, or soul. The reason was that in the vagueness of it, we might find many ways the truth of this teaching example might fit within the scheme of things while serving Christ Jesus. “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Vance Havner. Most people today may have never heard of Vance Havner (1901-1986), but this man of God was very special because he was so gripped with the Word of God that he began preaching outdoors when he was only 14 years of age and he committed that he would never stop until he went into glory!
His preaching didn’t bring scolding but conviction and that’s just what he desired. Havner grew up in the country hills of North Carolina and as a young boy into manhood, he consumed everything he could read about God. He attended Catawba College, Wake Forest University, and finally, Moody Bible Institute, but most considered him to being self-taught since college was not enough for him. If he was not preaching, he had his nose in the Bible or in a book by a Christian author.
Not long after I was saved and a committed member of Bristol Street Baptist Church, my then Pastor, Brother Norman Ford, took me with him to what may have been a California Southern Baptist Evangelism Conference in Long Beach, California. Norman was excited and encouraging to me as Vance Havner was to be the keynote speaker. Of course, as a new believer, I had no idea who Vance Havner was . . . but I had a strong desire to find why Pastor Ford was so looking forward to hearing this man preach.
The time of Havner’s sharing with the large gathering had arrived. Being seated far from the front of the auditorium, I had not yet seen this mighty man of God. But as I strained to see any movement up front as He was introduced, I noticed a rather large man stand on the front row. I thought, “Yeah, he is a big man of God after all!” And this strengthened my desire to hear what he might have to say. But wait! This big man is reaching to his right side and leaning close to someone seated nearby. Slowly he helped this frail, skinny, old gentleman to his feet and carefully led him to the platform steps and eventually up to the podium. No, could this obviously weak elderly man be Vance Havner? It surely was! Havner gripped the pulpit with both hands, not in a casual looking manner, but in self-defense. He was holding on to not fall.
For a few moments I was shocked and disappointed . . . then he began to speak with the power and authority that only God could give to a weak vessel, yet a vessel to give honor and glory to Himself.
In that meeting and after I had heard how God used such a man committed to servanthood, I began to see and desire the commitment all believers must make. I was not yet aware that God was on a trajectory of revealing His call upon my life to preach His Word.
This thorn having no name will certainly effect on each of us in differing ways and seasons of life, for no other reason than to cause us to lean more heavily on God shoulder for support and strength to carry on the tasks given to us. Praise His name above all others!
Myself. My purpose here is not to boast in anything Jerry, neither compare myself in any stretch to a Paul or even a Vance, but rather boast in the power of God through our weaknesses.
Since December 30, 2023, I have been having serious episodes of Vertigo, which seemingly is connected to my diagnosis of Meniere’s Disease years ago. The first episode on that day was crippling. I could not stand or walk, in my attempt to get help, I slowly crawled military style until exhausted. Since that first one, in most of the others I could use my legs but needed the help of others or something solid to hold to or I would fall. These episodes have very little warning.
This past Sunday was extremely important for our church in Green Valley. The direction God has been moving me to challenge my people was becoming clearer by the message He gave me to share during Worship, and the inauguration of a new group designed to help one another shed worldly obstacles that hinder our becoming more Christlike, New Beginnings Fellowship, was on the schedule for that afternoon. Everyone was willing to sacrifice the Super Bowl for this. I needed to be at church!
In the wee hours of Sunday morning, about 3am, I became aware during sleep that another Vertigo experience was beginning to take place. I tried to relax and go back to sleep hoping that by morning it would be over. It did not work that way. When I awoke the room was spinning and my ability to walk was grossly hindered. I prayed. I begged. Nothing.
Hanging on to all that I could along the way, I managed to get into the bathroom and dress totally in a seated position. This took over an hour. I sent prayer requests to my faithful prayer warrior friends for stability. It did not come, however the room spinning in my eyes ceased if I focused my look straight ahead of me. To gaze in any other direction but right in front of me, and to focus on things far rather than near, the spinning would begin to reappear.
In my mind the enemy was trying to persuade me to give up and stay home. But God had given me the message and the task in the afternoon. I knew that if I had to crawl God wanted me there. I spent many hours praying and building my determination to be faithful to what I knew He expected me to do.
My wife drove me to church just minutes before our Worship began. My son filled in for my usual activities of the hour leading up to the message. I sat on the front row with my eyes focused straight in front of me and avoiding all brightness of light. This was a defensive posture. The church sang together. I prayed. They gave their offerings. I prayed. They interceded. I prayed.
Time for the message. At this point I had been seated for close to 30 minutes. I did not know if I would be able to stand or fall on my face. I slowly rose to my feet, my instability only strengthened by the aid of my wooden cane. The lights, which were problematic for my condition, were turned off. I gripped my slender glass pulpit for all that it was worth, and sat on a tall stool behind it, and began to preach the most power filled message of my life.
The weakness and instability of body did not leave. I had to be helped home for lunch before the gathering again of the people a few miles away. By this time, I could slowly manage to walk with only the cane. The room had been put in place with my seat to be at the apex of our large but friendly circle. I explained and taught the purpose of New Beginnings Fellowship for close to three hours. The power of God in me was very noticeable to myself and others. God had used my weakness to glorify Himself and move the church’s commitment to 100%.
Beloved, when we are weak, He is strong. There are times when we must accept our weaknesses and surrender them to His strength in faithful obedience. Do you have a thorn? Eventually we all will experience them. Some short term, some for the duration of service. Pray On, and Keep On, to His glory!