2 Corinthians 12:1–10 (NKJV)
1 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.2 Corinthians 12:1-6
Paul’s account of a vision of being caught up into the third heaven is shared here. While he refers to a “man in Christ,” it is understood that he was speaking of himself, whether directly or by proxy. Paul has related several similar incidents that occurred in his own life and ministry. He is a man of revelation. He is speaking here, however ironically, of the power of his walk with God, not wanting to boast, but nevertheless defending his own record against those who would contend against him for leadership strength in the church at Corinth. At the end of the account, he reassures the people reading that his intention is not to boast, but to reveal the ambitions of those who would turn Corinth against their spiritual father, Paul.
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 12:7-10
After speaking of his experiences with visions and revelations, Paul then turns back to reveal the source of his humility and lack of pride. While Paul was a force of nature, and a strong leader, he still knew his own frailty by a work of God on his behalf. The famous “thorn in the flesh” passage reveals that Paul had a physical issue that kept him from feeling as if he lived in an exalted state. The visions and revelations he had received did not exempt him from normal human frailty. He called this thorn a “messenger of Satan, sent to buffet me.” He felt the infirmity and knew his limitations because God has sent this thing to keep him grounded and humble. In response to Paul’s prayers for deliverance, God answered in a comforting and encouraging response: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” This may not have been the preferred message of encouragement, but it was the message that transformed Paul’s prayer for deliverance into his expression of faith in God, that he would boast in his infirmities that the power of Christ could rest on him. He even goes so far as to say that he “take(s) pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake.”
When sickness, injuries, or just general problems in life come our way, God longs for us to pray for deliverance. However, He also wants His people to hear from Him and understand the process and the preferred end of what is happening in our lives. Therefore, we should not just curse the things that seem to stand in our way. Rather, we should hear the voice of God. Paul prayed three times for this thorn in the flesh to be removed, but only on the third time did God answer him with a negative response and then explain the rationale behind it. God will not just leave you unblessed, but will help you understand the underlying blessing that comes with the divine “no.” Trust God, even when you don’t understand, and He will reveal His plan and purpose to you in time.