It is probably 90% certain that Paul’s thorn in the flesh mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 was some type of physical ailment. However, Paul had many enemies. He had people in his life that frustrated him. Though the thorn referred to in our text may have been a personal physical problem that Paul had, he most certainly also had thorns of relationships.
We all have such thorns in our lives. There are individual people and even groups of people that frustrate us. It could be a fellow employee or your employer, it could be someone you go to church with, it could even be a family member. Sometimes we just wished these people would go away. Life would be so much better if you were not associated with them. You could pray, as Paul did, to have God remove the thorn. However, this type of thorn is of a different nature. It is probably not very appropriate to ask God to ‘remove’ the thorn of relationship (if you know what I mean). If you do, it would be a good idea to specify what you mean by having the thorn removed!
Just like every thorn we endure; God has a reason and purpose for the thorn. Therefore, we must learn how to cope with the thorn of relationship. In considering how to cope with such a thorn, there are several steps we should take.
Maintain your focus. My father-in-law is legally blind. Years ago, he was explaining to me how his eyesight works (or doesn’t work). He said that he had tunnel vision. He has no peripheral vision. He can only see out of one eye that he called his ‘good eye’. However, his good eye is not very good when you consider that out of that eye, he can only see shadows and shapes. Whatever eyesight he has, it is one directional. It is like being in a very narrow tunnel with just a slither of light straight ahead.
In dealing with those who frustrate you and is a thorn in your side, you must practice tunnel vision. You must maintain your focus. It is easy to get sidetracked in life. It is easy to lose your focus. Do not allow those who are a thorn in your side to distract you from being who God created you to be and doing what God has called you to do. Imagine the amount of time we spend concerning ourselves with what someone thinks of us. Imagine the amount of time we spend trying to craftily please those who frustrate us in order to avoid a conflict. Here is the thing you need to understand: Satan will use those who frustrate you to deter you from your calling. Don’t let Satan win. Keep your eyes on the prize.
Look at what Paul said in Philippians 3:13-16. In this passage, Paul is talking about focus. He does not concern himself with things of the past. He maintains a focus on where he is going. Satan will use people in our lives, without them knowing it, as a tool to get us off course and keep us from pressing forward. Keep your focus on God’s Word. Keep your focus on your calling. Don’t lose sight of the heavenly prize.
Let your character speak for itself. Those who may be considered as a thorn in the flesh will often frustrate us through vicious and unwarranted attacks. As a pastor, I have been on the receiving end of such attacks on many occasions. I have never experienced such an attack that had any merit. It is often a truth that is distorted, or something taken out of context, or misinformation, or just a blatant lie. When such attacks come it is easy and natural that we defend ourselves. Let me give you a word of advice from experience: Don’t! The moment you start to defend yourself, the problem escalates. Eventually it turns in to you stooping to their level and issuing unwarranted attacks against them. Jesus Christ is your judge. He knows your heart. He knows your motive. He knows the real you. Therefore, focus on your relationship with the Lord and let your character speak for itself. You have the best lawyer in the universe. His name is Jesus. You don’t have to fight. You don’t have to respond. Just keep your focus. Do not allow yourself to resort to retaliation. God knows your heart and He will defend you.
Learn from them. I have learned that 99% of what critics may say about you is untrue. However, there is that 1% of truth and that 1% is very valuable. Therefore, you must listen and learn. When that thorn in your flesh comes at you with complaints and criticism, make sure you pay attention. Filter out the bad, untruthful, and hurtful things they may say and embrace those things that may be helpful to you. With every annoying and frustrating thrust of that thorn, there is something that will help you to grow and become a better person in Christ. God has a way of teaching us through our frustrations. Just because someone frustrates you and annoys you does not mean that you ignore them. God may be using them to teach you something that may be very helpful and valuable to you.
Pray for those who frustrate you. Be sure to pray for them and not against them. Pray that God would bless them and meet their needs. Pray that God would give them good success and prosperity. Pray a blessing on them. Look what Jesus said in Luke 6:27-36. These words of Jesus are both controversial and refreshing. It is controversial in that it goes against our human nature and everything we have been taught. It is refreshing in that it sounds so relieving. You see, I don’t have to retaliate because Jesus is my advocate. I don’t have to get revenge because vengeance belongs to the Lord. The pain of the thorn is lessened when you respond with goodness rather than evil. Therefore, pray for the thorn in your flesh and pray a blessing upon them.
Learn to love them. In the famous pickle episode of the Andy Griffith, Andy and Barney goes to great lengths to avoid the consumption of Aunt Bee’s homemade ‘kerosine cucumbers.’ At the end of the episode when Aunt Bee makes another large batch, Andy says theses words to Barney, “Learn to love them.” You may have bitter tasting people in your life, learn to love them. You may have those who annoy you constantly to where the thought of their name makes you cringe, learn to love them. You may have those in your life who seem to have made it their goal in life to oppose you at every turn, learn to love them. You may have those that run your name through the mud and goes to great lengths to ruin your reputation, learn to love them. Jesus loves you with all your quirks and ugliness. Jesus loves you for who you are. Consider the great commandment in Matthew 22:37-40. Love your neighbor as yourself.
The thorns of relationships can be extremely painful. However, God allows our paths to cross with people for a reason. There are no accidents with God. There is a reason for that thorn. There is something you can learn. You can experience the grace of God in greater heights. Trust in the Lord who knows what is best for you and be thankful for that one or two or three or more that God has allowed to serve as thorns in your flesh. For it is with these thorns that we are made stronger.