As I think about the spring, I am again reminded of Christ’s death and resurrection. I think about His thorns as I think about mine. This article is not about a specific thorn, but about how to handle the thorns in our lives and how to effectively minister to others.
I will not mention my specific thorn—or thorns—because Paul did not. Paul was a creative speaker, a brilliant writer, and an eloquent communicator for Christ, but he had a thorn. Scripture does not specifically mention what it is, but scholars believe that it may have been a physical challenge, a relationship or a challenge within his life. This thorn brought him continually closer to the Lord and showed Paul how to rely on Him despite challenges.
What is a thorn? When I looked it up in the dictionary, I found that a thorn is something that causes irritation and annoyance; a woody plant bearing sharp impeding processes (as briars, prickles, or spines), and something that causes distress or irritation—often used in the phrase thorn in one's side.
Everyone has thorns. Some are challenged with them more than others. They can be physical challenges, difficult relationships, or mental and physical holes in a person’s life. Not all thorns are caused by sin. Some thorns can be the result of other people’s choices, but all thorns must be dealt with daily. Whether or not the thorns are caused by sin, our response is to work at them and try to understand the challenges presented by that thorn.
How to deal with thorns
First, be thankful for the thorn. Paul talks discusses them 2 Corinthians 12:7 when he says that,“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” Through God’s grace, we can be strong.
Do not get bitter with the thorn. In my case, some in the Christian community have not been supportive of the challenges I face with my thorn. People with whom I have been brutally honest about my challenges, have swept my thorn under the rug. They have been insensitive and unsupportive. I am sure that they prayed, but since they did not know how to respond, they did not say anything at all. On the positive, I have found supportive my non-Christian friends have been more sensitive about my thorn. I have also grown closer to my family members, my sister in particular. I thank God for restoring these relationships everyday. Thorns are not necessarily caused by sin, but sometimes act as lessons from God. Genesis 6:9 says, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” Think of the mental and physical thorns he felt when he began to build the ark and had to deal with the separation from his family.
Know your limits when dealing with your thorn. I have chosen to surrender some of my non-essential activities to allow more rest in my life. In my case, I also decided to quit medical treatment to allow me to deal more effectively with my thorn. I have learned to say no especially to those people who have been non-supportive throughout this process. This fall, I gave up four volunteer activities. I do not miss any of them and I am glad to get out of those situations. I am learning to embrace “me” time when I am faced with multiple stressful situations. I have also found that ministering—despite my pain—has been a source of healing for me.
I have also sought help. Counseling and talking with friends has been essential in helping me deal with my thorn. It is not bad to get help from a Christian counselor. I am not embarrassed about my situation and talk freely with others about it. James 4:6 says that “But he gives us more grace.” That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” My thorn has kept me humble and so it did for Paul.
Use negative thorn experiences for good. I have found that my deepest darkest moments with my thorn have helped me be creative as a writer. Some of my best work has come during those hardest moments of my life. I have also seen other talents in my life increase. God has given me the gift of singing and I feel a greater depth in my vocal talents than ever before.Psalm 84:7 says, “They go from strength to strength, Until each appears before God in Zion” and in Proverbs 4:18 it says that “the path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” Philippians 1:6 says,“Being confident of this that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Freedom is not always being freed. I am not sure what road my thorn will take me on but within the depths of my mental prison, I can be assured by Psalm 118:5 that says, “In my anguish I cried to the LORD, and he answered by setting me free.” My freedom is very personal and not apparent but, at times, I feel it near.
Involve exercise as part of your daily lifestyle and rejoice in the things that you can control. I have also taken up long distance running, continued per iodization in my weightlifting, and have started stretching classes. Long Distance running has given me direction, goals, and new relationships. I am trying new things I only dreamed of doing like half-marathons and maybe a few full ones later this year. Weightlifting continues to inspire me as I watch my muscles grow. It is essential when dealing with a thorn to rejoice in the circumstances that you can control. Philippians 3:12-15 says, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point, you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. “
Be sure to eat right and take care of yourself. Proper sleep and nutrition are essential in dealing with a life crisis. I have not been good in this area recently and I have realized that my coping skills have suffered due to lack of proper nutrition and rest.
I Corinthians 6:12-13 says, “Everything is permissible for me–but not everything is beneficial.” “Everything is permissible for me–but I will not be mastered by anything.” “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food–but God will destroy them both.”
I Corinthians 6:19-20 also says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body.”
Forgive and just move on. Think of what Jesus said about forgiving. He said to forgive 70 times seven. That is many times in just one day. Matthew 18:21-22says, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but 77 times.’”You may not feel like forgiving, but it is the right thing to do. Eventually the pain does not hurt so much. I am hoping that in time it will go away. God is a much better judge than I can ever be.
Limit your time with draining and negative situations. I have found that it is best if I limit the time and energy I devote to situations requiring me to dwell on my thorn. I limit my exposure to friends, places, and circumstances that refuse to be supportive. Setting energizing personal goals has helped me during this thorny time in my life.
Last of all, I suggest that you keep a quiet time. I know that without a quiet time, I would not have been able to weather the storms of my life. Other irritants have also entered my life and I am using these irritants and my thorns to help me grow in the grace of God. I know he has a plan for me.
How to help someone with thorns
Be non-judgmental about the thorn. Colossians 1:10 says, “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” Instead of always giving advice, live a life worthy of bearing helpful fruit in that person’s life. Let God sort out if that person needs to be emptied of themselves or their sin.
Pray for that person and let them know you are doing so. Tears of gratitude well up in my eyes for the people who have simply told me that they have been praying for me. That is a tremendous gift. The words themselves are not important, but what they represent is tremendously important to me.
Pat answers are okay. Throughout this experience, I have received goofy advice from people. At first, it bothered me; but when I really looked at the situation, I realized that those people said those things because they cared. I would rather have people be open, honest, and ask me how I am doing; many people I expected to do so, did not.
Last of all, realize that the greatest thorn did not happen to you but to the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew 27:29 says, “and they twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said.” Mark 15:17 echoes, “they put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him.” John 19:5 continues, “When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’”
As you go through life dealing with your thorns or ministering to someone with thorns., I pray that you remember Philippians 1:9-11, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.”
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