If the Apostle Paul lived in twenty-first-century America, he would have available to him two ministry opportunities he clearly overlooked back in the first century.
The first is a book deal for Visions from the Third Heaven.
The second is a thorn ministry.
You know how it works: Suffering comes into one’s life, and she then uses that difficulty to start a ministry for people dealing with the exact same issue.
In Paul’s case, this would, of course, be a “thorn ministry.” We know that Paul had a “thorn in the flesh” which he pleaded with God to remove. Rather than removing it, God gave Paul His all-sufficient grace.
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness…—2 Corinthians 12:7–9
Indeed, sometimes we assume the purpose of our trials is to allow us to help others in the same situation.
We have an expected progression and outcome:
- Suffering comes into my life.
- It comes to a reasonably-defined conclusion.
- God brings obvious good from it.
- With clarity and hindsight, I use that difficulty to start a ministry for people dealing with the exact same issue.
Truth be told, the progression of pain-to-ministry is how God sometimes works.
But it’s not always.
For instance, what if your pain is private? What if your trial is hidden? What if the difficulties through which you are going involve others and are not yours to share?
Or what if step two is missing? What if you you are dealing with a chronic kind of difficulty? The kind where you don’t see any conclusion in sight?
What if steps one and three work in more of an uncomfortable tandem than a clearly-defined progression?
Do you have ministry then?
Sometimes God allows hidden pressures or ongoing challenges that don’t fit neatly into our “thorn ministry” packages.
And in those times, when it seems our difficulties actually hinder us from ministry, we can take comfort in the fact that Paul didn’t have a “thorn ministry.” Rather, he allowed his thorn to deepen his gospel ministry.
Paul didn’t have a “thorn ministry.” Rather, he allowed his thorn to deepen his gospel ministry. Click To Tweet
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.—Galatians 6:14
When you think about it, we don’t even know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. I wonder if the Corinthians did.
We know it was painful and ongoing. And we know Paul would have preferred not to experience it. But that’s about it.
So how did this thorn enable Paul to serve? What’s the secret?
Thorns don’t determine who we serve; they uniquely shape how we serve.
Paul didn’t use his thorn as a platform to reach other people with thorns. He used it as a cup to receive comfort to give others in trouble.
Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.—2 Corinthians 1:3–4
Private suffering is not detached from personal ministry. Nor is it always the platform for future ministry. Rather, it is the receptacle for God’s grace from which to serve.
Do you wonder how you can have real ministry through thorn-like difficulty?
1. We must receive God’s comfort if we are to give comfort.
Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.—2 Corinthians 1:3–5
If you and I aren’t personally, actively, persistently going to God Himself and receiving comfort through the pages of His Word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we have nothing to give others but dry, empty words, or perhaps volatile, emotionally-charged experience, sprinkled with the dust of human intentions.
We aren’t faucets; we are channels. If our experience in God’s comfort is shallow, our ability to give it will be as well.If our experience in God’s comfort is shallow, our ability to give it will be as well. Click To Tweet
2. We must depend God’s strength if we are to serve from our weakness.
The best part about thorn ministry is that it’s not our strength that enables us to serve, but our weakness. It’s our inadequacy, our limitations.
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.—2 Corinthians 12:9–10
But let us not revel in our weakness without relying on God’s strength. Without God’s comfort, we have nothing to give. Without God’s strength, we won’t give for long.Without God’s comfort, we have nothing to give. Without God’s strength, we won’t give for long. Click To Tweet
Our place of weakness is where God’s strength is enabled.
It’s not strength that enables us to serve, nor is it exact experience.
It is weakness.
It is grace.