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.—2 Corinthians 12:7–9
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. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Our Lord is known as the God who hears our prayers. In Psalm 65:2, David addresses the Lord by the name, “O Thou That Hearest Prayer.” In Proverbs 15:8, we find that the prayer of the upright is His delight. We find numerous examples all throughout the Bible where God answers the prayers of the Redeemed, the very favorites of heaven. What love and grace the Lord had for His children to spend the evening before His crucifixion with His flock. What love and grace the God of the universe has for His people to declare, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” God loves His people. The one whose name is “O Thou That Hearest Prayer” delights in nothing more than to love, cherish, nurture, and care for His children and to hear their prayers.
But there are times when the Lord in His infinite wisdom sees fit to not answer a prayer. We do find that God does not answer prayer or even hear prayer when it is prayed from a heart of sin and lust. But even when a prayer makes it to the ears of God, there are times when He knows it best to leave it unanswered. In John 11, Mary and Martha sent to Jesus for to have Him come and heal their brother Lazarus. Although the Lord heard their prayer, the prayer was unanswered because their request was for the wrong timing. The Lord in His timing raised Lazarus from the dead and Mary and Martha were comforted. In 1 Kings 19 we encounter Elijah, the man who prayed and God sent fire from heaven. This same man is now sitting under a Juniper tree requesting that God would end his life. Although the prayer was heard, God didn’t answer this prayer because God still had work for him to do.
Then in 2 Corinthians 12, we find a precious man of God, a man of faith, power, and prayer buffeted by a thorn in the flesh. This man Paul asked the Lord to remove this thorn. Though his prayer itself went unanswered, God did answer him. Paul was fervent in his prayer. He kept asking the Lord to remove it and the Lord never granted his request. It may even be possible that Paul asked in faith without regarding any iniquity in his heart. But after the third request, the Lord answered with the words, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” After praying three times with his requests going unanswered, I would imagine that each of those words rang loudly in his heart. The prayer that Paul prayed in the thorns went unanswered because God was teaching him that the grace of God was sufficient enough.
Thorns are a result of the curse of sin. Along with thorns, sin also introduced pain and death. Thorns for us represent the fruits of sin. No matter how big or small, thorns are some of the most aggravating aspects of nature. Some thorns are so small that it takes days to get rid of them when they are pricked into the skin. Some thorns carry poison which can cause an allergic reaction or terrible sickness. Other thorns are big, bold, and cut deep inside. In life, we ourselves deal with the curse of sin each and every day. Some of life’s thorns cut deep inside when family and friends turn their backs on you. Other of life’s thorns seem to stay stuck in you through days on end as you struggle with physical pain, the carnal nature, and strife with others. Some of life’s thorns may carry a poison as you watch a close friend suffer through a tormenting sickness or even pass away. The prayer we pray in the thorns may be even as the Apostle Paul’s—”Lord, remove this thorn from me.” This prayer in the thorns is answered by God’s gracious words,
“MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR THEE.”
As each of these words rang loudly in the heart of Paul, each of these words ring loudly for us as we pray in the thorns.
Notice first the word, “My.” This grace belongs to none other than the Lord our Savior. With all that’s going on in the world today, the Lord doesn’t delight in the rulers of the world. He doesn’t care about its politics. The Lord delights to be with His children. Even when it seems that the Lord is far from us, the Holy God says, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” One of our Lord’s greatest concerns for His people as He was preparing His disciples for the coming events of His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension was to make sure His people knew they weren’t going to be left comfortless. The God who is answering with the words, “My grace is sufficient for thee,” is a God who loves His children.
Notice next the word, “Grace.” Not His judgment. Not His wrath. But His grace. We are told to come boldly to His throne of grace. The God before whom all the mighty kings and dictators of the past will tremble in reverence and fear as they await their final judgment—this same God we, as the favorites of heaven, can come boldly before. But it is only because of His grace. As much as I have deserved hell, and as much as my heart was filled with sin, “where sin abounded grace did much more abound.” There’s grace to save the worst sinner on earth. And there’s grace to comfort the most broken of hearts. Although God’s people are promised times of chastening, through the prayer in the thorns we are reminded that there is grace. “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”
Notice next the little word, “Is”. Not “Has Been,” though God’s grace has truly always been sufficient. Not “Will Be,” though we can take comfort in the promise that we can always “find grace to help in time of need.” For Paul’s immediate time of affliction in the thorns, he was promised, “My grace IS sufficient.” There can be no doubt. This is no fake news. God’s grace was sufficient at the very moment of need. This promise is just as true and relevant today. Whenever I am in the thorns, I know God will have grace for that very situation. Right now, His grace is with me.
Now we see this word, “Sufficient.” This is a very beloved word to mathematicians. A “sufficient condition” is a statement such that if it is satisfied, then the proposition is guaranteed to be true. Something that is sufficient is something that is just enough to satisfy. Any less may not fix the problem. Any more is just extra. God’s grace is sufficient. Anything less than the grace of God will not be enough. And any more grace that is added on is just an extra blessing. Paul thought that the removal of the thorns would be sufficient or “just enough” to take care of his situation. But he had to learn that God would give just the right amount of grace to help in his time of need.
Notice lastly the words, “For Thee.” God spoke directly with Paul. This was a personal promise. I’m so glad that I have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. I’m so thankful that I can come to God’s Holy Word knowing that it was written for me. In the prayer in the thorns, Paul knew God was giving this promise to HIM. When I am in the thorns, God has grace for ME. Yes, He will have grace for others. But He has grace for ME—I who was filthy and unfit to be loved—I found grace in the eyes of the Lord. This promise is made to every single person individually and personally. For one who does not know Christ as their Lord and Savior, God’s grace is sufficient for THEE. It is enough to save whosoever shall call upon His name. For one who has been battling the thorns of life as a born-again believer, God’s grace is sufficient for THEE.
Paul’s requests for his thorn to be removed was not granted. His prayer itself went unanswered. But the LORD, rather than answering his prayer, answered his need. Paul didn’t need for his thorn to be removed. He needed grace. We know God’s will is good, acceptable, and perfect. It is able to be accepted. We may not know the full layout of the paths He is directing. We may not know every turn of the path. We may not see every root that pops out of the ground to trip us or every thorn that pokes out of the hedges to prick us. But we do know the paths He is directing are good, acceptable, and perfect.
“My grace is sufficient for thee.”