Paul’s ‘Thorn in the Flesh’ changed his life, your thorn changes you

As a child I used to walk the fields of our farm in bare feet. One of the hazards of doing this was getting prickles in my feet. 

Little thorns from thistles would dig in and I would be stopped in my tracks. Sitting down I would try and squeeze the little invader out of my skin. Often I couldn’t do this so I then had to hobble home, find a needle out of mum’s sewing kit and dig and delve for the very small little thorn.

Sometimes I couldn’t find it and I had to either get someone to help me or wait until it worked its way to the surface.

Thorn’s are a right pain in the butt, especially if you get them there! They disable you, they cripple and slow down you down.

The greater the thorn the greater the scar.

The Apostle Paul talks in 2 Corinthians 12:6-10 about having a thorn in the flesh, something that crippled him, and held him back. Many suggestions have been made about what this could have been, ranging from eye sight problems, epilepsy, temptations, even some say his marriage. It’s a wide open topic people have sweated and argued over for centuries.

I am going to offer my suggestion.

I believe Paul’s thorn in the flesh was the memories of his past. Paul was a man with a incredibly shameful past.

If a ‘This is your life’ show was made about Paul it would include some very dark and evil moments of him murdering and persecuting Christians. Check it out here Acts 7:54 – 8:3

Such was his past that he renamed himself from Saul to Paul. He wanted to leave the name of ‘Saul’ and all it’s connotations behind.

This past shadows his life and how he views himself. Listen to these words.

For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 1 Corinthians 15:9

Paul was forgiven, yes, but he was left with memory scars, reminders that kept him from being too elated.

We all have them. Memories, some good, some bad. Incidents in the past have shaped and crafted who we have become today.

Recently I have been reading the memoirs of Brennan Manning. ‘All is Grace’ , according to Jeff Goins, is ‘a “ragamuffin memoir” — tattered and frayed in a million, dirty, clumpy pieces’.

Manning has a number of thorns in his side, he doesn’t hold back in bringing them to the surface for all to see.

He describes shame in this way

The sense of being completely insufficient as a person, the nagging feeling that you’re defective and unworthy. Brennan Manning

I wonder what Paul felt when his life was exposed by God for all to see. Shame, guilt, love, mercy, forgiveness, hope?

All mingled around in his thoughts and feelings.

Paul’s thorny load of memories kept him close to Jesus.

Shame will either cage you in behind iron bars of self protection or keep you humble and dependant as you move forward.

Our memories, good and bad, can be an incredible spring board for God’s use in helping others. This was certainly the case for Paul and it can be for us also.

Those who have been there, done that, got the tear stained T- Shirt have a deeper personal experience of suffering than those who may only have an academic knowledge.

I think one of my finest moments as a Pastor was when I helped some of those really struggling with life to write their own sermons. We wrestled together through experiences such as hearing psychotic voices, struggling with gambling, stigmas etc.

This was people, like Paul, telling their story. Every one who listened connected with the story, because it was their story too. Check out these posts. Peace Making in the Debris of a Gambling Addiction; In – Valid Me

Paul’s thorny load of memories transformed lives.

Yours can too.

Want to read more about Paul’s Thorn? Visit Free Stuff and download my message ‘Paul’s thorn is our thorn too’.

Question to consider and leave a comment

  • What ‘Thorn in the flesh’ memories have shaped your life? 

Barry Pearman
Image: Agustín Ruiz Flicker (Creative Commons)