Coping With “a Thorn in the Flesh”
“My undeserved kindness is sufficient for you.”—2 CORINTHIANS 12:9.
1, 2. (a) Why should we not be puzzled over the fact that we face tests and problems? (b) Why can we be confident in the face of trials?
“ALL those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12) Why is that so? Because Satan contends that man serves God only for selfish reasons, and he is desperate to prove his point. Jesus once warned his faithful apostles: “Satan has demanded to have you men to sift you as wheat.” (Luke 22:31) Jesus well knew that God allows Satan to test us by means of painful problems. Of course, that does not mean that every difficulty we face in life springs directly from Satan or his demons. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) But Satan is eager to use any means at his disposal to break our integrity.
2 The Bible tells us that we should not be puzzled over our trials. Whatever may befall us, it is neither strange nor unexpected. (1 Peter 4:12) In fact, “the same things in the way of sufferings are being accomplished in the entire association of [our] brothers in the world.” (1 Peter 5:9) Today, Satan is putting extreme pressure on every servant of God. The Devil delights to see us tormented with as many thornlike problems as possible. To that end, he uses his system of things in such a way that it is likely to add to or aggravate any ‘thorns in our flesh.’ (2 Corinthians 12:7) Nonetheless, Satan’s attacks need not break our integrity. Just as Jehovah will “make the way out” for us to endure temptation, he will do the same when we face troubles that are like thorns in our flesh.—1 Corinthians 10:13.
How to Cope With a Thorn
3. How did Jehovah reply when Paul asked him to remove the thorn in his flesh?
3 The apostle Paul begged God to remove the thorn from his flesh. “In this behalf I three times entreated the Lord that it might depart from me.” What was Jehovah’s reply to Paul’s ardent request? “My undeserved kindness is sufficient for you; for my power is being made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:8, 9) Let us analyze this response and see how it can help us to cope with any thornlike problems that pain us.
4. In what ways had Paul benefited from Jehovah’s undeserved kindness?
4 Notice that God encouraged Paul to appreciate the undeserved kindness that had already been extended to him through Christ. Indeed, Paul had been greatly blessed in many ways. Jehovah lovingly granted him the privilege of discipleship, though he had been a fanatic opposer of Jesus’ followers. (Acts 7:58; 8:3; 9:1-4) Jehovah thereafter kindly gave Paul many thrilling assignments and privileges. The lesson for us is clear. Even in the worst of times, we still have many blessings for which to be grateful. Never should our trials make us forget the abundant goodness of Jehovah.—Psalm 31:19.
5, 6. (a) How did Jehovah teach Paul that divine power is “made perfect in weakness”? (b) How did Paul’s example prove Satan a liar?
5 Jehovah’s undeserved kindness proves sufficient in another way. God’s power is more than enough to help us through our trials. (Ephesians 3:20) Jehovah taught Paul that divine power is “made perfect in weakness.” How? He lovingly supplied Paul with all the strength he needed in order to cope with his trial. In turn, Paul’s endurance and his implicit trust in Jehovah revealed to all that God’s power was triumphing in the case of this weak and sinful man. Now consider the effect on the Devil, who claims that men serve God only when life is comfortable and uncomplicated. Paul’s integrity amounted to a slap in the face of that slanderer!
6 Here was Paul, Satan’s former ally in his fight against God, an insolent persecutor of Christians, a zealous Pharisee who, no doubt, once enjoyed many comforts of life because he was born into a privileged class. Paul was now serving Jehovah and Christ as “the least of the apostles.” (1 Corinthians 15:9) As such, he was humbly submitting to the authority of the first-century Christian governing body. And he was enduring faithfully despite his thorn in the flesh. Much to Satan’s chagrin, life’s trials did not cause Paul’s zeal to wane. Never did Paul lose his focus on the hope that he would share in Christ’s heavenly Kingdom. (2 Timothy 2:12; 4:18) No thorn, however painful, could diminish his zeal. May our zeal, likewise, continue strong! By sustaining us through our trials, Jehovah dignifies us with the privilege of helping to prove Satan a liar.—Proverbs 27:11.
Jehovah’s Provisions Vital
7, 8. (a) By what means does Jehovah empower his servants today? (b) Why is daily Bible reading and study so vital to coping with a thorn in our flesh?
7 Today, Jehovah empowers faithful Christians by means of his holy spirit, his Word, and our Christian brotherhood. Like the apostle Paul, we can throw our burdens on Jehovah in prayer. (Psalm 55:22) Although God may not remove our trials, he can grant us the wisdom to cope with them, even with those that are especially hard to bear. Jehovah can also supply us with fortitude—giving us “power beyond what is normal”—to help us endure.—2 Corinthians 4:7.
8 How do we receive such help? We must diligently study God’s Word, for therein we will find his sure consolations. (Psalm 94:19) In the Bible, we read the poignant words of God’s servants as they begged for divine help. Jehovah’s responses, which often include the use of comforting words, are food for meditation. Study will fortify us so that “the power beyond what is normal may be God’s and not that out of ourselves.” Just as we need to eat physical food every day for nourishment and strength, so we must feed on God’s words regularly. Do we do this? If we do, then we will see that our receiving “power beyond what is normal” helps us to endure whatever figurative thorns may afflict us now.
9. How can elders support those coping with problems?
9 God-fearing Christian elders can “prove to be like a hiding place from the wind” of distress, “a place of concealment from the rainstorm” of problems. Elders, who want to fit that inspired description, humbly and sincerely ask Jehovah to give them “the tongue of the taught ones” so that they may know how to answer suffering ones with the right words. The words of the elders can be like a gentle rain that cools and comforts our spirit during hard times in life. By speaking “consolingly to the depressed souls,” elders truly support their spiritual brothers and sisters who may be getting weary or downhearted because of some thorn in their flesh.—Isaiah 32:2; 50:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:14.
10, 11. How can God’s servants encourage others who are undergoing severe tests?
10 All of Jehovah’s servants are part of his united Christian family. Yes, we are “members belonging individually to one another,” and we are “under obligation to love one another.” (Romans 12:5; 1 John 4:11) How do we fulfill this obligation? According to 1 Peter 3:8, we do so by “showing fellow feeling, having brotherly affection, [and being] tenderly compassionate” to all those related to us in the faith. As for those coping with a particularly painful thorn in the flesh, be they young or old, all of us can give them special consideration. How?
11 We should strive to be sensitive to their suffering. If we are callous, cold, or indifferent, we might inadvertently make their suffering worse. Our being aware of their trials ought to move us to be careful in what we say, how we say it, and how we act. Our being positive and encouraging can help to dull some of the sharp pain of whatever thorn is afflicting them. We may thereby prove to be a strengthening aid to them.—Colossians 4:11.
How Some Have Coped Successfully
12-14. (a) What did one Christian do to cope with cancer? (b) How did this woman’s spiritual brothers and sisters support and encourage her?
12 As we near the end of these last days, the “pangs of distress” are increasing daily. (Matthew 24:8) Thus, trials are likely to afflict everyone on earth, especially Jehovah’s faithful servants, who are seeking to do his will. For example, consider a Christian serving in the full-time ministry. She was diagnosed with cancer and had to have her salivary and lymphatic glands surgically removed. When she and her husband learned that she had this disease, they immediately turned to Jehovah in a long, beseeching prayer. She later said that an unbelievable peace came over them. Still, she endured many ups and downs, especially when coping with the side effects of her treatments.
13 To deal with her situation, this sister tried to learn as much as she could about cancer. She consulted with her doctors. In The Watchtower, Awake!, and related Christian publications, she found personal accounts showing how individuals had coped emotionally with this illness. She also read relevant Bible passages showing Jehovah’s ability to sustain his people during difficulties, and other helpful information.
14 One article on coping with despair cited these wise words: “One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing.” (Proverbs 18:1) The article therefore gave this advice: “Resist isolation.”* The sister relates: “Many told me they were praying for me; others phoned me. Two elders called regularly to check up on me. I received flowers and loads of cards. Some even prepared meals. Also, many volunteered to take me to my treatments.”
15-17. (a) How did one Christian cope with the difficulties that resulted from accidents? (b) What support did those in the congregation provide?
15 A longtime servant of Jehovah in New Mexico, U.S.A., was in two automobile accidents. Her neck and shoulders were injured, aggravating an arthritic condition with which she had been coping for over 25 years. She relates: “I had great difficulty holding my head up and carrying anything weighing over five pounds [2 kg]. But fervent prayer to Jehovah has sustained me greatly. So have the articles in The Watchtower that we have studied. One commented on Micah 6:8, noting that being modest in walking with God means knowing one’s limitations. This helped me to appreciate that in spite of my condition, I should not get discouraged, even though the time I spent in the ministry was less than I wished. Serving him with pure motives is primarily what counts.”
16 She also reports: “The elders always commended me for my efforts to attend the meetings and to go out in the field ministry. Young ones would greet me with a hug. The pioneer ministers were so patient with me and often rearranged their plans on my bad days. When the weather was difficult, they would kindly take me on return visits or invite me to sit in on their Bible studies. And since I could not carry a book bag, other publishers put my literature in their bag when I went out in the preaching work.”
17 Notice how congregation elders and fellow believers helped these two sisters to cope with their thornlike infirmities. They offered practical, kind assistance designed to meet specific spiritual, physical, and emotional needs. Does that not encourage you to render aid to other brothers and sisters who are experiencing problems? You young ones too can be an aid to those in your congregation who are contending with thorns in their flesh.—Proverbs 20:29.
18. What encouragement may we find in the life stories published in the Watchtower and Awake! magazines?
18 The Watchtower and Awake! magazines have published many life stories and experiences of Witnesses who have coped, and are still coping, with problems in life. As you regularly read such articles, you will see that many of your spiritual brothers and sisters around the world have endured economic hardships, loss of loved ones in disasters, and dangerous wartime conditions. Others live with incapacitating diseases. Many cannot do some of the simple things in life that healthy ones take for granted. Their illnesses test them most severely, especially when they cannot share in Christian activities as much as they would like. How deeply they appreciate the help and support that their brothers and sisters, young and old, render them!
Endurance Brings Happiness
19. Why was Paul able to rejoice in spite of his thornlike trials and weaknesses?
19 Paul rejoiced to see how God strengthened him. He said: “Most gladly . . . will I rather boast as respects my weaknesses, that the power of the Christ may like a tent remain over me. Therefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in insults, in cases of need, in persecutions and difficulties, for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am powerful.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10) Because of his personal experiences, Paul could confidently state: “Not that I am speaking with regard to being in want, for I have learned, in whatever circumstances I am, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to be low on provisions, I know indeed how to have an abundance. In everything and in all circumstances I have learned the secret of both how to be full and how to hunger, both how to have an abundance and how to suffer want. For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me.”—Philippians 4:11-13.
20, 21. (a) Why may we find joy in meditating on “things unseen”? (b) What are some “things unseen” that you hope to see in the earthly Paradise?
20 So, then, by enduring whatever figurative thorn is in our flesh, we can find great happiness in showing everyone that Jehovah’s power is being made perfect in our weakness. Paul wrote: “We do not give up . . . Certainly the man we are inside is being renewed from day to day. For though the tribulation is momentary and light, it works out for us a glory that is of more and more surpassing weight and is everlasting; while we keep our eyes . . . on the things unseen. For the things . . . unseen are everlasting.”—2 Corinthians 4:16-18.
21 Most of Jehovah’s people today hope to live in his earthly Paradise and to enjoy the blessings he has promised. Such blessings might be considered “unseen” to us today. However, the time is rapidly approaching when we will see those blessings with our own eyes, yes, and enjoy them forever. One such blessing will be the relief of never again having to live with any thornlike problem! God’s Son will “break up the works of the Devil” and “bring to nothing the one having the means to cause death.”—1 John 3:8; Hebrews 2:14.
22. What confidence and determination should be ours?
22 Therefore, whatever thorn in our flesh is hurting us today, let us keep on coping with it. Like Paul, we will have the strength to do so by virtue of Jehovah, who generously imparts power to us. When we are living in the earthly Paradise, we will bless Jehovah our God every day for all his wonderful doings in our behalf.—Psalm 103:2.
See the article “The Bible’s Viewpoint: How to Cope With Despair,” in the May 8, 2000, issue of Awake!
How Would You Answer?
• Why and how does the Devil try to break the integrity of true Christians?
• How is Jehovah’s power “made perfect in weakness”?
• How can elders and others encourage those pained by problems?
[Picture on page 18]
Three times Paul prayed that God would remove the thorn in his flesh