Everyone gets a “thorn in the flesh” once in a while.  What’s yours?  Maybe it’s a medical problem, that baring a miracle, you’ll have to deal with for the rest of your life.  Or, maybe your “thorn in the flesh” is, you’re underwater financially.  And it’s not like you’re being wasteful, but your income just doesn’t match your responsibilities.  Another “thorn in the flesh” some have is certain members of their family.  Maybe that’s not a good thing to say, but sometimes a person takes more wisdom, more patience, and more forgiveness than we got in us.  Anyway, regardless of who or what your “thorn in the flesh” is, there is a one size fits all answer.  That answer is the one God gave to St. Paul for his “thorn in the flesh”.  He told him, “My grace is sufficient for you.”  

Whatever our needs are, God’s grace is all we need, to meet those needs.  But how does this really work?  Are we to just sit back in our Lazyboys, and wait for God to zap us with His grace?  Well, not exactly.  It’s true, there are no seemingly impossible problems that God can’t rescue us from in a blink of an eyes, and sometimes He does.  But more often, we also have to do our part to receive the blessings of His grace.

Let me explain.  God’s grace is His undeserved love for us in sending Jesus to be our Savior.  For Jesus’ sake God justifies us.  He declares us fit for heaven, and we played no part in this whatsoever.  Our right standing before God is 100% His doing, not ours.  Also, what Jesus has done for all people, doesn’t do the individual any good, unless He believes it.  But this, too, is all God’s doing.  Through the water and the Word, He worked faith in our hearts, and we didn’t help Him one bit. We couldn’t.  We were spiritually dead, and so our faith and our believing, is purely God’s gift of grace to us.  

And now having been made spiritually alive, we are not yet all that we should be, and will be in heaven someday.  In the meanwhile, we all have some sins that we need to overcome.  Or, we all have some sinful attitudes that need changing, or maybe there’s some doctrines in the Bible we’re not quite understanding yet.  And by the way, let me repeat something I said in my last sermon.  Bible teachings aren’t about who’s right or who’s wrong.  Bible teachings are about God’s love for us, and so they deepen our relationship with Him, while at the same time uniting us together as His dear children.   

But how does these needed changes and growth happen inside us?  Well, God plays a part by directing our lives and blessing His Word.  We play a part by using His Word.  On the other hand, if we’re being lazy with His Word.  We won’t be growing.  Our faith will stagnate.  Our faith could even die altogether.  Neither God nor we want that, and so, Paul for example was thankful for his “thorn in the flesh”, because it helped him to keep on growing.  So, are you thankful for your “thorn in the flesh”?

If we say, “No, I am not thankful for my thorn in the flesh”, isn’t that kind of like resisting God’s will?  But if we say, “Yes, I am thankful for my thorn in the flesh”, are we afraid that God’s going to make us have it longer and worse?  We don’t have to fear that! This morning we’re going to learn that no matter what “thorns in the flesh” we’re going through, God’s grace is sufficient for us.  We’re also going to learn from Martin Luther’s some practical ways to get the most out of God’s Word, so that we do keep growing and we do become thankful for our thorns like Paul was.

Now, Luther experienced many “thorns in the flesh.”  He had health thorns.  When he was in his 40s, he almost died from kidney stones.  They loaded him up in a wooden ox cart to take him to where he could he surrounded by his family.  But the bouncy oxcart ride shook his kidney stones loose, and after that he got better.  Can you imagine how painful that oxcart ride was?  When Luther was in his 50’s he suffered a massive heart attack. He survived, but for the next 10 years had to deal with chest pains, and wondering each day if this would be his last.  God’s grace was sufficient to get him through all of that, and Luther would add, to make him a better person.  

Another, even bigger “thorn in the flesh” for Luther was from his spiritual enemies.  Luther often said that he would have been happy to just live a quiet life, giving Bible lectures at the university of Wittenberg, and preaching and teaching catechism at the local church.  In fact, in 1518, a year after the 95 Theses, Luther even made an agreement with Catholic church leaders, that if they just left him alone, he wouldn’t write anything against the papacy or the false teachings of the church at that time.  He would just mind his own business in Wittenberg.

Well, the devil wasn’t about to let that happen.  Luther writes, For as soon as God’s Word takes root and grows in you, the devil will attack you and will make a real doctor (of theology) of you, and by his assaults will teach you to seek and love God’s Word.  I myself am deeply indebted to the papists that through the devil’s raging, they have beaten, oppressed, and distressed me so much… they have made a fairly good theologian of me, which I would not have become otherwise.  

This happens to us too. When we’re being beaten, oppressed, and distressed by thorns in our flesh, God is actually working to make us better theologians.  Well, maybe you don’t think of yourself as a theologian.  Well, you are!  If you believe in Jesus as your Savior, and if you’re reading your Bible at home and/or attending Bible classes, you are a theologian, and you know more about God than most people in this world.   

But how can we all become even better theologians.  Here’s what Luther discovered.  He said, first of all, pray!  Pray with humility and earnestness that through His Son, God give us the Holy Spirit to enlighten us, lead us, and give us understanding.  We need to pray for this, because there’s a lot in the Bible that’s foolishness to human reason.  Why, even King David, who had a very close relationship with God, had to keep praying for this.  He wrote in Psalm 25: Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. – Psalm 25:5

After we have prayed, Luther said we need to meditate on God’s Word.  That means take a verse or section and keep reading and rereading it and carefully reflect on what God’s word is saying to us.  I have to confess the first time I read a verse as I begin getting ready to write a sermon, that verse leaves me kind of flat.  It doesn’t say anything to me.  But then I keep mulling it over, gradually a light goes on.  Sometimes this takes a couple of day, but I become amazed at how true, how sweet, how powerful, and how comforting that part of Word of God is.  Someone might say to me, “Well, that just because you’re a pastor.”  No, it isn’t.  God wants all His children to taste and see the goodness of His Word.  But that’s not going to happen, if we don’t pray and if we don’t chew on God’s Word.  

A third important part of growing in God’s Word are the thorns God allows us to have.  Thorns causes our prayers to be earnest, because we can’t stand the situation for another minute.  Or, maybe it’s not ourselves we’re worry about, but we see that a situation is harmful to someone and could even turn him away from God.  So, we pray, not once.  Not even three times, but again and again.  And this humbles us, because we realize we’re not in control.  Also, as the time drags on, we know more deeply that we are sinners, and don’t deserve to have our prayers answered, except for Jesus’ sake.  

Another way thorns help us to grow, is thorns drive us deeper into God’s Word, and makes it more real for us.  And so, we look for answers.  We look for wisdom to deal with something.  We want peace.  Now, again, I have to admit, that when I read the Bible for answers, I don’t always find a specific answer.  All I find is guidance, like “Love one another as I have loved you.”  Or, I find a promise like the one God have to Joshua: Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9

If we go into a few battles of life, armed with that passage, what’s going to happen to us?  Well, God will give us victories in His way and in His time, and we will grow in our faith.  But more than that, between our prayers, and His word, and our thorns, we will understand His love and His truth better.  In this the Holy Spirit will cause our desires to become more in line with God’s desires.  Then, we will be turned off by sin, and do everything we can to avoid them.  We will also be moved to give ourselves wholeheartedly for works of righteousness, and we’ll even keep getting better at what we do.  

This was also true of St. Paul.  He wouldn’t have become the missionary became without his thorn in the flesh.  On the one hand, that thorn may have hindered how much he could work.  It may have sapped his strength and depressed him.  It may have left him with nothing by which to keep on going, except for God’s grace.  Yet he learned by experience that God’s grace was sufficient for him, and learning that made Paul thankful for his thorn.

So, now, having heard all this, are you thankful for your thorns?  Are your thorns helping you to grow in your daily walk with God?  We can’t make ourselves thankful, and we can’t make ourselves grow.  But we can pray.  We can meditate on His Word.  We can accept His gracious will for us.  And finally, if we’re having trouble following through on these things, here are some more thorn I invite you to focus on.  This is a crown of thorns like the one Christ wore for us.  This is how much He loves us.  This is how we know that all of our thorns are to bless us, and this His Grace Is Sufficient for us for everything we need to endure and do.  Amen.

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