This past weekend I had the wonderful privilege of keeping my 22 month old nephew while my brother and sister-in-law went on a date night. I decided that I would take him out to eat and have a “date” night with him. After we ate, we went to Wal-Mart. While in the store, we passed by the big bouncy balls. He saw one and wanted to play with it. I picked out a nice blue one for him, and he sat in the cart while we played with it. I decided to buy it for him (I can do this since I am his aunt!), but he was not too happy that I had put the ball in the back of the cart to take it with us. He kept turning around trying to touch it while saying “ball” and would try to pull it up to him. He did not understand that, while he could not have it right then in the store, it would be his later to enjoy fully. As the adult, I had something better in mind for him than just playing with it in the store. Rather than a short play time in the store, my nephew would enjoy extended play time with the ball at home.
Well, in the Christian life, there are many times when God says “No” to His children. Let’s focus on God’s activity in Paul’s life as recorded in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul speaks of a “thorn” in his flesh, a thorn which would not be removed. The exact identity of this thorn is not known. Could it have been his eyesight? Did Paul use a secretary to write his letters because of poor eyesight? We do know that Paul begged God on three separate occasions to remove it from him, but each time God replied that His grace is sufficient for him to bear it. God used the thorn to teach Paul that when he is weak, the Lord is strong. Paul surrendered his thorn in the flesh to God and allowed his weaknesses to glorify God.
Surrendering your personal thorn in the flesh is not always an easy task. Surrender is hard. A mentor of mine reminded me in an email that surrender is a “day to day act of the will.” Maybe what needs to be surrendered is a job situation, a friend, family member, or maybe it is a health issue with yourself or a friend. Giving it to Him requires a giving up of yourself to His will and surrendering your own personal desires to Him. Sometimes the Lord will magnify Himself in your healing, or He will display His glory in your sickness. God says “No” sometimes in order to do His best work. God’s “No” is not a sign that He has abandoned you, but rather He is choosing to work in a different manner than what you may have preferred.
With surrendering comes the act of trusting Him. Trusting Jesus for each situation can be a difficult task. Paul not only surrendered the thorn, but He trusted Him with it. In a devotional entitled Jesus Calling, Sarah Young writes from the perspective of Jesus and says,
Bring Me your weakness, and receive My Peace. Accept yourself and your circumstances just as they are, remembering that I am sovereign over everything. Do not wear yourself out with analyzing and planning. Instead, let thankfulness and trust be your guides through this day; they will keep you close to Me. As you live in the radiance of My Presence, My Peace shines upon you. You will cease to notice how weak or strong you feel, because you will be focusing on Me. The best way to get through this day is step by step with Me. Continue this intimate journey, trusting that the path you are following is headed for heaven.
Paul found contentment and peace in the midst of his troublesome circumstances. Jesus calls us as believers to find contentment in Him by surrendering our circumstances, but surrendering requires trusting Him with those situations.
Sometimes we get to keep the blue ball; however, there are many more times when we don’t. I have personally pleaded with Him to change my circumstances, but He chose to say “No,” and has instead allowed me to walk through the fire with Him right beside me. It is through the fire that I have been refined and shaped more and more into His image. Looking back on those trials, with the perspective of hindsight, I am thankful for those times. However, while in the midst of the trials, it was hard to be thankful for them. I know that God holds my hand and does not put more on me than I am able to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). God knows what is ahead, and, as the Psalmist says in Psalm 4:8, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” I can sleep peacefully at night because I know that God has my best interest at heart, even when He says “No.”