Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Beauty of Thorns

Ahhhh! Not again! I stop. My jaw tenses. My eyes scan the store. There, way on the other side of the store. Sweat drips on my fore head. Can I make it? Upper and lower cheeks clenched, I inch forward. Urgency stops me in my tracks. My foot taps as I wait hoping to hold back the inevitable. What if I don’t make it? Do I have a spare pair of undies? I hate it when this happens!

Any other bathroom mappers out there? This is a familiar scenario to those of us who suffer bowel disease. Lymphocytic colitis plagues me, my personal thorn in the flesh. It stinks- really it does! So let’s consider a more pleasant smelling related subject.

Would a rose without thorns still be a rose? Hmm, I don’t think so. The thorns, in contrast to flower, give the Rose protection and strength. Thorns resulted from sin. Adam fell and Eve got a bouquet with prickles.

“Cursed is the ground for your sake... Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you...” (Genesis 3:17, 18). Thorns serve as a constant reminder of sin and death. God did not say, “Because you’re so bad, I’m giving you thorns.” God warned Adam sin would bring death. Adam already faced the ultimate consequence. So what’s up with thorns and thistles?

Did you notice God’s words “for your sake,”? These words ring with grace – a warning that mankind did not deserve. It’s as if is God said, “For your sake, Adam, when thorns prick you, you’ll be reminded of the pain sin has brought. For your sake, you’ll be reminded that obedience blesses and sin hurts.” What a loving God we have! In His mercy God didn’t zap Adam and Eve out of existence. In His grace He provided thorns that point us to repentance. The power to remind us of grace gives beauty to thorns.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). This was the father’s loving response to his child, Paul, when the apostle got stuck with a thorn in the flesh. What thorn in the flesh plagued Paul? Some say it was epilepsy, others say poor eyesight. Paul called it a messenger of Satan. It could have been a weakness in his flesh, a tendency toward a particular sin. I believe the spirit of God withheld the nature of the thorn for a couple of reasons. First, the thorn is not the point: only the pointer. It direct our attention to God’s all sufficient grace and unlimited strength. Second, just as plant thorns come in lots of different varieties so do thorns in the flesh.

When pregnant with my third child in 1990, my stools became loose, frequent and uncontrollable. I thought the pregnancy brought it on. However, the problem persisted long after my daughter’s birth, so I sought a diagnosis.

After the doctor examined me, she said, “It’s stress,” and left. This troubled me. She never suggested treatment or let me know if it would go away. I didn’t think I was stressed out. I looked for further help. I talked to my OB/GYN about my problem and the previous doctor’s diagnosis. He referred me to a specialist.

The gastroenterologist examined me and ran a number of tests. He diagnosed me with lymphocytic colitis. It had been a trying, humiliating four years but I finally had an answer. I didn’t have anything life threatening – or did I? The first doctor was not wrong in her diagnosis. Colitis can be a stress induced disease. As I thought about my life at the time I first developed colitis, I realized I had been under a lot of stress. Stress results from having more to do or more problems than we can handle. God calls it anxiety. “Be anxious for nothing,” He commands.(Philippians 4:6). When we worry, we sin. And guess what? Sin can kill you!

When I realized my problem was self inflicted, I repented. I also began to pray for God to remove the thorn, just as Paul had. God’s response to me echoes His answer to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you.”

Over the years God has kept his word. He gave me wisdom to treat my symptoms with fiber and plain yogurt. These provide a measure of control. He also helped me see that when I give into my anxiety, my colitis flares up. Just as literal thorns warned Adam to obey, so my thorn reminds me to pray and ask God to control what I cannot, namely my bowels. The thorn in my flesh keeps me in that place of grace, knowing I’m a needy creature and God is the Almighty Creator. It took me many years to appreciate my thorn in the flesh but today I praise God for allowing it.

How about you? Do you have a thorn flesh? Are you allowing it to fester or are you learning its painful yet precious lesson?

Father, Jesus bore a crown of thorns to remind us He paid the price for sin. We praise You for Your amazing grace. Help us embrace the beauty of thorns. Amen

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