“Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  Three times I was beaten with rods.  Once I was stoned.  Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst often without food, in cold and exposure.” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)

Paul’s life as an apostle of Jesus Christ is remarkable.  As he wrote the Corinthian Christians and had to defend himself against the false charges some had been leveling against him, he “boasted” of his suffering as a means of showing his dedication to the spread of the Gospel.  How often have we read these words and been thankful that none of us has faced such trials as he did.  Only one with a very cold heart can read of these things and not be moved and impressed with all he suffered.

Following this list of sufferings, Paul writes of his “thorn in the flesh” in chapter 12.  The one thing he suffered for which he asked God for relief.  Three times!  Yet, in this matter, God told him no, it would not be removed.  Paul’s reaction was to accept God’s explanation that “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness”.    Paul declares, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so the power of Christ may rest upon me…. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

Not only did Paul accept God’s answer, he saw it as a valuable lesson for himself and others about trusting God and how God’s power can be seen in his own weakness and suffering.

While none of us may have suffered the physical and emotional hardships that Paul did, many of us can certainly relate to wanting relief from some “thorn in the flesh” which plagues us.  But do we turn our suffering into an opportunity to see our dependence on God and let His love and power radiate through us?

We need to see that in our weaknesses is when the strength of God can be the most evident.  However, this can only happen if we first see and acknowledge that truth to ourselves.  Is our trust in God, or is it more in ourselves, others and things of this world?

Our lives are often greater sermons to the world than the most eloquently spoken discourses.  We are not specially chosen apostles to the Gentiles as was Paul, and we shouldn’t despair that our lives don’t come close to his in the suffering we face and endure.  Each of us, in our own unique life and experience, need to fulfill that Lord’s command to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

"In You, O Lord, do I take refuge;  let me never be put to shame;  in Your righteousness deliver me!"  (Psalm 31:1)