Steven Furtick - Why Do I Still Struggle With This?
You represent the thorn. I'm sorry about that, but somebody had to do it. You represent the frustration. Paul said, "There was a frustration that had been with me, and it had been recurring, and a frustration that wouldn't leave me alone, so I took it to a spiritual place. I took it to God, and I asked God, 'Please take it away.' I looked after I prayed, and it didn't go away, so I turned around and prayed again a little while later, and I asked God, 'No, I'm serious. If you would take this away, I could get more done.'"
"If you would take this away, I could be a better mom. If you would take this away, I could be a faithful husband, if I didn't have the temptation, if you would take it away. God, take the temptation away. God, take the hardship away. God, take the opposition away. God, take the rejection away. God, take the need away. God, take the temptation away. God, take the hardship away".
Are you still there? I'm going to try this one more time. "God, I signed up to serve you, and when I signed up to serve you, you told me you would give me everything I need to serve you, and I'm trying to be faithful, but you put this thorn…this thorn in a teal shirt…in my way, and every time I try to make progress… I'm asking you the third time".
Now Paul does something he doesn't do in any of his other epistles. Usually, when Paul says "the Lord," he uses the Greek word kyrios. That means God the Father. This time, he uses a designation in Greek. It's ho kyrios. He went directly to Jesus, because a little thing can hurt bad enough that you dispense with the formalities and all the church talk and all the church language and just get to the point where you are so sick of yourself. Forget about being sick of everybody else.
Paul said, "I could deal with the plots of the Jews. I could deal with the problems of the people. I could even deal with the selfishness of the church, but there was a thing in me, there was something pressing into me, so I pressed in to God, and I went straight to the boss's desk. I walked by the receptionist and went straight… My thorn took me to the throne, and when I got up, it was still there". What was it, Paul? Were you tempted in your mind? What was it, Paul? Were you sick in your body? What was it, Paul? Was it the people who didn't like you who tried to shut you down? What was it, Paul? I know you weren't married, so it couldn't have been your mother-in-law, so that strikes that. What was it, Paul? What was it, Paul? Paul says something. We used to say this in youth group.
Now, I grew up in the Methodist church, and we had MYF, Methodist Youth Fellowship, on Sunday nights where you would sing songs, songs y'all don't know like "Shine, Jesus, Shine" and "Grin again, gang. Get gung ho about Jesus". Y'all don't know these songs. Y'all don't need to know these songs. Then we would do something that if you are not a church person, you have not had the pleasure of experiencing. This is the time where you go around the room and you share. Everybody gets an opportunity to share (if they so choose) a praise report and a prayer request. You can choose if you want to share a praise report and a prayer request, a prayer request and a praise request, just a praise report, just a prayer request.
Being 13 years old, all of us in the youth group had some really deep praise reports and prayer requests. We would go around the room and would share the praise reports. You can imagine what the praise reports are. For the 13-year-olds, it would be about a test you passed or something good that happened to you or something so generic. The point is you're trying to give God praise for what he has done. Then you would enter into the time of the prayer request.
Sometimes… In fact, many times, when it came time for the prayer requests, the predominate prayer request in the circle was a little something called… This is for when you have something you want to talk about, but you don't want to talk about it. When it comes to you in the circle, and it comes time for your prayer request, you say… This is something we used a lot, Bernie. You say, "I have an unspoken". That's deep right there. "What I'm going through is so crazy, y'all can't even handle it, so I'm just going to leave it unspoken, because if I told you that I'm in love with Jenny and she won't talk to me, it would freak you out".
Wade Joye, our worship pastor, was telling me last night that he used to use the unspoken as a dating technique because there would typically be a girl in his youth group, and he would like her. He would want her to know he was praying about their relationship, but he couldn't say it out loud, so when it came time for Wade to pray, he would say, "I have an unspoken," and then kind of… "I can't even mention your name, girl". He said, "I have an unspoken".
The greatest frustrations of life are unspoken. You speak in code about what is really bothering you, about what you're really thinking about doing, about what you really wrestle against. You develop ways to talk about it. "Let's call it a thorn. Let's call it an issue. I have an issue. I'm going through something right now. I'm dealing with some things". Here's what we say. We say, "It's just a lot right now. I can't even break it down. I can't even tell you all it is, because if I started telling you all it is, I know that somewhere along the way, as I went deeper and deeper and deeper into what I deal with, you would lose respect for me. I'm going to keep it up here. Even though I'm willing to tell you about a lot of what I go through, there are some things you don't have any business knowing about, and if I would have wanted you to know about them, I would have told you, but this one is going to stay at the throne. I took 11 chapters to show you my frustration so you could feel it, but when it comes to this thing, let's call it a thing. Let's call it a thorn".
Then Paul taught me what to do about it because I have some thorns. I know you don't. I know you've passed. You've graduated. I know you're more spiritual than Saint Paul, but Paul and I have problems. He taught me something very… See, I am an easily frustrated person. If they made a chart about what it would take to frustrate you, my frustration kicks into 10 when the situation is a one. How many of you can relate to me? Especially if it involves anything mechanical. I marvel at the patience of anyone who can install anything. I worship you. I honor you. I'm very easily frustrated. I'm very easily frustrated with a video game. I could be up 49 to nothing on Madden and let them kick a field goal, and I'll drop the controller in anger. I don't know what it is.
I have a guy who is a tailor, so for years now, he has been my tailor. If I have something that needs to be fitted, he'll work on it, and we've become good friends. He came to me in tears one day and said, "I don't know what's wrong with me. There's something wrong with me". I said, "What are you talking about"? He said, "I notice all the things that are wrong. I notice everything that's wrong. I notice the house is dirty. I don't notice the kids that are healthy. I notice everything that's wrong. I notice how far I have to go. I don't notice how far I've come. I notice everything that's wrong".
He was really feeling guilty about it because he couldn't express the gratitude he knew his life warranted. "Something is wrong with me. I try to get a better attitude, and I try to be more positive, but it's always very short. Something is really wrong with me". It changed my life when he said that because I considered his profession. What he does all day long, what he was gifted by God to do was to find what's wrong. What he was gifted by God to do was to say, "Those are too long. We need to take them up a little. Those are too wide. We need to take them in a little. That's a little snug under the sleeve. We need to adjust it a little".
I realized that everything that was right about him was connected to what was wrong. I don't mean to quote Kanye in my sermon, but one time, he said, "…everything I'm not made me everything I am". He said, "It was what was wrong with me that helped me discover what is right with me". Paul said, "I prayed about it, 'God, take it away,' and it was still there. I prayed about it, 'God, take it away,' and it was still right there. I prayed about it that God would take it away, and after the third time, I realized if you're not going to go away, you might as well get to work. Hello, thorn. I'm Paul. You've been bugging me my whole life. You've been driving me crazy for years. You've been tormenting me through many sleepless nights, and if you don't want to go away, then I'm about to give you an assignment.
If you don't want to leave, then we have to get to work together. Hello, frustration. I fought you long enough. I ran away from you long enough. Now it's time to face you and see how God wants to use you to accomplish his purpose in my life". Come on. If you're going to stand there, do something. Hold my stuff. If you're going to frustrate me, Devil, then at least bring me a reminder of the grace of God. If you're going to try to run me off from what God has called me to do… He said, "I was given a thorn in my flesh". The word given is interesting because that speaks of something that is desired. Right? Usually. There are exceptions. You don't say, "I was given a shotgun wound". He said, "God was taking me higher and higher and higher and higher". He also said that 14 years before this experience he was taken into heaven and he was shown things so beautiful that he couldn't even talk about it.
It's amazing because now he has something that is so beautiful that he can't even talk about it and something that is so broken that he can't talk about it, all operating in the same life. Something so incredible and something he is inflicted with, and both are unspeakable. To know a life of ever-increasing faith in God is to know a life of ever-increasing frustration. I'm just going to get it out there. To be faithful is to be frustrated. I think the reason he called it a gift, the reason he put it in that exact terminology, is because he said, "After a while, I realized that if God was going to do great things in my life he needed to find a way to keep me grounded".
I taught a leadership lesson one time called How Do the Gifted Stay Grounded? How do those who have been gifted by God with great abilities stay grounded in their attitude? God does it through the affliction he allows. Although he says the thorn was a gift, he does not say it came from God. He says it was a messenger of Satan. It did not come from God, but by the end of his exposition of his thoughts about it, he said it was a gift from God. I don't understand this unless I put it in the following terms and terminologies. I see it this way. I see that the messenger was from Satan, but the message was from God. The temptation, the hardships, the opponents, the rejection, and the need. Those are the five things I put because if you take the first letters, it spells thorn. The temptation, the hardship, the opposition, the rejection, and the need. These are all things Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians.
If you go throughout it, he mentions all of them. He says, "Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn"? That's temptation. He says, "I was throttled by the Jews". That's hardship. He says, "I was opposed by people who should have supported me". That's the opposition. He says, "I was rejected by you Corinthians who I shouldn't have to prove myself to, but I do". He said, "There was a need so great, and I couldn't meet it, and I was so frustrated by my own limitations. Then I got this thorn, and it was sent by Satan, but it carried a message from God". The message was, "My grace is enough". Could life be bringing you a God message through a Devil situation? Could life be trying to deliver to you right now a gift from God wrapped in the package of an attack by the Enemy?
Paul said, "I didn't see it that way at first. I prayed three times, and the reason I had to go directly to Jesus is because he prayed three times. He prayed three times before he went to the cross. He prayed three times that he wouldn't have to drink the cup of the wrath of God, and he prayed a little bit, and then he went further, and then he prayed a little bit more, and he went further". It was so grueling, what was happening inside of him, that he began to sweat like drops of great blood. By the third time he prayed about it, he realized, "This is not going away," so he said, "Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done," and he drank the cup he didn't want. He reached out and took the hand of the thing he wanted to go away.
He went to the cross, and Jesus wore a crown of thorns. The thing they pressed into the crown of his head was the thing that made the blood flow down to his feet that brought the redemption that cleanses all of us who will believe in his name. It was the... thorn. It was the thing that brought him pain that brought God glory. Paul said, "You have to come to a point in your life that when it's all said and done, you say, 'Okay, God. Okay. Take my frustration and turn it into greatness.'" Can I tell you a secret? The only way to greatness is through frustration. The only way to greatness is through frustration. Frustration is the only thing that can make you great, because if you weren't frustrated you would be complacent.