Steven Furtick - The Mentor You Didn't Ask For
I want to go back to Corinth this week. Last week, we were talking about A Troubled Mind and an Open Door, that greatest opposition comes in the moments of greatest opportunity. I believe God gave somebody discernment last week about a door you're standing in front of and a devil you're fighting to get through it. Well, this week, I want to journey farther into the book of 2 Corinthians. Second Corinthians, chapter 12. I'm really excited. I'm gripping onto the pulpit just trying to calm down. Oh man. This is so good. I already heard it. The Holy Spirit preached it to me, and I promise you it's good. I might mess it up trying to preach it to you, but the way God gave it to me… Breathtaking.
So, we're going back to Corinth. This is a very culturally compromised church, a confused church, but we're going to Corinth one more time. The apostle Paul is getting personal with these believers. I believe he has a personal word to speak to us today…not Paul, but God. Second Corinthians 12:6. Paul says, "Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth". He's quite confident, this apostle. He's like, "I could back it up. If I told you everything God has done for me, it wouldn't be boasting. It would just be facts". Wow. "But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong".
I want to preach about verse 7: "Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me". We're going to call this message The Mentor You Didn't Ask For. Holy Spirit, administer your Word. In Jesus' name, amen. I had a little argument with some family members recently. Not necessarily an argument. It wasn't contentious. It just was… I probably stayed in my position too strongly, now that I look back on it. We were talking about people who had influenced our lives for Christ, and somebody said the word mentor. I don't even know if that's a buzzword anymore. It was a big buzzword when I was starting Elevation Church: mentor. "Who's your mentor? You need a mentor in the ministry".
It's still obviously a corporate American term. Culturally, I don't know so much anymore. It has been replaced by influencers. I don't know if we talk in the language of mentor. But I made a statement to my family who attend our Greenville Campus, Holly's sister and her husband and dad and mom. I said, "I don't believe in mentors anymore". Everybody said, "Now that's extreme". And it probably was. Looking back, it probably was extreme, but you have to understand I've had some weird experiences with weird people, so I'm probably coming from that standpoint of the idea of a mentor. If it was Paul, I could get it, because Paul was a master builder. He called himself that. Now do you see why God had to give him a thorn to keep him humble? He called himself a master builder. But everybody is not Mr. Miyagi, and in certain moments of my life, I've been, I guess, a little bit resistant to people who have a lot of expertise without much experience. It seems to be the day we're living in. There is no shortage of unsolicited opinions.
Even one time, when the church was first getting going… We needed a building to meet, and I went to meet with a guy. I can remember the room. I don't remember his name. I remember the room, and I remember something so weird that happened. This is probably why I don't really like the term mentor that much. I was talking about "We need some resources, and can we use your building to meet when you're not using it"? and things like that. The guy took it a little too far. He said, "Son, you're here asking me for a building and a little bit of money for your budget, but it seems like to me what you really need is a daddy". Then he goes… Larry Brey is my witness. He goes, "I'll be your daddy". So, you'll understand that the idea of a mentor is a little complicated for me, not just because of that one experience. I think early in my life I did want somebody. I wanted God to give me somebody who… Kind of like you can do… I see this video game Graham plays called 2K. He builds a player. It's called MyPlayer. He goes in and gives the player everything, not only cosmetically, but the skills and abilities.
I kind of always wanted God to give me someone who would give me the right amount of lateral movement and the right tattoos on my left arm and the right height and the right speed and the right dunking. I kind of wanted ministry to be like MyPlayer on 2K, where somebody could supercharge me with the answers and stuff. One time Holly… Y'all, Holly has this ability to say stuff in a sentence that will stick with you. I was complaining that I didn't really have… I had a great dad, a great mom. I had great people in my life who helped me along the way. I could stand up here for a year and list them, but I was looking for that one person who would put their arm around me and say, "Now this is how you do it in regard to preaching and leadership, and this is when you should build the building, and this is when you should launch this part of the ministry. This is how you hire the right staff". Basically, somebody to shepherd me through a mistake-free ministry and life and marriage…a one-stop shop. Holly said to me, "You know…" In the middle of my discouragement, this is what she said to comfort me: "You know, God is never going to give you what you're asking for. He's going to give you a lot of people to guide you, but he is not going to let your guides become your god".
She said that. That sweet little Holly Furtick, "Thank you for your service hours, outreach…" She talked to the man of God that way in my face. "God is never going to give you…" Book club Holly, bird lover Holly, french fry-loving Holly said that to me. Can you believe it? She was right. God wasn't going to give me what I was asking for. One reason is that God cannot give you a mentor for where you are who will limit you from where he is ultimately leading you to be. If God would have sent me in that season of my life one person I would pattern my life after totally… She said something important. "He's going to give you a lot of guides, but he wants to be your God". He gave you a unique gift, and only he knows… (She didn't say all this. I'm preaching off what she said to me 15 years ago.) God is not going to give you a MyPlayer career mode for your ministry. God is not going to give you one person to model after, because if you modeled after them completely and entirely you would be them, and he already has them, so he could kill you.
If God gave you one person, the person you compare yourself to and think, "Oh, if I could just be like them, and if I could have what they have and do what they do…" If God gave you them, it would make you unnecessary. She was trying to get me to see that in life I will have many guides but only one God…only one God who knows me. What I love about God, the more I experience his will and his plan for my little life, is he's the only one who can match the courses to the calling. When you go to college, if you go to college, if you stay in college, you'll have to declare a major eventually. The classes you take… You can take any classes you want to. You can show up when you want to. Nobody is going to make you do anything. You can have a 0.7 GPA (Eric Phillips) if you want to. You can party and flunk out and come to North Greenville and follow me there and ask me to help you get your life together if you want to (Eric Phillips), but you can't declare a major and then pick the…
I think a lot of us want to pick an outcome we want in our lives, but then we want to customize the courses. Because we live in that age. We think mentorship is like a menu, like you're a Cheesecake Factory where the menu is thicker than the Bible. Have you been to Cheesecake Factory? The menu is thicker than the Septuagint. That's kind of how we want to do… That's kind of how the Corinthian church wanted to do with Paul. I'm so furious at this church, because they had the best pastor, the master pastor…Paul. How can they be fighting with each other and divided within each other when Paul is their pastor? How can they have such a master mentor like Paul and be so petty? How can they have a master mentor like Paul and be so immature? Now he's writing them a letter, not as an adviser, not as a critic, but as a father, to say to them, "I see some things in your life".
This is one reason I don't like the concept of a mentor either, because usually, if we ask somebody to be our mentor, we mean, "Will you be my mentor until I don't agree with you anymore? Then I'll get another one". (Lord, you told me this message was going to be hard to preach, but you didn't tell me it was going to be this hard to preach to them. Help me out.) We do this all the time. Here's how I typically do it in my life. It's like I want to select certain things I want God to bring into my life to teach me lessons, but not only do I want to select the lesson…I want to select the outcome of the lesson. Paul is having none of it. He's saying, "You cannot customize Christ". What Paul went through to be who he was… It cost him greatly. In chapter 11 of 2 Corinthians, he mentions a shipwreck. He mentions a stoning. He mentions many storms. He mentions betrayals. He mentions opponents…all of that… in 2 Corinthians, chapter 11. Paul, who paid the price to be an apostle of Jesus Christ… He mentions all of the things that made him such a master pastor.
Now he's writing to a church that is in rebellion, and he's reminding them of his résumé. He says, "I could brag even more, but I'm not going to. I just want you to judge me based on my results and see if I'm somebody worth listening to, but before you judge me based on my results, let me remind you a little bit more of what qualifies me to be in this position". We live in a day with a lot of advice and not much authority. Everybody has an advice column, but very few people have true authority. Paul is not writing advice in the Scripture. Sometimes we read the Bible like it's quotes on Pinterest. "My grace is sufficient for you". Well, that's true, but before Paul said that sentence in that quote, he puts it in a context that's a little more interesting. That's what I want to speak to you a little bit about today: that context. Paul mentions he had a revelation of God. He actually talks about himself in the third person at one point. He says, "I know a man who was caught up to the third heaven," but he's talking about himself. This is Paul.
No wonder Paul needed something to keep him grounded, because there was so much glory on his life. No wonder Paul needed something in his flesh, because he had so much revelation in his spirit. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Paul said, "I saw amazing things, and I could tell you even more about it, but I'm not going to. I don't want to boast about it". Instead, he opens a window, and he shows the wound he calls a thorn and the weakness most people would hide. I think we need more mentors like Paul, more people who will show us not only the great power but the problems they have to overcome to operate in that power. I don't ever want my kids to see me not struggle.
You say, "Well, don't you want to set a good example"? I want to set an example of overcoming struggle, not avoiding it. Paul is like that. We need this message now more than ever. I really think this is a timely word from God, because now everybody wants to share their opinion whether or not it's even solicited. We live in a day of 12-year-old life coaches. I used to read a guy's books early on until I realized he had started six churches and all of them imploded. He was a church-planting consultant. Oh, but you don't have to pay for a consultant these days. Just go to the comments section of any Facebook post, and you will find consultants in the comments. Speaking of Holly, about a year ago, she showed me a comment. I asked her to send it to me, because this is just unbelievable, y'all, what people will offer in the way of expert opinion that you did not solicit. She put a picture of her and me on Instagram, and somebody said, "Y'all are so cute" and "Aw" and hearts and pandas with hearts and all of the things we put to feign emotion.
Somebody said, "Hi, Holly. Not sure if you noticed, but just wanted to say your skin looks so great. It's glowing and super clear. Thought you should know. Ha! Do share if you've recently changed something in your skin care. [Red heart]" Three comments later… Are y'all ready for this? "I feel like you look way better without eyeliner. All the makeup for so many years is making your skin saggy". I might give y'all her username so y'all can look her up and talk to her after church. How many of y'all would enjoy that? Yeah. Y'all aren't saved. Y'all are not mature enough to handle it. I got permission to share this. Holly said I could share it. The lady said, "Botox can help with the wrinkles". Listen to this. "You're still beautiful. Thanks".
I wish I could show y'all her profile picture, because she has crazy eyes. This woman's eyes are crazy, and she misspelled you're. She's a makeup consultant, y'all. She's an amateur Mary Kay in the comments section, but she needs a spelling teacher for the fifth-grade words. (Sorry. Sanctify me, Lord.) "You're so beautiful. I just don't think you need so much makeup. It's ruining your skin". In the words of my kids, "Who asked"? The unsolicited opinions of people about how you should raise your kids, about how you should relate to your husband, about what age you should be married by, and if you're married, about what age y'all really should start thinking about having kids. I mean, you're not getting any younger. Paul is not a consultant in the comments to the church at Corinth who's trolling them with some little slivers of truth that are quoted out of context and telling them the great advice and plan he has for their life independent of God's will. He's an apostle by the will of God, speaking to people he has a relationship with.
This is not some generic advice from an inspirational speaker who wants to sell you something for $299.99 on an infomercial or an e-course. This is not an influencer on Instagram who needs you to follow them in order for them to get a "swipe up" commission from a store. This is Paul. He does something dangerous, because they respect him, but they're starting to question him, because there are "super-apostles" who have infiltrated the church, and they started to inundate God's people with opinions. "You know, you really don't have to follow Christ like that. You should mix a little Judaism and a little bit of Christianity". So, now there are so many mixed opinions Paul has to set the record straight and say, "I could lay down my authority if I needed to. I don't want to do it like that. I would rather speak to you out of the love from my heart. But in order that you don't just think I'm putting my authority on you to tell you what I want you to do, I want to talk to you about my adversity".
That really touched me, because it's difficult to find somebody who will break it down for you to the level that Paul does. It's not difficult to find somebody who will complain to you. It's not difficult to find somebody who will tell you what they would do. It's not difficult at all to find a parent whose kids are out of the house…their kids are lawyers and doctors now…who will tell you what you should do, and your kid is 7. That's very easy to do. Paul, in the middle of his struggle, to walk in the authority of an apostle and what God has called him to do, he shows appropriate vulnerability. "I could go on and on about going to the third heaven. I could go on and on about what I endured. I'm choosing not to do that. Instead, I want to tell you about my thorn". The thorn. It's a metaphor, y'all. It's even like a cliché. This is the verse we get it from. "A thorn in my side". Right? It's a metaphor.
Most of the things we deal with… When we sing about them in church, we have to put them in a metaphor form, because if we mentioned what we really struggle with, it would scare people and they would judge us. At least we think they would. It would probably surprise you. The person with their hands lifted higher than you this morning probably has more thorns than you, but that's not the point of this message. Paul said, "I want to tell you about my thorn". Now, since I've studied this text all week, I've learned a lot about different interpretations of what Paul's thorn was historically. Some people say that poor Paul had epileptic seizures. There's nothing funny about that, but the reason they trace it is because when he was blinded and knocked off his horse on the road to Damascus where he was going to persecute Christians, that he never quite recovered, and that was his thorn. Other people would say there was something wrong with Paul's eyesight. When he wrote to the church at Galatia, he talked about how large his letters were because he wrote with his own pen. He even mentions the Galatians would be willing to give their own eyes to him if necessary.
Some scholars say it was from the blinding on the road to Damascus, that his eyesight never fully recovered. Other people don't associate it with blindness or seizures at all or a medical condition. Luther and Calvin identified it with a spiritual temptation Paul faced. There is a little bit of support for this scripturally, because in 2 Corinthians 11, he mentions "I inwardly burn". Not just persecution. Some people think Paul's thorn was the opponents who were saying about Paul "He's not real" and "He's not valid" and "You can't believe him" and "His letters are good, but he doesn't speak so well". It was those opponents who were coming against him. So, Paul does what we do when we have something in our life we can't mention. He gives it a metaphor. It's a metaphor. No matter how many different scholars and how many different theologians trace the Greek and the precedents and all of the different things it could be, there seems to be a lot of confusion about what Paul's thorn was.
But this is the thing I was excited to tell you. I studied all week, and I found out, y'all, what Paul's thorn was. From this pulpit, I am going to announce to you today… You don't look like you believe me. For the first time… Come on. There have been thousands of years of preachers, but today, I am going to definitively tell you what Paul's thorn was in 2 Corinthians, chapter 12. Now, before we get there, let's talk a little bit about the metaphor. First of all, a thorn is a small thing. We sing about a God who can do big things, but when Paul went to talk about what God had taught him that meant the most to him in his life, he did not talk about a big thing. He talked about a small thing. He said, "Three times…" The King James says, "Thrice". I just wanted to put that in there. "Thrice I asked God to take it away". Three times. This does not mean three times Paul prayed, "Take it away. Take it away. Take it away. Okay, God. I guess I have to live with it". Which brings me to an important point.
If you have a thorn in your life that you're dealing with that nobody knows about and you need God to take it away, ask him. Don't say God's "No" for him. I was taught this in negotiating. I was taught this in dating. Don't say somebody's "No" for them. "Well, they wouldn't want to go out to eat with me". Well, you know what? You're not out to eat with them now, and if you ask them and they say "No," you still won't be out to eat with them, so it would be the same result if you risked a rejection and put yourself out there. Get some practice, and then you can analyze the process by which you might have failed at the endeavor of getting a date. Apply it to your next opportunity, and maybe one day you'll name your kid Steven after you get married because I told you "Don't ever let somebody else…" Don't let anybody else say God's "No" for him. Ask God. "Did you ask him"? "Yeah, I prayed about it". You did? I thought you were just worrying about it. Did you ask him to do it? I don't mean, you know, throw it on top like a sprinkle after you tried everything else.
"I know you probably won't…" No, no, no. Paul doesn't throw on words. He said, "I pleaded with God". I don't think it even means he asked God three times. I think it means he launched three separate campaigns to try to get God to change his situation, and after every campaign to get God to change it failed, then he accepted it. But at least ask. If you need God to heal somebody… Of course. "Well, if it's God's will, he'll heal them". Okay. Great. Ask him. "I know God probably won't do that for me, because I'm probably not going to…" Ask him. He's a big boy. Let him say his own "No". He doesn't need you to protect him… God doesn't need you to be his assistant. "Oh, you can't ask him that right now. He's very busy to care about your little problem". Ask him for yourself. Maybe he likes you more than you think he does. Maybe he'll say "Yes" and surprise you. I ask God sometimes… I'm like, "Okay. I don't have much time to study today, but, God, would you give me my message quickly"?
Sometimes he doesn't, but sometimes he does, so now I ask him every time. If he says "No" and I have to study all week, I was going to have to study all week anyway. It never hurts to ask. Ask him! I used to rebuke Holly. "You can't pray for a good parking space". She said, "Why not"? I said, "Good question". Ask him. I have some things I'm asking God for that are so stupid I would never tell you about them. You would laugh me out of the room. But I'm not asking you, am I? That's why I didn't ask you. I don't ask people who don't have the authority to give me what I'm asking for. Some stuff I have to ask God. I have to ask God. I need to see your supervisor, somebody with the authority to get it done. I don't need advice. I need authority. I need somebody who has the keys to walk me through this door. You're asking people questions who don't even have the keys.
My family has launched three separate campaigns against me to get a dog, and I can mark each phase of the campaign. It's really Graham, but he has enlisted everybody in the family. The only one who's standing with me in solidarity is Elijah, my firstborn son, flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones. We don't want a dog! So, the first phase, he wrote a song. "Daddy, can I get a dog…uh, uh? Daddy, can I get a…uh, uh, uh". He took the piano lessons I paid for and perverted it against me to ask me for a pet that I parentally have already prohibited. Then he started phase two. That went on for months. Phase two. Signs all over the house and text messages with pictures of rescue dogs all day long. The saddest Sarah McLachlan-eyed dogs you've ever seen in your life just flooding my text messages. This is what Paul meant in the text where he said, "A messenger of Satan…" No, no, no. That's not in the Greek, but… The third phase they're currently doing, because he finally realized, "Mom, you're the only one".
Now all of hell and all of Holly and everybody in my house except Elijah, my true son in the faith, my Timothy, is against me. Not just three prayers that they said…three seasons. When you seek God about something for a whole season… Whatever Paul's thorn was… I'm going to tell you what it was in a minute. I have not forgotten to tell you what it was. I'm going to tell you what it was. All of the commentators have something different to say, but I found out what it was. I studied all week and found out what it was. I asked God to show me quickly. He didn't show me quickly, so I kept studying, and I found out what it was. But before we get to what it was, let's talk about what it represents. Do you think maybe Paul didn't mention it by name because he did not want to limit the application to the people he was sharing it with? A metaphor gives you more room than an issue does. If Paul said exactly what he struggled with, you'd go, "Well, I don't struggle with that. I'm better than Paul". Or if it was something that was less than what you struggle with, you'd go, "Huh. Well, if he calls that a struggle, there's no hope for me".
I used to talk to a guy, and he'd be like, "I've been really struggling lately. I've had to cut my prayer time to two hours a day". The way that would make you feel… He was a pastor, and he would say that to the church. The guy sitting out there who has to do a real job and can't just sit around reading about Bartholomew and Thomas and Alphaeus and all of these Bible names all week is sitting there feeling like crap, comparing himself. "Oh, that's your thorn? I was going to show you mine, but I'm going to put this thorn right back here where it was". That's why the power of a metaphor… I don't mean to make this English class, but I keep coming back to the power of a metaphor. We have one new song we've been singing in the church. (We're going to record it on October 6.) I like the song because it gives you examples. It says, "I'm calling on the God of Jacob. I'm calling on the God of Moses. I'm calling on the God of David". That's my favorite one. It says, "I'm calling on the God of David who made a shepherd boy courageous". This is my favorite line: "I may not face Goliath, but I have my own giants".
The reason it says it like that… I wrote that with a few friends, and the reason we chose to say it like that is because if it addressed a specific issue, that would be too awkward and limited. So we just say, "I may not face Goliath…" That's the name of a particular enemy David faced. "…but I have my own giants". So, when you sing that line, no matter how dirty, dark, stinky, rotten, filthy, corrupted, perverted, or subversive your giant is, you can sing it with a big old smile on your face. Otherwise, it would be too awkward. Right? "I'm calling on the God of David who made a shepherd boy courageous. I may not face Goliath…" You can't be too specific here. You have to have a metaphor. "I may not face Goliath, but I'm a functional alcoholic". It doesn't even rhyme. Let's at least get it to rhyme. "I may not face Goliath, but I can't stick to a diet". Do y'all like that one? You can't say, "I may not face Goliath, but my kid is a compulsive liar". You can't sing about them while they're sitting next to you.
The funny thing is two people sitting next to each other, singing about the other one they came to church with, and the other one didn't know "You're my Goliath". Look straight ahead right now. "You didn't even know you're the one I'm singing about. You're the one I'm crying about. I can't tell you 'You're my thorn.'" "Oh, that's mean, Pastor Steven". But it begs a question, doesn't it? Why would a God who has enough power to take down a giant with a rock leave something as small as a thorn? Why would a God who said you could have mustard seed faith and move something as big as a mountain…? Why would that God leave something as small as a thorn in the life of someone as important as Paul? It begs a better question. Why would God allow you, season after season, to sing about Goliaths, to sing about mountains, to pray about them, to ask about them, to strategize… "Maybe it'll be different this time". Paul said, "I asked three times now. I launched three separate campaigns that I waged with heaven to see if God would take this away so I could be more effective for him. This was something I wanted, and it was something I thought God would want".
We don't get to know if it was physical or if it was mental or if the great apostle struggled with depression. See, we probably couldn't handle that. Then we wouldn't listen to him if he said, "Rejoice in the Lord always," because we'd be like, "Oh, you're a hypocrite. Paul, you're cancelled. You can't struggle with that and preach to me". We like to cut people out when they don't live up to our exact standards. "But all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". All. Paul, y'all, all. Thorns all up in the seat next to you. Don't get too close to her. You might get stuck. She has thorns. I want to say something else before I tell you what Paul's thorn was, because you're not going to believe it when you see it. I want to make sure you understand that life will give you an ample supply of thorns. You don't have to ask for one. "Okay, Lord. All right, Lord. I hear the preacher today. He's saying we have to suffer. Persecution. Bring it on, Lord. I'm ready, God".
I was in a prayer service one time, and somebody started praying, "God, I just pray for a trial by fire". I backed up so quickly. "Hold up, y'all. I got a phone call". I didn't come back. I don't even want to be in the prayer circle with somebody dumb enough to pray that. When I'm with somebody and they start praying for patience… It's all in the text. He said in verse 7, "I was given a thorn. I didn't ask for it". I'm preaching to people who are fighting something they didn't ask for. All of these categories Paul lists would make a good starting place for us to evaluate our lives and see what that thing where we need God is. He mentions hardships. He mentions insults. He mentions persecutions. He mentions difficulties. He mentions all of these things…weaknesses. He mentions them categorically and metaphorically, but this is not a shopping list. Life will give you enough of those. You don't have to go looking for them. Insults. Life will give you plenty of those. You don't have to infer them when they're not there.
"Do you see how she looked at me"? "No. I don't even think she was looking at you". "Yes, she did. She was looking at me". "Did you hear how they said that? They said that about me. They were talking about me". Insults. Life will give you enough. You'll get insulted for real. Somebody will be on your comments looking for you to have a Botox, a Mary Kay consultant, a ninja in the comments trying to take you down. You won't have to go looking for a hardship. It'll give you enough. That's why, for me (this is just me and my house), social media is really dangerous. I'm not saying it's bad, because right now while I'm preaching they're posting on an account about my sermon on the thing, but for me, because life gives me enough thorns… I have enough insecurity. I deal with enough in my head. I mean, I have enough movies to make me miserable the rest of my life…regrets, things I replay, self-doubt, even self-loathing. "Hold on now, Pastor Steven. You are a preacher. You should have worked through these issues".
Paul had a thorn. You have a thorn. If you keep looking at me this fake, I'm going to interview your family members, and I'm going to find out your thorn, and I'm going to put you on blast in the pulpit next week. What got me about it was that social media can be like a thorn store. As if you don't have enough already to feel worried about or to compare yourself… If it's not hard enough to be a teenager with the fear of missing out, you can go and find proof you're missing out of all of the people who didn't invite you and watch the things they're doing. For me, I don't go on Facebook because it would make me too angry. I may not face Goliath, but I already have a really bad temper. "I may not face Goliath, but I have anger issues". Right? So I don't need all that. I don't need more thorns. I don't need to borrow your thorns. I don't need to be swimming in the sewage of other people's anger when I already have enough anger of my own.
For me, Instagram is like "thorn hub". "O God, he's preaching a real sermon today. He's saying real things today". To me, I'm not looking for insults, hardships, persecutions, weaknesses. I already have enough of those. I need a word from God. I need an encouraging voice. I need an image I can aspire to that looks like Christ. He said, "A thorn was given to me". And he says a strange phrase. He says, "It was a messenger of Satan". The word in Greek for messenger is aggelos. What does that sound like? Angel. The same word that is used for messenger… Y'all don't believe me. He said, "Because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn, a messenger of Satan…" Aggelos. The same word as angel. An angel, a messenger. It's the same word. There's no difference in the word. "An angel of Satan to torment me". An angel of Satan? I don't want that kind. I don't. I never prayed for Satan to give me anything in my life. Paul didn't like it either. He said the first time he got hit with that thing he said, "Return to sender," and he did it three times.
Sometimes that works and God helps you through it. "I'm not going to struggle with that anymore". That's awesome. You can testify and help others. "But in this case," Paul said, "I had to see that it was given to me even though the Enemy delivered it". He said it came from an angel. An angel of Satan gave me a gift from God? That's why I think this week when it comes to the thorns in your life, even if it's a person who gets on your nerves… Raise your hand if there's one in your life. This week tell them, "You're such an angel". If they go to church here, don't say that, because they'll know the Greek, but if they don't go to church here, they won't have a clue what you're talking about. Say, "Man, you're just like an angel to me". What the angel brought me is a thorn. I started to get confused because he said it was an angel. Did you know your teenagers, parents, are angels? Teenagers, did you know your parents are angels? I can't wait. All week, people walking around their house being like, "What's up, angel"? All of the angels saluting each other that God is using to keep us dependent on him.
"You gave me a gift of realizing how much I need God". Oh yeah. You're going to see angels everywhere this week. He said, "It's a messenger from Satan". He said, "I don't have to like the delivery service to open the package". "It was an angel, a messenger of Satan, in order to keep me from getting so conceited". God knows what you're prone to. God knew Paul was prone to pride. So, God matches your thorn, your course, to your calling. The reason I can't pick my own mentor in life is I don't know what I need, because I don't even know who I really am yet. I certainly don't know who I'm going to be when God gets done with me. God is so good that he knows how to match your thorn from his throne. He said, "It was sent, a messenger of Satan, to torment me". To torment me. You've been tormented by it. It torments you. When there's a weakness and you can't get stronger in it, it torments you. "I should be farther along, and I did it again". It torments you. "Other people can do that easily, but it's not easy for me".
It torments you. Torment…mentor. Torment…mentor. Paul's thorn was his mentor. I told you I'd tell you what Paul's thorn was, and I did. It was his mentor. It was the thing God gave him to teach him grace. I actually don't have to interview anybody to find out what your thorn is. I already know. It's your mentor. It's the mentor you didn't ask for. It's the thing that showed up in your life… See, you've been trained in a lot of things. Some of you have a master's degree. Some of you know how to run a business. Some of you know how to make straight A's. Some of you know how to impress others. Some of you know how to dress. Some of you know how to talk really good, and you can flatter people and say things to get out of the situation. But there are some things that can only be learned in "Thorn University".
There are some things God can only teach you, not through advice but through adversity. Paul was not a rookie, and Paul was not a newb, and Paul was not an unsolicited "Dear Abby" advice columnist. Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ, and he didn't even want to be. Paul never even applied to be an apostle. He was just riding on his donkey through Damascus, and God knocked him off his donkey and said, "New boss. I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting". They had to lead him by the hand. "You have a new mentor now, Paul". This is difficult, because Paul studied under Gamaliel. Gamaliel was a father of the Sanhedrin, not just a member. Gamaliel was the grandson of Hillel. Gamaliel was so powerful they said the glory of the Torah died when Gamaliel died, but he was steeped only in Judaism. When Gamaliel mentored Paul, he could teach him so much. He could teach him about the Law. He could teach him about the oral tradition. Paul sat at his feet.
He defends himself in Acts 22:3. He said, "I grew up in Jerusalem, and I sat at the feet of Gamaliel. He was my mentor. But one day, as I was going to persecute the church and wipe out those who were members of the Way, I got knocked down by something bigger than me. I got blinded by a light I didn't even ask for. Gamaliel could teach me about grammar, but he couldn't teach me about grace. It took a thorn to show me that. I didn't ask for it, and, God, if you want to take it, it's still on the table. You can have it back anytime. But the torment stops here. I will not be tormented by this thorn one more day. If you're not going to take this thorn away, then, God, you will need to give me the grace". So, when Paul preaches and talks about the thorn, I want you to realize that is the thing God wouldn't take away, but he says in verse 7 something very interesting. He says, "Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn".
I just read that a bunch, and I eventually began to see "Therefore…therefore…therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn". It came through an instrument of Satan, but God used it as a vessel of grace. Isn't that what he did with Paul? Paul, who was a tool used by the Enemy to torment the church, and when God transformed him, he became a vessel for the gospel. If God can do that through Paul… Now he said, "I'm going to do it for Paul," and if you can receive it, he's going to do it for you. "Therefore, I was given a thorn. God didn't take it away. He showed me what it was there for". So, ask God for this. Ask God for therefore. "I'm celebrating today because God gave me a therefore. I'm not celebrating that the thorn is gone; I'm celebrating that God gave me a therefore". He said, "Therefore, all the more gladly, for Christ's sake, I will boast in the things that make me appear broken. Therefore, I will glory not in the thorn but in the grace that God released for it".
Don't glory in the thorn. Don't walk around just worshiping your weakness. He said, "I'm celebrating because I have a grace for it". I've walked with hundreds of people through seasons of unimaginable struggle, and what they all seem to have in common when you talk to them, if they go on living, is that God gave them a grace that was proportional to the problem. If they live through it, they live long enough to talk about not just what they went through but what God taught them. They stop talking about the thorn so much. Even if it was a really big thing, in comparison to the glory of the grace God gives them, they start making it look like a small thing. So, I wonder who you are today, and I wonder what your thorn is, but I don't really need to know, because God already showed me. That thorn is the mentor you didn't ask for. It's the thing that's going to teach you. One old preacher said, "The thorn is what takes you to the throne". Paul said, "I know me, and God knows me. I would have gotten out ahead of myself if God didn't give me this".
So, take your thorn to the throne and ask God. "I didn't ask you for this thorn, but I'm asking you now. I need a grace for this season. I need a grace for this insult. God, you told me to turn the other cheek. I'm out of cheeks. I only have so many. I'm going to need some grace. Three seasons I've petitioned you. Still no dog. So, if you won't give me a breakthrough, give me a therefore. Reveal something here in my life I couldn't see anywhere else". I'm not telling you to thank God for your thorn. I'm not there yet. Some people can do that. I'm not that good of a Christian. I'm not Paul, and most of y'all aren't either.
So, if we can't thank him for the thorn, which is understandable, let's thank him for the therefore. "Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about what God gave me through it". It's a pivotal moment when you don't allow the Enemy to torment you anymore with it. He doesn't want you to see this, because he wants to keep you weak where you won't worship. Paul said, "Therefore, I boast all the more. I glory in what the thorn brought me to. I don't glory in the thorn. I don't like the thorn. I tried to send it back. I didn't order the thorn. But regardless of how it came, right now I need grace". Everybody under the sound of my voice, this is not your chance to slip out of the room early. Stand up. In this moment, I wonder, would you receive what you really need from God? I wonder, can you be humble enough to lift your hands like you need him and not clench your fists like you've got this? That's the posture of power right there. That's it.
Lord, we thank you for the therefore, and we thank you for the Holy Spirit, our divine mentor. We thank you that you're teaching us about your grace in this season.
There is a supernatural grace that comes upon you in seasons like this. There is a supernatural grace that comes upon the saints. There is a grace for your thorn. One day, if we can not be so proud and arrogant to deny it, if we can not be so bitter about the fact that it happened, maybe we'll get to talk about what God taught us, like Paul did. Maybe one day we can say, "When I'm weak, then I'm strong". Maybe we can let God in. Maybe he's bigger than our thorn. Maybe his grace is sufficient for you too.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh. Anoint us with oil for the thorns in our flesh and the pressure we face and the temptation we're under and the weakness we know all too well. We need your oil. I lift up every thorn to you today. We ask you to take it away, and we'll probably keep asking, but while we're working through it, we thank you for the therefore. It's there for a reason. We'll see what it is in time.
I want to tell you one more thing while you pray. Satan was the messenger, but he wasn't the master. While you pray, consider that. Consider this: in God's hands, Paul, who tortured and tormented the church, became a mentor for the gospel. That's what's going to happen in your life. The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in you.
So, God, I thank you for a release of your glory. I thank you for these things that drew us closer to you, God. We wouldn't have prayed. We would have been proud. We would have thought it was our strength, our might, our armor, our sling, our sword. It wasn't. In this moment of weakness, we declare we are strong. We are blessed. We are filled. We are overcomers. We are conquerors. We are more than conquerors. Let the weak say, "I am strong". Let the poor say, "I am rich". We thank you for it. In Jesus' name, we offer you this praise. And the whole church said, "Amen".