Steven Furtick - Why Did God Leave Me With This Weakness?
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".