I came across these roses as I was out walking one day and I thought they were absolutely gorgeous. As I was taking this picture I noticed the massive thorns protruding from the stems, waiting for some unsuspecting victim.
As Poison put it, “every rose has its thorn…” and the “rose” of life is no different.
Life is a beautiful, wonderful thing, but it definitely has it’s thorns.
I have been learning a lot more about those thorns lately.
Who knew they could come in so many shapes and sizes?
That they could pierce every part of your being?
A few days ago my friend and I went up to the top of one of the mountains on the edge of town. Everything was green and beautiful from the rain the night before… it was so peaceful and relaxing that only the buzzing of some flies kept us awake. On the way back down I slipped on some wet grass and got several little thorns in my hand. Though I’ve gotten a few of them out, there are still a few buried deep down in there. It still intrigues me how something so tiny can cause pain and make me alter how I go about normal activities.
But more often than not the most painful (and longest lasting) thorns are not physical. My supervisor recently led a devotional on 2 Corinthians 12. Verses 7-10 say, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul’s thorn might have been a physical illness or condition, but it was so much more. It was a messenger of Satan – it was painful. It was felt in everything he did. It was unwanted. More than once he pleaded with the Lord to please remove it from him. But this thorn was also a gift. It limited his sinfulness by keeping him from becoming conceited. It served as an opportunity for Paul to experience the Lord’s grace and power at work in his life at a deeper level.
As Paul began to see the thorn for what it truly was he grew in contentment. The trials of life were seen through the lenses of sanctification. He knew they would make him more like Christ and bring glory to the Lord – and he knew those two things are what life is ultimately all about. It still hurt, but the pain was worth the end results.
Romans 5:3-5 explains how the process works. It says, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Likewise, James 1:2-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Life is not easy, but for all of us who have put our trust in Jesus Christ, it gives perspective and value to the hardships we face.
But, there does need to be a distinction made here. As my supervisor pointed out, there is a difference between thorns and discipline. Thorns are not the result of our sinfulness. Rather, they are given to keep us from sinning in the first place. Suffering the consequences of sin (discipline) is also part of the sanctification process, but not what we are talking about here.
I realized just yesterday another distinction that must be made. Through some things that happened recently the Lord has graciously (and painfully) shown me some idols I have in my life. Until this morning I wanted to call anything and anyone who came between me and those things a thorn. If something or someone hurt my feelings, annoyed me, or made me mad then it must be a thorn. I even wanted to consider my emotions a thorn.
But that simply isn’t true. So what is the truth about the situation? The truth is that my sinful nature has shown itself much more vividly since I came here. I act more selfishly and I get hurt, angry, jealous, etc. a lot more easily than I ever have before in my life. It’s not fun… at all. Sure, I was praying the other night. But they were prayers about how upset I was, what I wanted, and about what I thought God should do for me. (Notice all the personal pronouns in that sentence.) I knew even then that I was thinking more emotionally than rationally, but I didn’t care. And, unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened here. The truth is that I was focusing only on myself and my idols and not on the Lord. And the truth is also that I am still being refined to look more like Christ. Praise the Lord He hasn’t given up on me!