Anyone who knows me is well aware of my fondness for eagles. An eagle displays such majestic grace while in flight, but is a picture of complete confidence while simply sitting and staring. Several years ago, a pastor with whom I was conducting a revival took me to a place where I could watch live eagles in the wild. It literally took my breath away to watch them soar overhead with no fear of my presence. Of course, their wingspan appeared wider than I am tall.
However, once the eagles had all left their nest for flight, the pastor took me up the mountain side for a closer view. When we arrived at the nest, a few things captivated my attention immediately. First of all, the size of the nest was incredibly large. I suppose you could say in the animal world that eagles enjoy condo living on the brow! But, secondly, what I found inside the nest puzzled me. It was threaded with thorns. I expected to see cushioning straw or soft leaves. It was then I learned a valuable lesson from the eagle. If the mother eagle did not place thorns inside the nest, her eaglets would never leave the nest and we would never know the wonderful elegance of the eagle in flight.
For most all of us, the thought of thorns does not conjure up pleasurable images. Scripturally speaking, thorns remind us of judgment, chastisement, and bitterness. Thorns were a fruit of sin in the Garden of Eden. Israel had enemies that were “thorns in your side.” Jesus taught that thorns will choke the good seed. Knowing these truths, is it even a conceivable idea to you to possess a blessed thorn? Admittedly, most thorns in our lives are “grown” through careless and irresponsible living. But, in 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul acknowledges he had been “given” a thorn. What is the difference between a “grown” thorn and a “given” thorn? A “grown” thorn is connected to a root system that provides poison to the thorn, but it also gives life and power to reproduce other thorns. A “given” thorn is disconnected from a root system which limits the longevity of the thorn, but the thorn is already dying and emptied of its poison and filled with grace! Perhaps that is why Paul was able to write in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For our light affliction…is but for a moment…” Consider with me the blessing and ministry of a “given” thorn.
A “given” thorn moves us with intentions. Paul describes his thorn as “…the messenger of Satan to buffet me…” Our initial thought tells us that thorns impede our progress. This is not necessarily so. If you have ever found yourself pricked with the point of a thorn, you will notice it causes an immediate unnatural movement. God-given thorns force us into actions and areas that we would not go on our own, and oftentimes to face impossibilities.
It is our nature to seek the pathways of least resistance in life. Just as the eagle would never know the wonder of flight without a thorn, we would miss miraculous interventions of the Lord without a thorn. Famed British physicist Lord Kelvin once said, “when you are face to face with a difficulty, you are up against a discovery.” In Hosea 2:6, Hosea’s wife Gomer returned to the old life as a harlot. Hosea prayed to “…hedge up thy way with thorns…that she shall not find her paths.” The hedge of thorns then pricked an unnatural movement that led her to “a door of hope.” How easy it is to see men greatly used of the Lord and desire their mantle on our lives. But, may we never forget, those who are the most blessed of God are often the most buffeted by Satan!
A “given” thorn measures us for immaturity. Paul mentions that prior to his being “given a thorn,” he had received an abundance of “visions and revelations of the Lord.” We would have given him a promotion, a financial raise, and built him an ivory tower. However, the Lord gave him a thorn. The great preacher F.B. Meyer said, “If God promised His servants an unbroken run of prosperity, there would be many counterfeit Christians.” The measure of our maturity is rarely seen in our response to success, but rather in our response to suffering. When Paul asked the Lord to remove his thorn, he was given a promise and not an explanation for the thorn. Rather than pout bitterly that he did not get his way, he accepted the Lord’s sufficient grace that came with the thorn. In 2 Chronicles 33, Manasseh was “among the thorns”, and “in affliction…he…humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.” God-given thorns expose our weaknesses, but inject us with enough grace to strengthen us on to maturity.
A “given” thorn marks us for identity. In Galatians 6:17, Paul wrote, “…I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” The word “marks” describes the process of a slave being pricked and scarred for ownership. Play write Edward Sheldon said it best, “God will look you over not for medals or degrees, but scars.” Oftentimes, while reading a good book, I find myself earmarking the important pages for quick future reference. In a similar gesture, “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth,” and once He finds a “heart completely His,” He marks it with a thorn. This was never more dramatically illustrated than in the sinless life of Jesus. In Matthew 27:29, He was given a “crown of thorns” and then led away to the cross. He did not deserve the thorns given to Him by Roman soldiers meant to humiliate and embarrass, but Jesus wore the thorns honorably as an emblem of victory! Anytime the Lord “gives” us a thorn, it not only identifies our lives with Him in “the fellowship of His sufferings,” but it will ultimately be used as the instrument and emblem of victory in our lives!
When Paul uses the word “thorn,” he is more literally describing “a stake” in which people were pinned with and tortured. His God-given thorn was not easy to bear, and was so penetrating it was not easy to breathe. Like all thorns, it came with the loss of blood, sweat, and tears. But, had the Lord never given Paul a thorn, he may have just remained comfortable in the nest and never become anything but an ole’ buzzard!
Your Most Proud Pastor,
© 2008 Alan Stewart
Alan Stewart: Dr. Alan Stewart has served as Senior Pastor of Rechoboth Baptist since December 1999. He attended The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Moody Bible Institute, Covington Theological Seminary, and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.
Prior to pastoring the Tennessee church, Alan was an evangelist for 15 years. He has preached revivals/pastor’s conferences in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. He also preached crusades/conferences in India, Hungary, and conducted a crusade in South Africa in August of 2009. Pastor Alan is married to Jeanne, and they are blessed with two children – Sierra and Seth.