Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I need some words of encouragement. I’ve struggled with MS all my life and I’m tired of it. Can you give me some advice on how to handle handicaps?
I have never known a person who was not dealing with a handicap.
Alexander McLaren, the famous Scottish preacher, used to say often: “Please be kind to everyone you meet because everyone is fighting a battle.”
Perhaps there is one, young superman somewhere who has never been aware of his limitation, but I suspect not. Even Superman has his kryptonite.
Harry Emerson Fosdick’s, “Overcoming Handicapped Lives” has helped me victoriously handle many of the handicaps with which I struggle. I was twelve years old when I received the book. I don’t know how I would have handled my open-heart surgery at 13 if I hadn’t read it.
“Recognize that life is filled with unsung heroes who jumped the hurdles and finished the race victoriously.”
The great scientist, Louis Pasteur, developed the process of pasteurizing milk. We are certain that he must have had robust health. Yet, we discover that he had a paralytic stroke at 46 and was handicapped for life.
Beethoven composed his finest works after he grew deaf.
Blind Milton penned exquisite poetry.
Handicapped people have done great work!
How do they do it?
What was the inward technique with which they handled limitations? Is there any one of us who does not need to learn that?
In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Paul described how he overcame a dastardly thorn (handicap) that tormented him for a lifetime.
He began the chapter by discussing the many extraordinary visions that God had given to him. He described being “caught up to paradise where he heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell”.
But notice, in the moment of Paul’s greatest exaltation came also his greatest humiliation.
“Because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a all way home from so and run when it’s all for the show I read the somewhere goal messenger of Satan, to torment me” (2 Corinthians 12:8).
“Thorn” is the same word as “stake.” Paul had a stake twisting in his body to keep him humble.
If Paul had been like some of us, many would know. Think of writing all those letters and telling no one the symptoms of his trouble.
What was his thorn? There are several main guesses.
1. Paul was ugly (1 Corinthians 10:10): “... his letters are weighty but his bodily appearance was weak. Three times he was flogged with 39 lashes. Five times he was beaten with rods.” As a result, Paul probably walked with great difficulty. He was bent over and twisted strangely. His face was scarred and worn.
2. He struggled with epilepsy (Galatians 1:14): The Greek word translated “reject” is literally translated “to spit.” The ancient world believed epilepsy was caused by demons. So they spit at Paul to ward off demons.
3. He was dogged by malaria. Malaria was prevalent in Asia Minor and some think that he contracted it during his first missionary journey.
4. I think most probably he struggled with eye trouble. Scales fell off his eyes at his conversion. In Galatians 6:11 he wrote “see with what large letters I write with my own hand.”
In Galatians 4:15 He wrote to the Galatians, “You would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me if you could have.”
At his trial in Acts 23 Paul was slapped when he chided the high priest. One of the soldiers asked him, “Didn’t you know that you were speaking to the high priest?” Paul replied, “No I didn’t see him.”
What’s your thorn? Do you have an alcoholic father? Are you severely depressed? Do you struggle with sickness? Is one of your children extraordinarily difficult? Is it trouble at work?
We know nothing about Paul’s trouble except that, behind the scenes, just like the rest of us, Paul had to handle a limitation that he prayed to escape, that he could not evade, that he had to somehow or other settle down and live with.
“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” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).
God didn’t give him what he asked for. God did answer his need. God’s grace was sufficient for every situation.
It is a crucial moment when we stand open-eyed before our handicap.
Every garden has its weeds; every rose has its thorns; every life has its strife.
Think of a woman who in her youth had all the natural ambitions for success but who now recognizes that she’ll never write poetry or compose music or hold the business positions about which she dreamed.
Think of a man who has expectations of a normal, well-adjusted, happy life, but like a beast from ambush, an accident, or sickness leaped and now he must work with crippled machinery.
How many of us have stepped on the gas but we have to admit that the power just isn’t in us? God didn’t equip us with 8 cylinders or with 6 – only four – and those none too good.
Maybe yours is a life that wanted love and missed it.
Maybe yours is a home where marriage might have been a thing of beauty but was a tragedy instead.
Maybe yours is a family where a child created as a blessing became an inward agony.
Maybe yours is a household where death has severed the tie that binds.
Here are six lessons for overcoming handicaps.
1. Handicaps are not accident. God’s plan is in place.
The thorn was no accident. It had a purpose. God had a plan in place; it was God’s gift to keep Paul from becoming conceited about his visions.
God has very definite plans for us: Psalm 139:16: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
Any know many that God has worked handicaps into our lives should be no surprise.
2. There are two reasons that God allows handicaps to come to his children.
Correcting—God disciplines his children for the same reason that he disciplines us. Spank your child (Hebrews 12:5-11).
Perfecting—Suffering produces perfection (1 Peter 1:6-7). Suffering produces perfection.
3. Say, “what an opportunity” instead of, “what if?”
“That us why I delight in weaknesses, insults, hardships, and persecutions” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
How often we stroke our wounded spirits and cry, “If I had not this handicap, what a person I would have been.” We dream of what we could have been and what a glorious paradise we could have had if only we had not this handicap.
We must realize that very few of us are able to live life through with no limitations or handicaps. Whoever had the chance to live out a life under the ideal conditions that they would have chosen?
I’m certain that Paul would rather not have had this thorn in his flesh. But I suspect that there are qualities of understanding and sympathy in Paul and a moving music in some of the great passages of his epistles that never would have been there if he had not had to finish on three strings.
4. Stop window shopping and live with your own inventory.
“We do not compare ourselves… When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, then they are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12).
The reason so many of us fret at our limitations is that we keep comparing ourselves with others and wishing to be what they are or do what they do.
Born to be berry bushes and produce good berries, we lift envious eyes to apple trees with larger size fruit, or, born to be apple trees and produce apples, we look with jealousy at maple trees with their greater shade, or, born to be maple trees, we are anxious because elm trees are taller and more graceful.
God has given all of us a special field to till. Accept it. If the soil is thinner and the rocks more numerous and the prospects less promising than another’s field, that is simply life!
We must stop looking over the fence and daydreaming about what we could do with someone else’s field.
Live with what you have. Live with your own inventory. And in Christ, that’s a lot!!
5. Recognize that thorns lay the foundation for spiritual ministry and maturity.
If Paul hadn’t had that thorn, he’d never have been Paul.
You bring on some shining specimen of manhood who’s never had a handicap, who has an integrated personality, fortunate circumstances, and great physical health, and however energetic may be his active service; there are simply some things he can’t (or won’t) do for others that deaf and blind Helen Keller could!
6. Find strength in God’s grace. His energy enough when things get tough.
Notice, “My grace is sufficient for thee.”
While Christ’s grace is sufficient and inexhaustible, he never dispenses it superfluously or needlessly. God gives us the grace we need for any particular situation.
Charles Spurgeon, pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London was asked, “Do you have enough grace to burn at the stake in the town square tomorrow?”
Spurgeon replied, “I don’t need that much grace today; but by 12:00 noon tomorrow I’d have the grace.”
God doesn’t give martyr’s grace to an office worker. But let the office worker become a martyr and He will pour out martyr’s grace.
Well, MS, I hope that my answer will stimulate thinking it will help you discover ways to find victory over your handicap.
Please let me know how you getting along.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese.His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.