Acknowledge the “Thorn” (Weakness)
As I mentioned earlier, I struggle with depression. For many years, I kept it a secret out of fear of what people would think or say. There was a stigma around depression, which, thankfully, is not the case anymore. But 20 years ago, when I was diagnosed, people still did not quite understand mental illness. It was as if they only acknowledged those illnesses from the neck down, ones that afflict the body and not the mind, like diabetes, heart disease, or any discernable disability. But any illness having to do with the brain, like depression or anxiety, they relegated to the “spiritual” realm. I can remember being told several times to “just have more faith” and I would be healed. It was very hurtful and disheartening, and for obvious reasons, I kept quiet about my depression.
But not Paul. He openly admitted his weakness. He did not deny it or cover it up or avoid it. Why? Because he knew there was a godly purpose, or intent, to being given this “thorn,” or weakness. What was that purpose? Paul mentions it twice in 2 Corinthians 12:7, “…to keep me from becoming conceited.”
Conceited in Greek means, “to be arrogant, inflated with pride.” Paul’s weakness was given to him to keep him deflated, if you will. Keep him humble.
Think how easy it would have been for Paul—once a high-ranking Pharisee, with all the privileges of that class of religious elite—to become arrogant and prideful about his new ministry as an ambassador for Christ, especially since he had been personally called and chosen by God Himself on the road to Damascus. Paul could have quickly become puffed up by his Divinely given purpose and position. But God wisely, with love and grace, saw to it that Paul didn’t. God allowed “a messenger of Satan” to afflict Paul deliberately, to keep the apostle from getting an overly inflated ego.
Sadly, we’ve seen this kind of arrogance and pride happen to many “celebrity” evangelists, authors, and speakers in the past, and even today, unfortunately.
Ask for its Removal
The fact that Paul had this weakness—whatever it was—did not prevent or disqualify him from asking for its removal. Paul knew he could “…by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present [his] requests to God” (Philippians 4:6b). And he did.
But he did more than just ask, he pleaded. He begged. Three times! We can conclude from Paul’s example that we can, and should, too.
And I have with regard to my depression. I’ve pleaded with God to heal and make my mind whole. I long for the chemicals in my brain to become balanced again and function properly so that I don’t have to rely on medicine (although I am extremely grateful that there are medications for depression and anxiety).
Yet, like with Paul, God has left that plea unanswered.