Our plans seem to lead to a smooth and carefree future, but God sometimes has some very different plans for us. Yet he promises never to desert us.
Many of us are aware that the apostle Paul suffered from an unknown affliction that plagued him until his death. As he describes in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul pleaded with God to take away the thorn in his flesh. He repeated his prayer three times. However, rather than healing Paul, God answered his request in an unexpected way. He simply reminded Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (12:9).
“My grace is sufficient.” What more could we ever ask for in this earthly life than God’s undeserved love? Yet, it’s not uncommon for us to read through Scripture without giving such powerful words a second thought. If you’re easily distracted like me, you’re also quick to succumb to one of Satan’s many schemes to deter us from God’s Word and focus on our own problems.
THORN IN MY FLESH
Twenty-five years ago, I lacked spiritual maturity and depth. Then, I believe, Paul’s invaluable message would’ve fallen on my deaf ears. Although I was raised and confirmed WELS and knew Jesus as my Savior, I was a rebellious and wayward teenager who became blinded by the ways of the world. I believed that I had it all figured out and nothing was going to get in my way. By age 25, I finished college, completed four years of active duty military service, and was a newly commissioned officer on the threshold of a promising career as a military aviator. My future was all laid out, and I had a picture-perfect snapshot of what the rest of my life would look like. And believe me, it looked exceptional!
Several years ago I read that if you want to make God laugh, tell him what your plans are. What were God’s plans for me? I thought they were the same as mine. But as I sat there in my flight suit at Pensacola Naval Air Station feeling bulletproof, God was with me when the flight doctor told me that several lab tests revealed the intermittent blind spot in my left eye was the early onset of a progressive neurodegenerative condition. Needless to say, this blind spot abruptly ended my flying career. Over the course of several years, it also resulted in an early retirement from the military. My perfect plan was unraveling!
Now as I hover over my laptop computer to share this story, I’m dictating with voice recognition software because my hands no longer have the dexterity to type. Additionally, I’m sitting in a wheelchair, because I’m no longer able to walk. At only 43 years old, I need assistance with almost every aspect of daily living. As for those plans I envisioned for myself almost 20 years ago? God had other plans for me.
Regardless of how hard I try to figure out why God allowed this thorn in my flesh, his words through the prophet Isaiah resonate in my head: “ ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’ ” (55:8,9). These words reassure me that God’s perfect plan for me, you, and everyone else on this earth far surpasses anything we could ever comprehend, even when things don’t seem to go our way.
GOD’S DIVINE PLAN
Fortunately, my story doesn’t end with wheelchair ramps, roll-in showers, and help cutting my food. My story is about God’s unfailing love; his presence in every situation; his strength to persevere; and above all, a constant reminder that I’m one of his redeemed children through the precious blood of Jesus. While I’m unable to identify the specific reason God has allowed this relentless thorn in my flesh, I know, without a doubt, that he has a specific purpose. It may be to serve as one of Christ’s ambassadors in the midst of a storm or to simply nurture my faith and keep me close to his saving grace. After all, if my plan from 20 years ago had come to fruition, perhaps my faith would have withered, and I wouldn’t have a reason to include God in my life. I certainly wouldn’t have this opportunity to share my story with you.
I used to ask God, “Why me?” The answer hasn’t always been so obvious—and there are days when I still question God—but it’s now more evident to me than ever before. Clearly, the Lord is using me as a key player in his divine plan. Coupled with keeping me close to him and strengthening my faith, I truly believe that God has allowed this trial in my life so that his works might be displayed in me. What a privilege it is! This is the faith from the Holy Spirit that enables me to persevere.
Through this trial, I’ve had countless opportunities to share my faith and tell others about God’s grace. Since my physical struggle has become more evident over the last several years, I’ve noticed friends and acquaintances are quick to confide in me when dealing with their own trials. Some of these trials have included illness, depression,
marital strife, financial trouble, and the list goes on. When opening up to me, they typically begin with “My problem is nothing compared to yours” or something like that. I’m always quick to dismiss their comparison and remind them that we all have struggles and the Lord will never allow us to endure more than we can handle. While I may be able to handle my physical limitations with God’s help, I don’t know how well I’d be able to handle the trials some of my friends have confronted. I certainly wouldn’t be quick to trade places with them. We should avoid comparing our trials, because Paul has an important message for all of us about such comparisons: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
What trials are you facing in this earthly life? What are the thorns in your flesh that torment you? The specific details of Paul’s affliction are not revealed in the Bible. Perhaps this is God’s way of letting us know the intricacies of Paul’s struggle are irrelevant, because otherwise we might fall into Satan’s snare of comparing our trials with Paul’s. Rather, God is likely reassuring us that regardless of whatever types of thorns torment us, his grace is sufficient!
Andrew Liebig is a member at Peace, Eagle River, Alaska.
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Author: Andrew Liebig
Volume 103, Number 5
Issue: May 2016
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