Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Blessing of Thorns, Day 1

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

Leslie Basham: Today on Revive Our Hearts . . .

Barbara and Jenny: Oh, these are great. They’re perfect.

Sandra: Aren’t you missing something?

Barbara: No.

Sandra: But there aren’t any flowers; it’s just stems!

Barbara: Well, yah. I guess that’s what makes the special so special. Thanks. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sandra: She just left without any flowers.

Jenny: That’s because I cut them off. I call it the Thanksgiving Thorns Bouquet.

Sandra: Someone would really pay for that?!

Jenny: Someone who really wants to be thankful.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth for Monday, November 23, 2015.

We’ve been told to stop and smell the roses, right? How many times have you been told to stop and appreciate the thorns? Well, this Thanksgiving season is a good time to start.

Nancy, we’ve started a series called "The Blessing of Thorns," and I think we’re in for a treat.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I agree, Leslie. We’re going to hear something a little different today. It’s a story that illustrates that passage in 1 Thessalonians 5 that says, “Rejoice always . . . in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (vv. 16–18 NASB).

This story is about someone who will decide whether they really will give thanks in everything. I remember being so moved the first time I read this story. I think it will be encouraging to a lot of women who are feeling overwhelmed by the circumstances of life.

Leslie: Let’s listen to “The Bouquet of Thorns.”

(Phone Rings)

Sandra: Hello.

Sandra’s Husband: Hey, how are you?

Sandra: As well as can be expected.

Husband: Well, it looks like there’s a good chance we might be moving.

Sandra: Come on, are you kidding me? Let’s see, this will be, what? Our third move in like four years. Like I need another thing to be thinking about today.

Husband: Did something else go wrong?

Sandra: Mom called, and she can’t come to Thanksgiving Dinner.

Husband: Aw, that’s too bad. Well, I guess it will just be you and me.

Sandra: Well, I think we should just skip the whole holiday.

Husband: Have you been thinking a lot about . . . you know?

Sandra: Of course; you do know what today is, don’t you?

Husband: Would today have been the due date?

Sandra: Yes.

Husband: I’m sorry.

Sandra: Obviously not sorry enough to remember it. You’re not any better than Kim.

Husband:What did she do?

Sandra: She said maybe God let me have the accident and the miscarriage so I that would be able to sympathize with other people who go through that kind of thing. Do you believe that?

Husband: Well . . .

Sandra: I’ve got to go. I’m at the flower shop. I’m going to try to brighten my day at least a little bit.

Husband: Okay, see you later.

Sandra: Bye.

Jenny (store clerk): Oh, is it cold out there?

Sandra: It’s freezing.

Jenny: What can I get for you?

Sandra: I’m just going to take an arrangement home.

Jenny: Well, we have plain ol’ flowers, but for the more daring customers, we have the Thanksgiving Special.

Sandra: I’m not exactly into Thanksgiving this year.

Jenny: Why is that?

Sandra: Well, it just seems like everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong.

Jenny: Then you definitely could use the special.

(Door opens)

Barbara: Hello, ladies.

Jenny: Oh, in fact, Barbara here ordered the special this morning.

Barbara: It’s three years in a row now, isn’t it?

Jenny: Do you want to see?

Barbara: Oh, these are great. They’re perfect.

Sandra: Aren’t you missing something?

Barbara: No.

Sandra: But there aren’t any flowers; it’s just stems!

Barbara: Well, yeah. I guess that’s what makes the special so special. Thanks. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sandra: She just left without any flowers.

Jenny: That’s because I cut them off. I call it the Thanksgiving Thorns Bouquet.

Sandra: Someone would really pay for that?!

Jenny: Someone who really wants to be thankful.

Sandra: But why?

Jenny: Well, people are thankful for flowers all the time, but the flowers aren’t as special without the thorns. The bouquet reminds people to be thankful for everything.

Sandra: Okay, so how did you come up with this idea?

Jenny: Well, three years ago I was about to spend my first Thanksgiving alone. My husband had died, and I didn’t have anybody.

Sandra: I’m sorry. What did you do?

Jenny: Well, I prayed a lot, and I decided to thank God even though I didn’t feel like it. As I look back on it now, I am still thankful. I miss my husband, of course, but I have learned to trust God more.

And I think I have become more mature. And I’ve learned to be more empathetic. The Bible says that we get comfort from God so we can pass that comfort on to other people.

Sandra: My friend was telling me about that this morning.

Jenny: That’s why I made my first Thanksgiving Thorns Bouquet. It reminded me to be thankful.

Sandra: I don’t think I could be thankful like that.

(Door opens)

Jenny: Hi, Phil.

Phil: Hi. My wife has asked me to pick up our usual Thanksgiving arrangement. You know, twelve thorny, long-stemmed stems.

Sandra: Do you mind my asking why she wants something like that?

Phil: No, not at all. In fact, I like to tell anybody who will listen. About four years ago, my wife and I had been having lots of problems in our marriage. We had almost split up, and we knew we needed some changes.

I happened to come in to the flower shop here, and that’s when I found out about this Bouquet of Thorns. It seemed almost . . . well, it seemed perfect for my wife and me.

It sounds crazy, but what we did is, we labeled each stem with an issue we were dealing with in our marriage. We prayed, and we were asking Him that He would use these problems to draw us closer to Himself and to each other.

Sandra: Well, that sure is interesting.

Phil: Thanks. By the way I recommend the special.

Jenny: Isn’t that great?

Sandra (breaking into tears): Well, it all sounds good. But you don’t understand everything I’ve been through today.

Jenny: Oh, honey, here (hands her a tissue). You’re right, I don’t. But there is Someone who knows exactly what you’re going through, and He wore a crown of thorns to show how much He loves you.

Sandra (still crying): Well, I guess compared with what Jesus went through, I don’t have it so bad.

Jenny: No. So, what do you say, can I wrap you up some stems?

Sandra: Well, they’re kind of growing on me.

Jenny: Here's the card that goes with the bouquet. Maybe you'd like to read it.

Sandra: Dear God, I have thanked You a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns. Teach me the value of my thorns; teach me the glory of the cross I bear. Show me that I have climbed closer to You along the path of pain. Show me that, through my tears, the colors of Your rainbow look much more brilliant.

(Phone rings)

Sandra’s husband: Hello.

Sandra: Hey, I’m on my way.

Husband: Okay. I am so sorry about forgetting.

Sandra: No, I’m sorry for everything, and I would love to celebrate Thanksgiving with you.

Husband: Well, that’s a relief! We’ll have to talk about it when you get home.

Sandra: Okay. I’ve got to tell you about this weird flower shop. You’re never going to guess what I’m bringing home.

Leslie: When we’re thankful, it changes our perspective on a lot of things. We’ve been listening to a story called “The Bouquet of Thorns.”

Nancy, I would guess that a lot of women can relate to the main character, who was just overwhelmed by life.

Nancy: Leslie, we get so many letters and emails from women who are in unbelievably tough situations.

They’re sticking with husbands who perhaps aren’t supportive. They’re praying for wayward children and grandchildren. They’re struggling to take care of aging parents or sick family members.

I hope that the story we’ve heard today will encourage them to continue giving thanks, no matter what. I’d like to take a moment to pray for anyone who is facing a situation, perhaps today, in which it seems impossible to give thanks. Would you pray with me?

Lord, I think of some of the emails I’ve received just recently from listeners who are struggling with monumental issues in their lives, some major thorns. Thank You that Your grace is sufficient to deal with every thorn, every situation, no matter how big, no matter how difficult, no matter how seemingly impossible.

Thank You that You don’t always remove the thorns. Sometimes You let us endure them and walk through those difficult, dark valleys of life. But thank You that You are able, in the midst of the thorns, to give us perspective and peace and comfort and grace—tailor-made grace that’s exactly what we need in that situation.

So, Lord, many of us have thanked You for the roses; we’ve thanked You for the good things. But perhaps we haven’t thanked You for the thorns, for the difficult things. Thank You, Lord, that You really can turn thorns into a blessing.

Oh, Lord, how I pray that those listening today who are dealing with thorns in their lives would be willing, as an act of faith, to say, “Lord, I thank You. I bless You, even for the thorns.”

I pray that as they do, You would reveal Yourself and Your grace and Your peace. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Leslie: Thanksgiving isn’t just a holiday we'll mark this week. It’s an attitude of your heart. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been modeling that kind of heart attitude for us. If you want to go back over the story we’ve been hearing, “The Bouquet of Thorns,” just visit our website and check out the daily transcript.

I hope your heart has been moved by today’s story. Now, Nancy will follow it up by looking to God’s Word on this topic, "The Blessing of Thorns."

Nancy: George Matheson is a name that may not be familiar to some of you. He was a nineteenth-century Scottish preacher who was best known for his hymn called “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go.”

When he was in his late teens, he began to lose his eyesight, and by the age of twenty, he went completely blind. As he went through that process of losing his sight, George Matheson realized what we have all come to learn: It’s easy to praise God when all things are going right, when you have health and the sun is shining and you’ve got money in the bank and your mate is wild about you and your kids are responsive to your leadership.

He learned that it was easier to praise God when things are going right than when they went wrong. As he lost his sight, he struggled with that for some months (as you would imagine any one of us would); but he finally came to the point where he could pray this prayer that has been such a blessing and help to many, many believers over the last hundred-plus years. He said,

Dear God, I have never thanked You for my thorns. I’ve thanked You a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns. Teach me the glory of the cross I bear. Teach me the value of my thorns.

I want to talk in this series about a radically different way of looking at life, a radically different way of thinking and living. As I was preparing this series, I realized I could hardly think of anyone I know, including myself, who consistently lives this radical way.

I thought of Joni Eareckson Tada who, through enormous pain and thorns, has come to have such a grateful spirit. I’ve been with her on numerous occasions and heard her just break into singing hymns and choruses of praise.

I thought of Dr. Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, who was praising the Lord until he took his dying breath.

I thought of a few people, but I couldn’t think of many who consistently thank God for their thorns—people who choose joy in the midst of affliction.

It’s easy to thank God for His goodness, for His obvious blessings. But we don’t easily or naturally tend to thank God for our problems, for our heartaches, and for our trials.

I want to challenge you, as God has been challenging me as I’ve been working on this series, to begin to look at these thorns, these afflictions, these headaches and heartaches and problems, from a whole different perspective—from God’s perspective and from heaven’s point of view—and then to begin to thank God for the thorns; to consider the thorns a blessing; to see God’s purpose and hand in bringing those thorns into our lives.

Now, let me back up to the beginning of this story, because thorns were not in God’s original plan for His creation. We have to go back to the book of Genesis to see how thorns came about in the first place.

They were introduced when sin came into the world. When God first created the earth and the man and the woman, there were no thorns. There was no affliction. There was no pain. There was no disappointment. There was no heartache or hardship.

But then we come to Genesis 3. After the man and the woman had disobeyed the voice of God and had chosen to go their own way, God came to them and said, “I’m going to have mercy on you. I’m going to extend grace to you. There is still hope. There is redemption available. But there are going to be consequences for the choices you have made.”

We read in Genesis 3:17 that God said to Adam, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life” (ESV).

God had already spoken to the woman, and He had said, “In pain you shall bring forth children” (verse 16). And all you mothers know that that’s true.

But He said to the man, “In pain you shall eat of [the fruit of the ground] all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground” (vv. 17–19).

As the book of Genesis unfolds, we see that pain and sorrow and conflict and affliction and thorns—literal, physical thorns and thistles in the ground, but also thorny relationships, thorny problems, things that hurt—these are the unavoidable consequence of sin.

Everyone has to deal with them. God said you will deal with this “all the days of your life.” There’s no one who can avoid thorns, whether you are a believer or an unbeliever. Thorns and afflictions aren’t just for people who don’t know God. They’re for believers. Everyone who lives on this earth has to endure hardships, burdens, and trials.

And we all have different ones. What’s a thorn to me may not be a thorn to you. What hits you as a thorn may not be a hardship for me.

Those thorns, those hardships and burdens—sometimes they’re little slivers, just like splinters. And splinters, though they’re minor, can be a major irritation. Minor annoyances that come into the course of every day: The sun doesn’t come out for a week. If you live in Michigan, as I do, that’s not an unusual experience. A water leak in your basement. You trip and sprain your ankle. You can’t get your Internet connection to work. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s an annoyance. I have a friend who calls these gnats. Gnats aren't a real big deal. But when they are in your face and won't go away, they become an annoyance. They add up. These little irritants can be like gnats or splinters.

But sometimes those thorns are major—maybe a chronic physical pain or weakness or limitation. I think of women who write in and tell us about the hardship of living with an unbelieving spouse, and the heartache and hardship that is. Maybe you have a special needs child. The problems aren’t going to go away. For years and years and years you’re having to deal with this thorn.

You have an adult child who’s away from the Lord and making wrong choices. That’s a major thorn. Or a mate with an addiction to pornography. Or a mate who won’t work, and your family is under perennial, chronic pressure and stress. Financial reversals and losses. Major thorns.

Well, whether they’re splinters or big-time thorns, we’re going to talk about chronic, recurring, prolonged circumstances. How can they be a blessing, these things that pierce you, that pain you, that press in on you?

There are two Greek words in the New Testament that are translated into the word affliction or persecution or tribulations. These words are related words. They’re used fifty-five times in the New Testament.

The word thlipsis is one of those words. It just kind of rolls off your tongue. It’s “afflictions, persecutions.” It’s a word that means “to press together,” as you would with grapes to squeeze them to make juice out of them. It speaks of “to press hard upon something.” It’s a word that refers to “a compressed or a hard way, a straightened path, pressure, affliction, distress.” And it can be distress that’s brought on by outward circumstances.

Sometimes it's not the big things that bring us down. It's the days where if something could go wrong, it has gone wrong—big things, little things, circumstances.

Sometimes that word thlipsis—afflictions, thorns, pressures—is used figuratively of a mental or spiritual state of mind—affliction in the spiritual sense, the inner things of your soul. You can’t even explain why you feel so heavy-hearted, but you do.

Whether they’re outward circumstances or things that come from within our own hearts, we need to come to see thorns and afflictions from God’s perspective, and to discover His purposes.

And I want to tell you this: He does have purposes in thorns. You see, we have a redeeming God who is in the process of making all things new. He is redeeming this cursed planet. He is redeeming men and women who have been under the curse of the fall. He is making all things new.

The fact that He is doing that doesn’t exempt us from having to experience thorns, but it does give us hope. It gives us something to look forward to in the future, because we have God’s promise that one day there will be a world with no thorns.

As we keep our eyes on the finish line, we realize that we have something worth waiting for. That gives us courage to go on, on the days when it seems like all of life is thorny—to realize that yet ahead down the road, in a place and a time we cannot see except by faith, there will be release from all of those thorns.

We realize that we will look back one day and see that the worst afflictions we suffer here on this earth were really what Paul calls “momentary light afflictions.”

I know they don’t seem very light right now while we’re going through them, but we will look back and we will say, “God was right. They were momentary in the light of the span of eternity.” They were “light momentary afflictions” (2 Corinthians 4:17), which Paul says “are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).

We have a future hope! So what do we do now?

We need to realize that God is able, even here and now, to transform our thorns into something valuable and useful and good. What Satan intends for evil, God is able to use for good—in our lives and in the lives of those we love and as part of His great plan.

God is able, even here and now, to transform our thorns into something valuable and useful and good.

Not only can God transform our thorns, but God is able to transform us through our thorns. They are means of preparing and fitting us for a thornless eternity.

In fact, it’s impossible for us to be transformed into the likeness of Christ apart from our willingness to wear thorns like our Savior, who was willing for that crown of thorns to be pressed into His brow.

I want to read once again that prayer that George Matheson wrote as he faced the loss of his eyesight. If God has been working in your heart, I want to encourage you to make this prayer your prayer. He said,

Dear God, I have never thanked You for my thorns. I’ve thanked You a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns. Teach me the glory of the cross I bear. Teach me the value of my thorns. Show me that I have climbed closer to You along the path of pain. And show me that through my tears, the colors of Your rainbow look much more brilliant.

Leslie: Thanksgiving can be tough. I’m not talking about the challenge of putting a turkey on the table. Maintaining a heart attitude of thanksgiving when things are difficult is almost impossible, unless you’re directed by the Spirit of God.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been helping us appreciate the sacrifice of thanksgiving, beginning this series "Blessing of Thorns." Nancy writes about that sacrifice of thanksgiving in her book Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy. If you’re ready to experience the joy and blessing that comes from being thankful for the thorns, this book will help you. It would be a great follow up to this series and help these life-changing truths to go deep in your heart.

We’ll send you the book Choosing Gratitude when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount. Ask for it when you call 1–800–569–5959. We can send one copy per household with your donation this week, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Can you have joy in the middle of affliction? Not because the affliction is over, but right in the middle of it? Nancy will discuss that tomorrow, here on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.