Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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The Blessing of Thorns, Day 3

Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth on what happens when we really trust God.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: We give Him our weakness. We give Him our pain. We give Him our suffering. We give Him our thorns and our affliction. And God says, “In exchange, I will give you My strength, My power, My grace to endure and to exalt, to embrace the cross, to glory in the cross.”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth for Wednesday, November 25, 2015

If you could choose any problem to be removed from your life, what would it be? Why doesn’t God just remove it? Nancy will help you think through this difficult question, continuing in a series on thankfulness called "The Blessings of Thorns."

Nancy: When we’re going through thorns and afflictions in our lives, we tend to think we know what would be good. What we usually think would be good is for God to remove the problem, but God knows what is best. His idea of best and good are often different than our idea of best and good. God knows what we really need.

I think of that passage in John chapter 11 when Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus was sick and dying and finally did die. His sisters thought what would be good, what would be best, in their way of thinking, was for Jesus to come and heal their brother, to keep him from dying.

But Jesus had something in mind that would ultimately bring greater glory to God than healing Lazarus and keeping him from dying, and that was to raise him from the dead after he died—something the sisters could not have imagined through their tears as they stood at the tomb of their brother.

When it comes to Paul’s thorn in the flesh that we’ve been looking at in 2 Corinthians chapter 12, verse 9, we see that God had something better for Paul than release from his pain. God said to Paul after Paul entreated with the Lord, pleaded with the Lord to remove this thorn (and we said in the last session it’s all right to ask God to remove the thorn, to remove the affliction), but then God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you." "I have something better for you, something that will bring Me greater glory, something that is more for your good than for Me to remove this thorn, and that is that you receive My grace while you have this thorn." "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (12:9 NKJV).

So God was saying, “I’m not going to take the thorn away. I’m not going to remove this problem, but I will give you grace to bear it.”

God’s grace, God’s power imparted to Paul in exchange for Paul’s weakness—isn’t that one of the ways of God? We give Him our weakness. We give Him our pain. We give Him our suffering. We give Him our thorns and our affliction, and God says, “In exchange, I will give you My strength, My power, My grace to endure and to exalt, to embrace the cross, to glory in the cross.”

The wonderful thing about God’s grace that we see in this passage and throughout the Scripture is that it never runs out. There’s never a shortage of God’s grace.

First Peter 5 tells us that He is the "God of all grace" (v. 10). Hebrews 4 tells us that His throne is a "throne of grace" (v. 16).

James 4 tells us that God gives more grace, that He lavishes His grace on those who humble themselves and acknowledge their need (see v. 6).

What is God’s grace? God’s grace is God’s resources: His strength, His power, His goodness, His light, all that He is. It’s His resources available to us. It's His resources that are sufficient for every problem and every situation that every child of God will ever face. There is never a lack, never a shortage.

God’s grace is His resources available to us: His strength, His power, His goodness, His light, all that He is.

I love that verse in 2 Corinthians chapter 9, verse 8, and I was reminded of it in my quiet time this morning. It’s one of those all-encompassing verses in the Scripture. Second Corinthians 9, verse 8, says that “God is able to make all grace abound toward you [not just toward Paul, but toward you, in your thorns, in your situation] that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (NKJV).

I don’t think there’s probably a verse in the Bible that has more superlatives in it than that verse. “God is able to make all grace abound toward you that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.”

So think of your thorn (fill in the blank—what is it?), then apply that verse to it. That verse applies.

That verse applies to a friend I have who suffers from chronic, debilitating pain, and has for years, for which there is no known treatment. Doctors have just sent her home from Mayo and said that you just have to live with it. That grace of God, that sufficient grace of God applies to the single woman in her thirties, her late thirties, who faces the possibility that her heart’s longing to be a wife and mother will never be fulfilled. God’s grace is sufficient for the forty-five-year-old mom who wrote me recently after her husband died suddenly, leaving her with ten children ages three to twenty-two, and I thought of my mom that was widowed at the age of forty with seven children ages twenty-one and under. God’s grace is sufficient for that woman.

God's grace is sufficient for the parents I know who are going through the worst situation in their lives with a teenaged child who has come under the control and influence of demonic powers. It is a horrible situation. But that couple is finding God's grace to be enough for them in this moment for this situation.

I think of my friend who has been going through a horrible situation with a sexually addicted husband who says that he loves her but he has refused to give up his girlfriend. She has found God’s grace is sufficient for this—something she’d never dreamed of, a script she never would have written. But she and all these that I know who are going through thorny paths right now are finding that God’s grace enables His children to endure, and God’s grace helps us to turn our thorns into something of value.

I read not too long ago the story of Annie Johnson Flint. You may not be familiar with her. She’s a poet, a songwriter who lived in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. Her mother died when she was six years old, and her father died shortly thereafter. She and her little sister were adopted by a godly couple, the Flints, and then shortly after Annie graduated from high school, her adopted parents both died within a few months of each other. About that same time, Annie developed rheumatoid arthritis as a teenager, an older teenage gal, and within three years, she was a helpless invalid, and for most of the rest of her life was unable to get out of bed.

Over the years, she struggled to make ends meet for herself and her younger sister, who also had health issues and was very frail. For more than forty years there was hardly a day when she didn’t suffer pain. She became increasingly helpless, but she started to use her long hours of suffering to minister to others by writing poems. She’d hold the pen in her twisted and bent fingers, with her swollen, rigid joints and enormous pain, and through that pain she made hand-lettered cards and gift books for others who were suffering. The affliction took a great toll. She finally developed serious bed sores and later in her life suffered the ravages of cancer as well.

She believed that God had laid her aside for a purpose—even though she couldn’t always see that purpose. She believed God had a mission for her in life, that He had work for her to do. She wrote poems out of her crucible of suffering that ministered grace and peace to other sufferers for many years since.

I don’t think Annie Flint could have imagined how just one of those poems—which was later set to music—would minister very deeply to many hurting believers who were in need of God’s grace.

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater;
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase.
To added affliction, He addeth His mercy;
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance;
When our strength has failed err the day is half done.
When we’ve reached the end of our hoarded resources:
Our Father’s full giving has only begun.

One of the greatest servants of God in the history of the Christian church is a man whose name you will know, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Enormously used of God as a preacher, an author. He started many Christian institutions, organizations, pastored a church for many years, but throughout his adult life, Charles Spurgeon endured unbelievable suffering. For over half his ministry, he experienced unrelenting physical pain. From the age of thirty-five he suffered with gout, which is an acute pain and swelling of the joints. He had rheumatism, inflammation of the kidneys, and he also endured great mental suffering as a result of a calamity that took place while he was preaching at the age of twenty-two.

In the 10,000 seat music hall of the Royal Surry Gardens in London, someone shouted “fire,” and in the panic that followed, seven people were killed. There was no fire, but there was an enormous panic. Seven people were killed and scores were injured. The next day, his wife gave birth to twin sons, and she was never able to have more children. So starting at the age of twenty-two, he went through a series of experiences that marked him for life.

When the boys were nine, his wife Susanna became a physical invalid, and for the last twenty-seven years of her husband’s life, she was rarely able to hear him preach. He was the object of a lot of public ridicule and vicious slander.

In 1857, when he was twenty-three years old, he wrote, “Down on my knees have I often fallen, with the hot sweat rising from my brow, with some fresh slander poured upon me. In agony of grief, my heart has been well nigh broken.”

At one point he said, "Men cannot say any worse of me than has already been said. I've been belied from head to foot and misrepresented to the last degree."

As a result probably of all of the above, Spurgeon had a lifelong struggle with recurring, deep depression. He had the first bout when he was twenty-four years old, and he said at that time, “My spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for." I would just cry, cry and cry like a baby, and I had no idea what I was crying for—bouts of deep depression.

Spurgeon would not have chosen those painful afflictions and thorns had he been writing the script, but he came to see those thorns as blessings, as gifts from an infinitely wise and good and loving God. He told his ministerial students, “I dare say the greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness.” He came to see sickness as a greater blessing—in God’s economy—than physical health.

And then this statement—he said, “I’m afraid that all the grace that I have received from my comfortable and easy times and happy hours might almost lie on a penny, but the good that I have received from my sorrows, my pains and my griefs, is altogether incalculable.”

God’s grace helps us to turn our thorns into something of value.

I told someone recently, and my sufferings and afflictions can’t begin to compare to those of Charles Spurgeons’s, but as I look back on my life now in my mid-40s, I can see that every single disappointment, loss, pain, or problem, was intended by God for my good. I look back on those things, even now, and I really can thank God for every one of them. I didn’t feel real thankful when I was in the middle of some of them. There were days when I thought, I will not get through this day. There were days when the weight, the pressure, the pain, the heartache, the tears, the grief were so enormous I thought, I can’t live through this. You’ve been there.

I look back now with just the finite view that we still have this side of eternity, and I really can say, “Thank You, Lord, for every one of those losses, those disappointments, those heartaches.” I can see already just glimpses of how those have been used by God to bring about great good in my life.

I want us to see several purposes for which God uses afflictions and thorns in our lives.

The first one is something that we see all through the Scripture and that is that God uses thorns to discipline us, to restore us when we have strayed from obedience, to bring us back to a place of obedience to God’s Word. I think one of the passages that says that most clearly is in Psalm 119, verses 67 and 71, where David says,

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.

So God uses thorns; God uses affliction to train us, to teach us His ways, to discipline us, correct us when we’re on the wrong path. When we’ve gone astray, God uses thorns to bring us back into a place of obedience and submission to His Word.

Then as we come to the epistles of Paul, we’ve been looking at the apostle Paul in this series, who not only had that major thorn in the flesh, but he had many thorns and afflictions he endured in his life and ministry. Throughout his epistles, Paul speaks regularly of the good that he received from his afflictions and of the purposes of God in allowing those afflictions to come into his life. For example, he says in 2 Corinthians chapter 1, verse 9, that his afflictions made him more dependent on God. He said God sent these afflictions to make us rely, not on ourselves, but on God, to make us dependent on God’s strength that is made perfect in our weakness.

You’ll never know the strength and the resources God has available to you if you never have a need. You never go draw money out of your bank account if you never need money, and you won’t be forced to draw God’s resources, His strength, His grace out of His heavenly bank account if you don’t come to the place where you can’t do it on your own. If you never reach the end of your own resources, your own strength, your own abilities, you’ll always rely on yourself. Paul said God wanted to make us rely, not on ourselves, but on Him.

So a purpose of God in suffering and affliction is that those thorns make us dependent on God.

If you never reach the end of your own resources, your own strength, your own abilities, you’ll always rely on yourself.

There’s a third purpose, and that is those thorns keep us humble. Paul says in 2 Corinthians chapter 12, verse 7, “God gave me this thorn, this messenger from Satan, to keep me from becoming conceited” (paraphrased). Paul had received these great revelations, had great experiences with God, had a fruitful life and ministry, and he said, “God wanted to keep me from becoming proud, because God can’t use proud servants.

God can’t use proud servants.

So Paul’s thorn was actually a protection against pride, and he realized it was better to have recurring, intense physical affliction, or whatever kind of affliction it was, than for his soul to be destroyed by the deadly disease of pride, so he received it. He said, “God had a purpose. Its purpose was to keep me from becoming conceited.”

God uses thorns and afflictions to keep us humble.

Then God uses thorns and afflictions to make us a blessing to others and to equip us and enable God’s grace to others in their time of need.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians chapter 1, verse 4, God let us go through these things “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” So Paul said, "We suffered; we went through affliction; God comforted us by His grace, and now God lets us be channels of comfort and blessing and encouragement to others when they’re in the midst of affliction."

Can you imagine if David had never gone through his sufferings and afflictions? We wouldn’t have the Psalms. How many believers have been strengthened and comforted by God's grace. I have been recently, through reading through the Psalms. David went through his afflictions, received God’s comfort, wrote about it, so that today we can read about it and receive God’s comfort.

Somebody told me recently about a little book by Amy Carmichael that I was not familiar with called Rose from Briar, and this is a whole book of letters that Amy Carmichael wrote during the last decade of her life when she was on a sick bed and could not get up and be about. She wrote these letters from her sick bed to other people who were themselves sick.

She says in the beginning, “There’s something about somebody who’s well telling you that you should be comforted when you’re sick that is just annoying. That’s why I wrote these letters, not after I got well [which she never did] but while I was sick,” so that she could comfort others with the same comfort God was giving to her.

The title of that book is Rose from Briar and it comes from a little bit of verse that says, “From thy briar shall blow a rose for others.” From your thorns, from your briar patch, is going to come a rose, a blessing to others.

And then afflictions and thorns result in the spread of the gospel. Paul says in Philippians chapter 1, verse 12 as he wrote this from a Roman prison. He said, “What has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”

Verse 14 of Philippians 1, “Most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” So Paul is saying what Satan meant for evil, to hinder the advance of the gospel by putting Paul in prison, Paul said God got him on this—as God always does. God always has the final word, and God used those afflictions, Paul’s imprisonment, God actually used to further His kingdom.

So as we look at God’s purposes in bringing thorns and afflictions into our lives, I want to ask you:

Would you be willing—are you willing—to have that thorn remain: 

  • If to do so would protect you from sin?
  • If it would keep you humble?
  • If it would make you more dependent on God?
  • If it would sanctify you?
  • If it would make you spiritually more fruitful?
  • If you knew it would further the spread of the gospel?
  • If you knew that by your willingness to endure that thorn, you would be the greater blessing to others?
  • Would you be willing to say, “Okay, God, I’ll accept Your grace to bear it, even if You never choose to remove it”?

You see, it really comes down to do we care more about comfort or about developing Christ-like character? Do we care more about a pain-free existence or about God’s purposes in our lives and in this world being fulfilled?

  • If comfort is what matters supremely to you, then when those thorns come into your life, you will resent them; you will resist them, and you will run from them. You’ll demand that God remove it.
  • But if what matters most to you is being like Jesus and being His instrument of blessing and of the furthering of His kingdom in this world, then you’ll say, “God, I wouldn’t have chosen this; I wouldn’t have written the script this way, but I believe that Your grace is sufficient for me, and I thank You for the blessing of these thorns.”

Father, I know that You have many, many purposes for thorns that we haven’t even touched on. I think of what I’ve heard John Piper say recently that in everything that happens in our lives, You are always doing a thousand things that we cannot see and we do not know. Sometimes You give us just a little glimpse of what You’re doing and what Your purposes are, but, oh Lord, Your ways are so vast, and there’s so much more.

So with the little bit we can see, and the lot we can’t see, we say, “Thank You, Lord. You do have purposes. Our thorns are not meaningless, and we ask that You use the thorns in our lives to fulfill Your holy, eternal purposes, and in the midst of it all, may we give You thanks.” I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Leslie: That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. She’s been showing us what true thankfulness means. Thanksgiving isn’t just a day on the calendar, it’s an attitude of the heart. And it’s even more powerful and meaningful in the tough times. Nancy takes you further into this powerful subject in her book, Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy. This book will help you learn gratitude as a way of life, show you why there are so many reasons to be grateful and help you learn thanksgiving day by day.

When you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift, we’ll show our thanks by sending you the book Choosing Gratitude. We’ll send you one book per household with your gift of any size. Ask for it when you call 1–800–569–5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

It’s easy for me to turn on a microphone and use phrases like, “Walk with joy through the thorns of life,” but living it is a lot different. Tomorrow we’ll hear from some women who have lived it.

Please be back for Revive Our Hearts. And we’ll end our time today with one of those real-life examples. Barbara Rainey faced some very serious thorns leading up to one of the True Woman Conferences, sponsored by Revive Our Hearts. At the conference, she shared what God was doing in her family’s life.

Barbara Rainey: We’ve had a really difficult summer in our family. One of our daughters had her first baby in June, and the baby only lived seven days. We’ve all been journeying through the valley of the shadow of death in our family, so I’ve been doing some reading to understand why God might allow this—and we know He did. We know He is sovereign.

In the course of the summer and all the things I’ve read, I’ve read two different kinds of books. One is called A Grace Disguised, but interestingly, the other book is actually a series that I’ve been reading—The Chronicles of Narnia, and they’ve been so uplifting to my soul to be reminded of heaven and what God has prepared. Just to stretch my imagination again by reading those books has been delightful. It’s been hopeful. It makes me long for heaven more than ever before.

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

 

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About the Speaker

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love …

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