This week I have been posting on what it means that Jesus is our Healer. I talked about why we get sick, why we sometimes are — or are not — healed by God in a miraculous way. But sometimes sickness comes for reasons we can’t understand, and sometimes we are not healed, even when we do everything “right.” Because sometimes sickness has something to do with how God is going to be glorified in our lives, or God’s priorities for our lives. And when we live on the finite plane of existence, while God is on the infinite, there are often things He sees that we do not see, or things for which we can’t understand the significance in our little corner of time and space.

Paul, the great apostle who wrote much of the New Testament and participated in many people receiving divine healing from God, this same man experienced something in his life which he metaphorically called a “thorn in the flesh.” He tells of it in 2 Corinthians 12

even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

What was it? What was that thorn? It is kept intentionally vague in the Bible, I believe, so that we can all relate to it better. There are as many theories about what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was as there are people who have unique challenges. We do have a few clues:

  • He writes to the Galatians and mentions an illness which in some way had the power to be revolting because he praises their kind reception of him even though he was sick (Galatians 4). Is this the same thing he refers to as a “thorn”? We don’t know.
  • He didn’t write his many letters by himself ― In some of the letters he mentions “see with what large letters I write” (Gal 6:11) or in several places he adds “I write this with my own hand” at the end of a letter, to authenticate it really was from him. Was Paul going blind? Did he also have rheumatoid arthritis and his hands didn’t work very well anymore? We don’t know.
  • Luke the physician traveled with him in later life. Luke himself mentions this, and also Paul mentions it in his letters. Did Paul travel with a physician because Luke was now helping him spread the gospel — or because he needed frequent medical care? We don’t know.

One thing we do know, though, is that sometimes our physical healing is not the greatest priority God has for our lives. Sometimes inexplicably, God will take someone and it just seems like “IT WAS TOO SOON.” And for reasons that we may honestly NEVER understand.

God has created us for eternity, but in the finiteness of our little minds and how bound we are by time and space, it’s easy to forget that this world and this life is not the end goal or the greatest glory.

In the church I attended in college, there was a widow whose husband had once been the pastor there. Sometimes people would ask Pastor Lilian, “Are you mad at God for taking your husband away so soon? He was such a good man who served God so faithfully.” Lilian shared with me that she would tell people that she was not mad at God, and though she may not know the reasons he died young, she did know this: “God doesn’t owe me anything.” Jesus has already paid the price for our eternal life! He doesn’t OWE US anything: not an explanation, not a husband, not a healing. She would say, I enjoyed my life with my husband and I am thankful. I continue to bless God and live for God now, while I still have life.

Pastor Lilian knew that healing in this life isn’t the real goal.

Eternity is the real goal. And she knew her husband had eternity with Jesus. That was enough. That IS enough. If we will embrace that possibility that Jesus with me is enough for THIS LIFE AND THE NEXT, then any blessings in this life are not what we are owed, they are bonuses.

But sometimes God has another priority first. I have so many stories I could share, but I bet you already know these stories, too. Stories of people who found something beautiful out of a pain they would never have chosen, yet they see how God is at work through it. Stories like my friend whose car wreck gave her lots of chances to share Jesus’ love with people… like the one in the wheelchair who knows if it wasn’t for that accident, he probably wouldn’t be walking with Jesus right now… like the girl who lived her first ten or so years with scoliosis, and then was instantly healed at summer camp before a few hundred kids who will forever remember that miracle.

Our Foursquare movement was founded by a woman who some would say had more boldness and faith than wisdom. When it was time to build a church, they only had enough money to dig the foundation. She said, “Dig a hole, God will fill it.” And God did. And when it came to healing, she knew that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). If He could heal then, He can heal now. And she had an amazing healing ministry.

Why am I ill? I like to think it’s because God is going to get some glory out of this thing.

Is he going to heal me? Or is this my thorn in the flesh? I don’t know. But I am going to ask. Paul prayed “three times” and God said “my grace is sufficient, and my strength is made perfect in your weakness.” Basically, God said, “this is something you are going to have to live with so stop asking.”

I want to keep on asking until God tells me to stop asking.

But in the meantime, I’m not going to get mad at God for my body’s failings. And I am not going to let fear of what it could mean interfere with what I feel God is calling me to do. 

On the one hand it can seem like “God designing people to be disabled or chronically ill is just mean.”

On the other hand, Who am I to say that differently-abled means defective? We ALL have some way in which we are differently abled than everyone else. I’m short – my husband is tall. Good for me on airplanes, good for him on reaching high shelves. We all have things we don’t like about our bodies.

I was part of a playgroup in California. There were kids there who were so smart and everything you’d think a kid ought to be. And there was a little girl in the group who had Down Syndrome. Kid #1 will maybe get a college scholarship and wind up making lots of money but he might also be the biggest arrogant, entitled jerk you ever saw. The girl with Down Syndrome was the sweetest, most loving, light of your life and make your day child  ― full of faith in Jesus and bringing his encouragement ― that you could ever meet. Both kids have equal potential to shine the light of Christ and make the world a better place.

I don’t care if you live in a wheelchair, have rheumatoid arthritis, a learning disorder, are blind, or live with an injury …

There is NOTHING THAT DISQUALIFIES YOU FROM AN AMAZING LIFE but your own attitude. Sometimes it is the attitude that really needs to be healed.

God has given us so many tools at our disposal for our healing.

Even in Leviticus we see things God told Israel to do, which we would call nutritional therapies or germ management or naturopathic remedies. God has given us therapies and healing foods and herbs and essential oils and things we can do to promote our own healing.

God has also given people incredible wisdom to create medicines and do surgeries and things to bring about healing. Often, these are things God uses for our healing.

But we often forget that there is a third option, which is divine healing.

There is a balance, I think we need to find, between “All I can do is pray” – when often that is NOT all YOU can do. And on the other end of the spectrum, we might say, “I guess I’ll just have to take medication forever… or die…” when there IS the possibility that GOD will show up miraculously.

I think that God likes to show up miraculously when we are ready to say, “this is way beyond me” and we are willing to stand up and say “I need a move of your Holy Spirit.”

Ultimately, the goal in this life is to be able to sing “It is well with my soul” no matter what kind of problems we face. No matter what kind of healing we are seeking– until it comes– God wants us to learn how to sing “It is Well With My Soul.”

But don’t forget that there are a lot of other songs we can sing, about God bringing healing, and doing miracles.

I need healing. How long do I want to do experimental treatments with my doctor and experiment with whatever lifestyle changes I can make…??? I mean, I want healing NOW! I want to be healed NOW. Can God do it? YES, ABSOLUTELY HE CAN!! Will God do it it now for me? The only way I can will know the answer to that is if I ask, and I keep on asking until he either says, “No, my grace is sufficient” or he says YES and I am healed. So I am ASKING!

Here’s a song to help you in your asking.