God’s Answer May Be Different

When you are suffering, is it wrong to ask for a little relief?

Consider these words, written by the Apostle Paul:

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.

Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in SPP pic. 11infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)

Is it wrong to ask for a little relief? It bothers you, even upsets you. You seem to be plagued by it. You find yourself using words such as “frustration,” or “irritation” to describe the situation. At the very least, you are annoyed, and you really want answers. God will answer your prayers, but He may answer them in a wonderfully different way than you thought He would.

“Why is this happening to me?”

“What did I do to deserve this?!”

“What am I supposed to be learning through all this?”

No doubt, these questions came to Paul’s mind when he was agonizing over his troubles. We aren’t told exactly what “the thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan” was. So, it isn’t important that we should know that specifically. We do know that it was painful.

We also know how Paul applied what he was learning: glorifying God “in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses.”

> “Infirmities” are bodily weakness, disease or disability.

> “Reproaches” refer to insults or verbal mistreatment.

> “Necessities” or “needs” would be produced by pressure or force.

> “Persecutions” refer to situations in which one feels chased or dangerously pursued.

> “Distresses” could be illustrated by the proverbial “rock and a hard place:” finding yourself in very narrow circumstances.

As you can see, Paul used a broad brush to explain how he applied God’s answer to his repeated prayers. But that wasn’t the answer he was looking for, at least not initially. How should you respond when the Lord doesn’t answer your prayers the way you think He should?

SPP pic. 12Paul was simply asking for relief. Is that so wrong? Is it sinful to ask that painful pressures come to an end? In verse 8, Paul records that he pleaded with the Lord three times to ask for the thorn to be removed. But the thorn continued to taunt him.

This dear Christian leader had to wrestle with a difficult concept: If God is able, why doesn’t He do something about it?

Didn’t God love him? Didn’t God care? You may pray, knowing what you desire, but God’s answer may be “different.” “Different” doesn’t mean that He is denying your request; it is just that God has some larger, greater purpose in mind. He is the God of wisdom; He knows what is best for you.

So, what is that larger, greater purpose?

The word “thorn” in this passageSPP pic. 13 can refer to sharp, pointed stake. According to verse 7, Satan was using that stake to painfully taunt the apostle. But God had a glorious purpose in that stabbing pain.

Twice in the same verse, Paul tells us that the purpose for “the thorn” was SPP pic. 13.1to keep him from pride. By God’s grace, Satan’s sharp stake had become the Savior’s shepherd staff, to keep Paul from growing spiritually proud. God’s answer didn’t put an end to the trial, it transformed Paul. The Lord taught him about God’s sufficient grace. He taught him that God’s power made him perfect, even in his weakness, because we are “complete in Him” (Colossians 2:10).

The wonderful result transformed the tent-maker, Paul.SPP pic. 13.2 These things were happening in order that the power of Christ would rest  upon (literally “tent upon”) the Apostle Paul. So, in all these difficulties (v. 10), Paul rejoiced that God would receive the praise.

Yes, God will answer our prayers, but He may answer them in a wonderfully different way than we thought He would. This is the nature of prevailing prayer. Do you want the power of Christ to rest upon you?

— Gordon Dickson