Linda and I are looking forward to September 23-24 when we will be speaking to the supporters of Camp Elim in Colorado. These posts give me the opportunity to work on my messages (from 2 Corinthians 12) for the Heritage Retreat.
Let’s look at our text one more time:
Paul’s experience of heaven was dramatically different from the often silly and unbiblical reports of people who say they have toured heaven.
We don’t need their testimonies — we have the Word of God to guide us.
We saw that the first challenge in Living Now in Light of the Future is that we have a biblical view of boasting (vv. 1-6).
Our second challenge from this text is that we have a clear focus on the future (vv. 2 & 4 & 7). Having a clear focus on the future does not mean that we try to explain all the sights and sounds of heaven — but we allow its superlative nature to silence us into awe and wonder!
Let’s notice a third challenge from our text that will help us live now in light of the future. Because of the reality of our future we are given —
III. A Practical Primer on Prayer (vv. 8-9)
“Primer” is an old word meaning either (1) an elementary book for teaching children to read; or, (2) any book of elementary principles. Well, we don’t have a book here, but we are given — through Paul’s example — a model of prayer which we ought to follow.
There are, of course, various kinds of prayer in the Scriptures. I find it helpful to use the ACTS formula (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication). Here in 2 Corinthians 12 Paul’s prayer is of the supplication kind, don’t you think? He has a desperate need — and he brings it to the Lord for resolution.
What is Paul’s need? He is talking about an incredible, superior experience of getting a glimpse (both auditory and visual) of heaven! What possible needs could he now have?! Ah, he receives a “gift” for his experience. He says in verse 7 – “in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” What?!?!?!
God gave Paul a “thorn in the flesh” which Paul describes as “a messenger of Satan”! Scholars have long debated what Paul’s “thorn” was (malaria, Judaizers plaguing him, etc.). My suggestion is that it was a vision problem, for he says in the book of Galatians things like “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” (6:11) and “if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me” (4:15). He does refer to this thorn as his “weakness” (vv. 5, 9ff), a Greek term which normally refers to a physical problem.
[One can’t help but think of another “Saul” who had a similar experience. Of King Saul we read — “Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.” (I Sam. 16:14)].
What do we learn about PRAYER from Paul here?
1. We learn that it is never wrong to pray for something more than once. Paul “pleaded with the Lord” three times for the thorn to be taken away.
2. We learn that we are to submit to God’s will and not become disillusioned when God doesn’t answer our prayers as we think He should.
3. We learn about His sufficient grace — that it becomes most real to us in our “weaknesses.”
4. We learn that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.
You may have heard the story of Bill’s meeting with his pastor. “Pastor,” he said, “I have the worst temper! I fly off the handle at my wife and my kids. It’s terrible! I guess it’s just my ‘thorn in the flesh.'” “Bill,” the pastor said, “your temper is not your ‘thorn in the flesh.’ It’s your wife’s thorn in the flesh! But it’s your SIN!”