“Therefore, so I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of satan to torment me so that I would not exalt myself.”
1 Corinthians 12:7
My feet hit the floor and my morning began with complete chaos. I turned the corner to my kitchen to find myself met with an overwhelming list of issues from my people that apparently needed resolving in that moment – like seriously, I had not even had time to brush my teeth much less enjoy that first sip of tea.
I began to referee kids and ricochet between demands but just as one box was checked off the list, another took its place. It was like a scene in a movie where the central character begins to short circuit as multiple voices compound until they all merge into one big overwhelming noise. “Hey mom!” called my kids. “Hey babe!” yelled my husband. Their summons called to me saying, “I can’t seem to function without you directing my every move”.
I was struggling to get a full breath as the increasing demands for my attention and problem solving skills slowly choked the air from my lungs. I paused for a moment, feeling guilty for being frustrated with those I love most. Despite my best efforts to handle the chaos gracefully, eventually all I could do was hide. I found myself in my closet with my dog resting peacefully in my lap. I looked down at my hands and the evidence of my stress was revealed by torn and bloody cuticles. Every single finger a victim and reflection of my need for reprieve.
This is what my anxiety does. It hinders my ability to love my people well. My brain’s need for order and peace often overpowers my ability to meet the demands of life leaving me in a pit of guilt. I check out. I get cranky. Everything begins to bother me. My temper becomes short. My chest gets heavy. I can’t think straight. I promise I’m not trying to sound dramatic. It’s a real struggle for me. And I hate it.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about the “thorn in the flesh” that had been given to him. I find it interesting that the thorn in his flesh is never identified. Scripture clearly left this affliction a mystery to illustrate the point that while we live in our flesh, we will always struggle with our own ‘thorn’. We all struggle with something, after all. And for some of us, myself included, that thorn in the flesh is anxiety.
Paul describes his thorn as “a messenger of satan to torment me”. Anyone who has ever struggled with anxiety can attest to the fact that it can certainly be a torment. Worst case scenarios, fear of loss, living with a sense of impending doom and a constant state of overwhelm. These are just a few examples of what it feels like to live with anxiety. Having struggled with this mental battle most of my life, quite frankly, I view anxiety as the ‘thorn in my mind’.
The Bible is clear that the enemy’s favorite go-to is our mind. Where does anxiety begin? The mind. Satan delights in causing us to fear, question, doubt and worry ourselves to a frenzy over things we cannot control so much to the point that we cannot function in the world – much less thrive, as God would have us. As long as he can keep us fearful and distracted in our minds, he can render us ineffective in the purposes God intends for our lives.
For years I have heard 1 Corinthians 12:7 referenced and understandably, my focus has been on the concept of the thorn, however, notice the way Paul book ends the verse with the phrase, “so that I would not exalt myself”. The fact that he repeats this phrase is not because he enjoyed being redundant. No, he is making sure we don’t miss the point he is making. The message in this passage is all about a humble dependence on God and a resolve maintain a posture of Jesus first, Paul last. Paul’s focus was not on the thorn. His focus was on making sure his flesh did not stand in the way of his mission to preach the gospel. Despite his affliction, Paul remained determined in his calling.
For those of us who struggle with anxiety, we can look to Paul’s example of resolve and correct focus on God’s purpose for our lives. Will this magically cause our anxiety to disappear? Unfortunately not, because the enemy will always attack where we are weak, but maintaining this resolve will cause us to remain fully dependent on Him, which of course, is the point.
“Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times that it would leave me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” 1 Corinthians 12:8-9
Although Paul was a tremendous example for the faith walk of all believers, he too was just a man stuck in his flesh. Even he struggled with the weariness of his affliction and asked God to remove it so he wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore. God’s response was clear: No. Our struggles and afflictions are sometimes necessary so that God’s strength and glory can be displayed through the overcoming of our weaknesses, vulnerabilities and shortcomings by the power of His work and presence in our lives. We may not achieve complete freedom from the affliction of anxiety this side of heaven, but we can take steps of progress each and every day.
- We can choose to take our thoughts captive – Resolve to step up to the challenge each time a word of fear or deception is whispered by the enemy and shut him down with the authority of Christ through prayer and the reciting of scripture.
- We can acknowledge our weakness – the Bible Believer’s Commentary says, “Successful service for Christ depends on a weak servant.” Just as scripture says “my power is made perfect in weakness”, we can rest in the fact that God does not walk away from us because of our weak flesh, rather, He stands ready to uphold us with His strength when we admit our weakness and place all of our fears in His hands.
- We can lean into God’s strength – where we are weak, we know He is strong. This keeps us dependent on our Heavenly Father as well as humble
- We can speak the attributes of God out loud to remind our fearful flesh of both His mighty power to control all things and His gentle care over our lives.
- We can walk daily in a constant posture of prayer according to 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Never stop praying.” (NLT)
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For those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus, the battle for our minds is already won and it is vitally important that we remember that fact each and every day. We can step into every situation with confidence and in complete surrender knowing that we are carried by the strength of a God who is greater than all of our worries, fears and vulnerabilities.
So take a deep breath, dear sister. Pause when you need to and receive the truth of His word, His love for you and His sovereignty over every detail of your life. He sees you and He cares. He has a plan and He means all things for you good – not your comfort – but your good. Don’t allow the enemy to rob you of your peace. Pray. Pray like crazy and enjoy the fullness of life that is yours through Christ Jesus.
You are loved!