Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. (2 Corinthians 12:7)

A serendipitous event last week brought a scripture to my attention. The event was a water leak that happened in the men’s washroom above my office at the church. Most of the damage is repairable, but it did leak down on some of my personal books I have amassed over the years. Before you ask, let me say that it was clean water – the first question in my mind! – and that things just got wet. We say that a good mind is like a sponge, that soaks up the knowledge of books. But I have learned that books can be like sponges as well, and they can absorb a great deal of water!

I have downsized my library several times over the years, and there are still some books that I need to re-read more often. Like friends, the older ones are the better ones for many reasons – perhaps only for the fact that they resonate with something within us that harkens back to a younger time in our lives, times when life was newer and we were too.

But this hidden blessing, that resulted in some of my books getting absolutely drenched, also did something good. In the clean up I looked through a few of these old literary friends this weekend that I probably would have let sit on my shelf for a much longer time. And, again, like old friends they held forgotten wisdom. Many, if not most, are out of print how, so the titles are unimportant, but they reminded me of truths that I had not thought of lately.

One of these authors, writing on dealing with problems, reminded me that one of the reasons that God allows problems in life is that they keep us humble, they keep us real, they keep us from becoming arrogant and proud. That is exactly the thought that Paul shared above – that God had blessed him with great spiritual experiences, but to prevent him from becoming conceited God had also entrusted to him a “thorn in the flesh,” a nameless physical malady that kept him humble and dependent on God.

We do not know what this thorn was – the speculations have been endless, from some recurring malarial fever, to arthritis, to some eye problem (which scriptures seem to hint at – see Galatians 4:13-15, 6:11 – perhaps a physical weakness due to his stoning at Lystra where he was presumed to be dead – see Acts 14:19-20). Some of the more cynical around us have supposed that it was his wife – but the scriptures are not clear about whether he was married at all and most seem to think that he was not. But, even if an eye problem was the most likely, this thorn has been left unnamed so that Christians through the centuries could identify with him on this principle.

We all seem to have something that God gives us to keep us humble, to keep us real. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6), and we do not want the Almighty to be opposed to us. So we ought to embrace these weaknesses which we all have with a little more understanding. The slightest amount of success in life can turn us to very annoying egomaniacs – annoying to ourselves as much as to everyone else. God’s grace is sufficient for us, and He will give us the grace to bear up under the challenge, the grace to smile in pain, through the tears, through the disappointments, and even to laugh at ourselves.

So my soaked books were not completely ruined and brought enduring truths to my attention – another problem that helped me spiritually. Better a wet book that is read than a dry one that sits on a shelf.

To parlay this analogy one step further, I remember a quotation from when I was a teenager: “You are the only ‘Bible’ that some will read.”  We could go a step further, that you and I are the only books that some will read, so we should also not spend all of our lives on “the shelf of life.” We need to get down and open our pages or share our thoughts and lives with others so that we can bless them with whatever means we have at our disposal.

So share the hope of God that is found in the midst of limitations and problems. Anything that keeps us humble and real is a good thing for our spiritual lives.

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