There was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” II Corinthians 12: 7-9
The hazy glow of the rising sun was enough to awaken Paul, but not enough to give him a clear view of the words that had been written on the scroll the day before. He knew that even with the brighter light it was doubtful he would see clearly enough to finish the letter himself. He was going to have to wait for his scribe and friend to come and continue writing from where they had left off. Until then, he was alone, except for two Roman soldiers, silhouettes silently standing guard.
Paul had so much to say, no means to say it, and no control over how long he would have to wait until the scribe arrived. The words flew about his mind like trapped birds frantic to escape. Frustration threatened to rob him of the joy of the night before, as he had dictated the final words of the day: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) Taking his own advice, he deliberately rejoiced.
Oh Lord, thank You for another day to serve you!
It was not the ideal setting, this house arrest, although thankfully he was no longer in the Roman dungeon where he had spent time in the past. Still, Paul longed to be with his brothers and sisters in Christ. Sometimes the hunger for their fellowship was an almost palpable ache.
He fought the pain by considering the advantages of confinement.
Thank You, Jesus, that here I can have the solitude I need to hear Your voice clearly and make sure I am saying exactly what You would have me say. Here Your words will be written down for others to read – no arguing within the congregations over what I’ve said, no twisting of my words by divisive troublemakers. Thank You for this!
As he intentionally thanked God for where he was, Paul felt the restlessness loosen its grip on his heart. He could see how his situation illustrated what he had written years before to the Roman church: “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) When traveling, speaking to the churches, and arguing the case for the gospel with the Jews and even the Gentiles, there had been little time for writing. But this was apparently his ministry now, and there was ample time.
But if he was called to write, why was he plagued by this recurring trouble with his eyes?! It was especially bewildering considering that the Lord had once done a miraculous work in his eyes, both blinding and then healing them.
Lord, thank You for that day – for blinding me so I could see the Truth! He smiled at the irony.
And then You restored my sight! What a glorious miracle! All glory to You, Lord Jesus!
And yet, he sighed, why have my eyes become dim again?
The problem had plagued him for years, like a thorn in his flesh. Paul knew that God could restore his vision again. He knew God loved him. God did not do things halfway! And yet God had said “No.”
Three times He had said “No.”
By the third time Paul had asked, God’s answer was clear:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (II Corinthians 12:9)
Paul remembered how he had shared that revelation with the church at Corinth, but at times, like this morning, the question would return to nag him. And as he had done so many times before, he resolved that he didn’t need the answer. If the Lord wanted to be glorified in this weakness, then so be it.
As once again he let go of the matter and placed it back into God’s hands, a wave of peace swept over him that surpassed his understanding.
“The peace of God, which passes understanding” … he liked those words! He would have to remember them and share them with the Philippians.
* * * *
That evening Paul was looking back on a day well spent. The scribe had returned, written down the final passages of the letter to the Philippians, and read the letter back to him in its entirety. Paul had been pleased with the way the Lord had directed his words. Now the house was still, and he knew that soon there would be a changing of the guards, followed by a long, lonely night.
“Sir?” The unexpected voice startled Paul. It came from the direction of one of the shadows by the door – the shadows that had been standing silently all day as Paul had been dictating the letter.
“Yes?” Paul responded cautiously.
The soldiers looked around furtively. Then one of them asked, “Who is He? This God you were talking about when you dictated that letter?”
“We want to know more,” said the other soldier. The two exchanged glances.
“Much more,” the first one added.
Paul’s heart leapt, but just then he heard the rhythmic footsteps of two more soldiers approaching.
“We have to go now,” whispered one soldier hastily, “but we will be on duty again tomorrow.”
Paul smiled. “I look forward to it,” he replied softly.
Suddenly there it was – the answer to his nagging question! These were not the first Roman soldiers to ask about his Jesus. There had been many whose duty it had been to guard the apostle. In doing so, they had grown spiritually hungry –
— because they had heard him dictating his letters!
Of course! His eyes were the reason the gospel had become known “throughout the whole palace guard” (Philippians 1:13)! How could he have missed it?
Filled with an inexpressible satisfaction, Paul settled for the night, silently giving thanks for two more souls who would know the living God by the end of the next day.