He was in a tremendous amount of pain. He just knew he could serve God more effectively if it were gone. And yet, God never granted his request for relief.
The apostle Paul prayed three times for his “thorn in the flesh”—probably a physical problem—to be removed. Did God answer his prayer? Not in the way the apostle expected.
Because he suffered from this “thorn,” Paul realized some fantastic truths about adversity. Ultimately, he did more than merely survive his circumstances. The apostle was able to glory in them and emerge victorious.
In this Bible study, we’ll look at three of Paul’s discoveries about adversity:
1. There is a divine purpose behind all adversity. (2 Corinthians 12:7) Paul understood that God was always using adversity to advance His cause.
A. God sometimes reveals the reason for suffering.2. God never scolds us for asking why or for requesting that He remove the adversity.
He revealed to Moses why he could not enter the Promised Land. God told Joshua why he and his army were defeated at Ai. Jesus told the disciples they could expect trouble and why.
God does not have us suffer for the sake of suffering. Although He doesn’t always reveal it to us, He always has a purpose. Has God ever revealed why you had to suffer a particular hardship? If so, what was the reason? (If not, take a moment to ask God the purpose behind what you suffered.)
Notice Paul’s words when he referred to his suffering:
For this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7
, NASB, emphasis added).
Because this thorn would protect him from pride, Paul could sincerely view it as a gift—something God did for him rather than to him. This is just one way God can use any circumstance—even hardship—for our good. Romans 8:28
) What does Romans 8:29
say is His ultimate purpose for our lives?
B. The reason for our difficulty is not always obvious.
Paul said he asked the Lord three times before receiving an answer. Like us, Paul knew the frustration of trying to maintain faith in God while wondering why He did not respond.
God is not necessarily silent concerning the question, “Why?” But He answers according to His schedule, which is usually slightly behind ours.
When you don’t see the purpose for a difficulty in your life, how do you keep from losing faith in God?
A. We are permitted to ask God to remove difficulty from our lives.Prayer:
In fact, God’s own Son did so. Specifically, what did Jesus ask in Matthew 26:39
In asking God for deliverance, Paul received a word from the Lord
Read 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
. What did He reveal to Paul about overcoming hardships?
B. We should not be afraid to ask God why.
Asking why is only a problem if we ask it in doubt, assuming that because we see no purpose in suffering, there is none. When God believes the answer is important for us to know, He will reveal it.
How does James’s instruction in James 1:5
apply to asking God why?
C. God desires that we cast our cares on Him.
) Why? In doing so, we are expressing faith, and faith is the foundation of our entire relationship with Him.
Write a prayer that expresses your worries and burdens to the Lord. Let Him take them off your shoulders and carry them for you.
Just as an earthly father desires to comfort his children in times of distress, so our heavenly Father desires to comfort us. Even when He doesn’t reveal why, trust Him to use your suffering for His perfect purpose in your life.1
Father, how thankful we are for Your love, that You love us enough to care for us when we can’t care for ourselves. Grant us the wisdom to live with a peace that passes all understanding. Keep and guard our hearts in Christ Jesus through every trial in life, and remind us that You can use any situation for our ultimate good. In Jesus’ name, amen.2
1. Adapted from How to Handle Adversity by Charles Stanley. 1989. pp. 155-159. 2. Adapted from God is in Control by Charles Stanley. 2003. p. 73.
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