In our lives a thorn could be an anger issue that disables us from controlling our temper, or a spending habit that quickly gets out of control, or any number of mental or physical ailments which have the potential to steal our joy or lead us away from Christ.
We don't know for certain what Paul's thorn was (2 Corinthians 12) but it required him to call out to the Lord to remove it three times—such was its interference with his life. Paul's faith was great, but the Lord still gave him something in his life which meant that he would have to make a choice to rely on Him.
When the Lord said to him: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfect in weakness," He asserted His power over him and the thorns in his flesh.
Thorns are not an excuse to sin. They are not a pass to submit to temptation. They are a constant reminder that we need God, and that we cannot defeat our enemies, however they manifest, without Him.
It's important not to frame every temptation or sin as a thorn. Talking to other Christians who you trust to be discreet and speak wisely can help you identify actual thorns in your life.
Is there a thorn in your life that you believe God wants you to endure? Here are three reasons why He might let it remain:
To humble you
When God is on your side you feel great, almost untouchable. But it's all up to Him, not our own individual abilities or strength.
As we make our way through life with the thorns in our flesh, we remember that without God we didn't have just a thorn in our flesh but the whole bush. We're not facing the battle alone, God is with us. That's why the thorn isn't as much of a threat as it would be otherwise.
Without thorns we might get the impression that we can do all this without God. But thorns help bring us back down to earth. They remind us who is really at the centre of our achievements. They remind us that we need God.
To encourage others
It may have been said for more than 2,000 years, but the message that Jesus is for the broken is still one which a lot of people fail to realise.
It would make it a whole lot easier to believe in God if, as Christians, we all live our lives free from physical and emotional harm as though there was an invisible force field around us. But it wouldn't be easier for those who were yet to know Christ to come to Him.
It is inspiring to witness Christians not simply sustaining their faith with a thorn in their flesh but delight in its existence as well since it provides them the opportunity to know more of Christ's power, be made strong through Him and grow closer to Him.
To prepare you
In a way, we can think of thorns as a vaccine. With a thorn we get a taste (which may feel like more than we can chew) of what can pull us away from God so that we're better equipped to deal with what's to come.
Feeling the presence of temptation and on occasion succumbing to it doesn't mean that you need to pack up and abandon God. These experiences can make you stronger for the hurdles you will face in the future. The devil wants you to stumble at each obstacle and then feel as though you can never get back up. Having an understanding that God's grace is sufficient for you and that his power is perfect in spite of your weakness is a mighty tool in fighting against the thorns in your flesh.