Saturday, October 26, 2013

When the third time isn't a charm

"I pleaded with the Lord"
2 Corinthians 12:8

I had a conversation with a friend today, that reminded me of a conversation I had with another friend, a few days ago, and together they reminded me of a conversation that Paul had with God.

Of course I only know about that one, second-hand. 

The friend today is a fairly new friend.  We went to lunch together and got to know each other a little better.  And one of the things I found out about her is that her husband is battling a chronic illness.  He was diagnosed six years ago, and was afflicted for eight years before that, before they were able to pinpoint what he has. 

The other friend is someone I've known for several years.  Her daughter has been battling intestinal issues for a few years now.  They've pretty much got her stabilized, but her system still gets thrown off by eating the wrong foods, catching a cold, or stress.  Then they have to pray again, and make more decisions about prescriptions and diet.

Anyhow, one of these women happened to mention the comfort she gets from 2 Corinthians 12, regarding Paul's "thorn in the flesh".  No one really knows what this was in Paul's life; he's not specific.  He calls it "a messenger of satan to buffet me".  And he also says ~ and this is the part that got me thinking today ~ that concerning this thing, he pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from him.

And I thought, "Three times?  That's it?  Only three??"  Anyone I know who's walking through life with a chronic complaint has asked a whole lot more often than that.  Weekly, daily, maybe several times a day, the prayers go up.  They're earnest.  They're sincere.  Maybe even pleading.  They pray and they cry and they ask and ask.

Why did Paul only ask three times?

Now, it's possible that that sentence isn't literal; that "three" is a symbolic number rather than an actual count of how many times Paul asked.  But Paul's next sentences support the idea that he had made his peace with the fact that his affliction was there to stay.  There's a lot to admire in that.

There's a parable Jesus spoke, in Luke 18, about the persistent widow, who cried out for justice until it was granted her.  Verse 1 of chapter 18 says that Jesus spoke this parable, "that men always ought to pray and not lose heart".  It's a parable of crying out to Him, "day and night".  (verse 7)  So clearly God's okay with nagging.

Well, persistence.

I don't know what the secret is.  I don't know how we know when to persist, and when to just accept what He has allowed in our lives, and just rely on His strength to get us through.

Maybe the secret is simply remembering that while it's okay to ask ~ encouraged, even ~ we also need to acknowledge that it's His call.  That we need to thank Him if He takes away our affliction, and thank Him if He doesn't.  And no matter what, find our strength in His grace.

~ "And He said to me, 
'My grace is sufficient for you,
for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'
... Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities,
in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, 
in distresses, for Christ's sake. 
For when I am weak, 
then I am strong." ~
2 Corinthians 12:9,10


  1. Paul asked three (or however many) times and then stopped because, as the next verse says, "And He said to me..."

    Once the Lord has answered, there's no need of further pleading. Paul heard from the Lord and accepted the answer. I think sometimes we hear from the Lord and don't want to accept what He says. Of course, sometimes He does make us wait a while too.

  2. Good point, RWP. Reminds me, too, that sometimes the struggle is in knowing if circumstances are His answer.

  3. After my somewhat abrupt answer yesterday, our pastor today read from Matthew 7 -- that we are to keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking, because -- well, you know. So much for my know-it-all attitude.

  4. Well, I still think your point is well taken. As it's been said, "Do not put a comma where the Lord has put a period."