Prayer, it’s a two way thing — 2 Corinthians 12:7–9

The prayers of Paul

This is a series on the prayers of St Paul found in the letters attributed to him in the order he is believed to have written them. Letters to the same place or person will be treated together with the first letter to that destination.

“A thorn in the flesh,” has become a common saying in English and is taken from this passage and means “a source of continual annoyance or trouble.”

A small brown bird perched on a thorny bramble branch.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

2 Corinthians 12:7-9 ESVUK

It is a long way from chapter 9, the last time Paul mentioned Prayer in 2 Corinthians, to this in Chapter 12. The passage leading up to this prayer is 2 chapters long and is Paul’s defence against those who big up their ministry by boasting of the way God speaks to them.

Paul’s defence is not to catalogue all the blessings, instead, he makes a list of all the times he has been persecuted for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the tortures he has received. The sort of things he endured are not the sort of things the great and the good would put up with.

Paul’s defence continues with him boasting of a vision he received, not that day, that week or even that year. Whilst those who were boasting about their blessings would have been talking about the blessings of the last week, Paul talks about a vision he had 14 years ago. Yes, Paul had a vision 14 years ago and is still faithful in following what he has seen, you don’t need lots of blessings, and I am cautious of churches that advertise their services and events as if attending will cause you to be blessed. It’s not down to a church who will be blessed, that is down to God and God alone.

Paul’s defence moves on to his thorn in the flesh. He is still parodying those who try to make themselves look good by boasting about their spirituality. He talks about this irritant, but we do not know what it is if could be an eye problem such as catteracts, because Paul mentions he writes in large letters in Galatians 6:11, or something else, Tom Wright’s commentary on 2 Collossiand suggests a recurrant disease.

Paul suggests that this so-called thorn, whatever it was, was a messenger of Satan, his purpose here is still to show up how the teachings of these so-called apostles had got it all wrong. In their mind power over Satan would be demonstrated by saying, “I prayed and Satan was defeated.” Paul says the opposite. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” This is good news for anyone who has ever been gaslit when someone has been told that it is their fault they have not been healed when prayed for. Spiritual abuse has been around in the churches since Corinth and sadly is still with us now. Instead, Paul says, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Those church leaders who will victim blame are not doing the will of God, God is not an abuser.

Abuse often comes in small but incessant amounts. “Have you heard from God this week?” “You were not healed because your faith is weak,” Like a dripping tap, when you hear these things again and again it becomes draining of your faith, and it is this false ministry that Paul is writing against in 2 Corinthians. I cannot make God speak to me, and neither can Church leaders. It is not up to me or them whether God speaks, it is down to God whether God speaks and God alone.

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