I love growing cactus and succulents. They are prickly but they have the most beautiful blooms and are such unique plants. I love how they adapt to environments where many plants would not survive.
The problem comes when I have to do transplanting or weeding. Ouch! Even when I wear gloves, I end up with stickers in my fingers. No matter how careful I am, one little move will have the prickly end of a cactus spine reminding me of their nature.
Sometimes it’s easy to remove that spine, but some of them are so small and they blend in with my skin to the point that I can’t find them to remove them. I have to wait until the wound shows up and gets sore to be able to remove the sticker.
I am reminded of these cactus spines and the way they aggravate me when I read this story in Judges:
Then the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel; and He said, “Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not heeded My voice, I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, so that through them I may test Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the Lord, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not.” Judges 2:20-22 (NKJV)
God allowed testing by leaving these nations to become a thorn that poked at the Israelites. What would they do? Would they turn to God for help? Would they succumb to temptation and embrace foreign gods? Would they be drawn away from the one true God, the God of their fathers or would they stay true to Him? What would the testing of those annoying stickers, the nations around them, bring?
Likewise, we have those things in our lives that bring testing. We have those around us who are not walking with the Lord. We have many distractions outside the church and within the church that can lead us away from our walk with Christ. We harbor little impurities within us that cause problems.
Is it a superior attitude as we settle into our secure Christian life looking down on those around us who don’t know Him? Are we blinded to what God wants us to do or to become because we are confident in our beliefs?
Is it the comfort of our material possessions that makes us forget our calling, or the importance of sacrifice? Maybe we need to cut back and ask God what He wants us to do. Think of the rich young ruler who walked away sad when Jesus asked him to give up the one thing he treasured most – his wealth. What is God asking each of us to sacrifice?
Maybe that thorn is an actual person and God is using them to refine our character. We must learn to love with God’s love and to trust in His grace and mercy. Loving is not always easy.
Having a sticker that is painful can keep us humble and reminds us of God’s goodness just as this thorn did for Paul.
“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor. 12: 7-9a (NKJV)
God’s grace is sufficient. We can depend on His strength when those thorns of life poke at us in uncomfortable ways. Through prayer we can have an attitude like Paul demonstrated:
“Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 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 Cor. 12: 9b-10 (NKJV)
As I work with the cactus in my garden, I know I will get spines in my fingers, but I can be reminded that my weakness shows God’s strength.
Let’s learn to be thankful for those trials, those painful moments of testing. Instead of complaining, we can praise God that He is the strength we rely on, not anything else.