Tuesday, January 8, 2008

What To Think About Those Thorns...

An excellent Sunday behind me, and a month of Sundays before that. A sermon about the Epiphany and an application to this congregation, about my call here, about our place in this Body which gave me comfort and hope and enabled my eyes to see our gracious God at work, and by His grace, it had the same effect for others. A refreshing and enjoyable move to our temporary sanctuary with members working together.

And then one of those thorns in my side returned. Pastors know them well: the issue that is never allowed to die, that one or two folks bring up every few months because they are not satisfied with your answer, with any answer but their own. Issues that should have been settled.

At first I was disturbed and angry. I complained to myself, to God. I wanted to put an end to it, to finally yell, "Enough already! Never again! It is settled now and forever!" (If you're a member reading this, don't try to even guess what it is, and especially not who it is).

These issues bring humility. My smart, nuanced answers may not be so smart. My patience is thin. Would God have been so impatient with me, all would be lost. I'm not in control, and when I feel I am, these thorns remind me of my weakness, of the Cross, of submission to God even in trial.

These issues shine light on repentance and the fight against sin. When the thorn stabs in our sides, it teaches us to remember our sins afflict us in a similar way. We can never conquer our sins by ourselves, and in this life even long-dormant temptations can assail us at any moment. Keeping watch over our mouths and minds and hands is our duty. Prayer for strength and help in our time of need is our only hope.

And while it may be obvious, we need to remind ourselves to pray for our enemies, pray for our thorns, pray for humility for ourselves and for others.


  1. Dixie said...

    My spritual father has taught me that I should thank God for these kinds of "thorns" because they can help us grow in humility. But...it's not easy. And it surely doesn't cause me to automatically think of giving thanks! That takes some work.

    I fear I was once a thorn like this to a former pastor of mine. I couldn't fall in line, in step. I had thoughts that I not only expected to be heard but also expected on which to gain agreement. It was a time of turmoil in my life and I guess I tried to unload it on him. I needed direction but I wasn't satisfied with where he was pointing me. Ultimately I made amends but I regret the grief I caused him.

    Lessons in humility are like lessons in patience...they are best practiced in the face of trials. I wish there was an easier way but in 2000 years of Christendom...I don't think anyone has found one!

    BTW...glad to know you were satisfied with your Christmas sermons.

  2. Christopher D. Hall said...

    Giving thanks automatically seems an impossibility at times, but as you said, it takes work and a lifetime of practice.

    Your other point was dead-on: while we all have our thorns at work, church and in our families, we too are thorns in other's side, all too often without even realizing it. This teaches us humility too, when we realize we are no better--even worse--than our "enemies."

    Thanks for commenting!

  3. Doorman-Priest said...

    At the same time, Christopher, you are expected by all to be a saint. The normal range of human emotions is not, it seems, appropriate or available to you.

    What double standards.

    And is it really about spiritual growth or is it more about someone else's lack of sensitivity and self-awareness?

    Could someone from the church council take them on one side and spell one or two things out to them?