Thorns, Daggers, Strength

I was young in years and in my faith when Catherine Marshall told the story of “A Man Called Peter.” The story is about her husband who pastored in Washington, D. C. and was Chaplain of the United States Senate. Hollywood made the book into a movie. Ms. Marshall also wrote a book about her grandmother entitled “Christy,” which became a long-running TV series.

If you Google Catherine Marshall the first dozens of pages will be about “The Prayer of Relinquishment.” With a superstar husband, Mrs. Marshall got sick, was bedridden and nothing helped. What worked for others failed to help her. Her illness lasted for months. It was only when she began praying the prayer of relinquishment that she began to heal.

I can take you to the exact spot on earth when I experienced what that meant—the prayer of relinquishment. I think I was nineteen. I “experienced” it. I did not understand it. I do not remember what I was dealing with, if anything, that I was required to relinquish. More than that, I began to see what the Kingdom was like—it was if a curtain was opened and I saw a sliver of Kingdom life. It was something about times when you surrender to win. I still don’t understand it.

Most of my tribe heard one of our favorite preachers talk about surrender over the weekend. Second Corinthians 12:7-9. Let me refresh your memory:

“I was given a thorn in my flesh…I pleaded with the Lord to take it away…He said no. He said, ‘My grace is sufficient, my power is made perfect in weakness…. (Now) I delight in weakness…for when I am weak; then I am strong.”

Paul and the preacher in question really upset my friends—especially those who are in difficult situations. I got calls from friends who are not in weak spots, but are concerned about friends who are. I said to Carole—“That brother is going to get cards and letters this week!”

The crux of the pastor’s message was that there is a contradictory mystery he has witnessed. When people in weakness surrender, they find strength, experience and exhibit joy, and he gave examples.

I believe what he said. He just left out some important things. The first thing to remember about preachers and their sermons—a preacher cannot say everything, every time. Here is where I land on the subject:

Be careful what you surrender (relinquish) to whom. Surrender does not mean agreement, but it may lead there.

Not everything that comes into our lives comes from the hand of God. I differentiate: something coming to me from the hand of God, and something coming through the hand of God. That may be semantic triviality, but for me it says that evil does not originate with God. I even get nervous saying that sometimes God allows it. Evil, sin or effects of the fall can never be traced to God. Of course that is fodder for the Calvinism vs. Arminianism battle.

Jesus reminds me frequently that (John 10:10) while He offers life abundant, we have an enemy who targets us—“steal, kill, destroy.” We have an enemy who tempted Jesus (Luke 4) to surrender. In my lucid and spiritually tuned in moments, I ask:

  1. Is the issue I’m facing (We should ask) from God? He does discipline.
  2. Is my problem a result of the fall? We live in a corrupted world which affects aging, other’s behavior and a bent toward sin which gets people killed and such.
  3. Is this a spiritual attack? Most issues are, but there are demons, spirits, imps, entities that have been given assignments—“Take the guy out!”
  4. Is this situation of my doing—or something I neglected to do, or something lacking in me that I need to learn or experience?

Here then is the rule: Surrender to God, but never surrender to the situation. I also heard a sermon yesterday about, “Take your eyes off the problem and place them on the provider.” 

The last line in the paragraph from 2 Corinthians says, “…then I am strong.” That is the object of relinquishment. I can stay weak in my weakness or I can relinquish my weakness and be strong in God’s strength. Sounds like preacher talk to me! I keep asking myself, “Therefore…?” What follows the surrender-relinquishment acceptance of my current problem as a “gift from God”?

Paul had all kinds of problems. He had weak eyes, so he invited some stenographers to travel with him. He had a ton of physical complaints, so he hired his own physician named Luke to ride his bus. The Apostle had been beaten so many times that his back was laced with scars. Becoming mobile each morning required assistance. His back had to be oiled to keep the skin from cracking wide open and bleeding.

Gene Edwards in his series of novels which retell the book of Acts, says that the “thorn” was that group of people who followed Paul around to discredit his message. As I remember, the group was named something akin to the “People of the curved knife.” Their assignment was to assassinate Paul. For whatever reason, I’ve landed on that as the “thorn” for which God provided sufficient grace. The Apostle did not give up or go unguarded in crowds. His relinquishment did not include painting a target on his gut with the words, “Come and get me.” 

After you have “surrendered” or received your “thorn” as gift from God, what do you feel? If you feel like giving up, if you feel hopeless, if you say, “There is no use to go to the doctor or take my meds or….? Something has gone wrong in the transaction. We are not asked to relinquish personal responsibility or sources of hope or godly companionship. We are asked to give up our weakness and receive the strange strength that God gives in clandestine ways or from sources that we could never tap into with a cordless drill or jackhammer.

Again, the issue is: how do I get from my weakness to strength that is His, but comes to live in my experience?

Two more things: A blogger cannot say everything every time. Google Catherine and read about the prayer of relinquishment.

Talk to me

© 2014 D. Dean Benton

Facebook: Benton Quest House

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