In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul shares about his “thorn in the flesh.” Theologians have tried to determine what that “thorn” was for centuries. Other than what we learn from Scripture, that he felt it was to keep him from pride, we don’t know that much.
We do know that Paul repeatedly asked God to remove this affliction, but God simply reassured him: “My Grace is sufficient.”
I am Paul. I have a thorn too. It’s called anxiety. Now, I am well aware that bi-polar disorder and depression are issues in my family. I get the science. I also know that my childhood was particularly anxiety-triggering, so I get the psychology.
Several years back, I spent about three months on an antidepressant, and twice in my life I’ve had to keep anti-anxiety medication at hand for those times when it got out of control. As a Christian, I hate this. Like Paul, I feel like I should be able to pray the right prayer or quote the right Scripture and it be gone forever, but I’ve learned it doesn’t always work that way.
“My Grace is sufficient,” God said…and still says. The Word also says, in 2 Corinthians 9:8, that God will cause all grace to abound towards me so that I will have every sufficiency for every good work. And this “every good work” may well be the key.
I heard something the other day that struck me: “Good lumber doesn’t come with ease. The stronger the wind the stronger the trees.” Hearing that woke me up, in a sense. It’s the battles that make us stronger. Paul was a mighty man of God, strong and fearless. Why? Because he’d fought many battles – and won many battles. I think that thorn in the flesh, or rather his ongoing war with it, helped keep him spiritually strong.
And I think the same thing is true about me. Like Paul’s thorn, the anxiety is an almost ever-present thing. I’m constantly at war with it, fighting and winning most of my battles, and losing a few. It’s intentionally, purposefully, faithfully fighting those battles that helps me grow stronger spiritually.
Knowing that I deal with this, and must DEAL with it rather than whine about or ignore it, keeps me aware of the importance of not letting my guard down, of staying vigilant and being careful to properly tend to both body and spirit.
Do I like waging a constant battle with it? Not on your life. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. What I do appreciate, however, is the way God uses something that originated in the pits of hell to help me become stronger in so many ways.
How many adults, with twenty twenty hindsight, wish they had given more while in high school…or in college..had put more effort into preparing themselves for their unknown future? Hindsight serves one important purpose; it helps us learn which mistakes to not make next time.
And there is a next time. We were put on this earth just as we were put in school – to prepare ourselves so that we will be ready to live the future that waits for us in Eternity. It is our responsibility, while we are here, to develop the closest possible relationship with God and to learn His Word, which we will live by forever.
My memories of school, and all the things the adult me would have done differently, help keep me aware of this truth. While I do forget and deviate from my preferred path on occasion, I try to continually be growing in the things of God, learning all I can about His Word and His will for my life, and getting just as close to Him as I can. I don’t want to just make it through the ultimate graduation; I want to excel now so that God can use me exactly the way He wants to in the next phase of my life.
I recently had to stop in the road because two little dogs had dashed into the street. One crossed the road, but the other got confused and was wandering. I prayed for the poor things, but then I realized what they’d been after and was floored.
A large dog was jogging beside a woman. He stayed right at her side, never seeming to even notice the little yapper that was chasing after him. He never broke stride, never looked away. He was doing EXACTLY what he’d been trained to do.
And he was carrying his own leash. Literally. He held it in his mouth as he jogged down the sidewalk beside a woman who obviously had total trust in him. And the two made me think.
In a sense, we’re all like that dog. God calls us to run along beside Him, but though He gives us a guide (the Word and the Spirit) that He could use as a leash to control us, He ultimately leaves the decisions up to us. What do we do? What do I do? Do I actively choose to walk faithfully beside Him, not turning to the right or left?
For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand [anywhere else]
Psalm 84:10a (AMP)
I’m over fifty, and I turned my life over to God when I was twelve. I’ve had some truly joyous days in those years, and I’ve had days so devastating that I would never wish them on my worst human enemy. (The devil is a different story!) One thing I can say from experience is that Psalm 84:10 speaks truth…great truth.
In earlier years, church attendance was an act of discipline. I made myself get up on Sunday mornings and forced myself to ignore weariness on Wednesday evenings. Eventually, though I began to see a pattern.
Any time I truly entered into a service, taking an active part in it rather than merely letting it happen around me, I came away energized – no matter how tired I’d been when I arrived. Any time I’ve gone to church and consciously set aside my worries, fears, or pain, spending time focusing on God instead of me and my issues, I have come away with more peace, clearer vision, and often even supernatural release from even crippling pain.
I speak of emotional pain, but the same applies to physical pain. For years, I suffered from three-day, hormone-induced migraines that hit every fourteen days. Day one I usually spent in bed, sure I was going to die. On day two, I knew I was going to live, but wanted to die. By day three, the pain was still devastating, but so much lessened in comparison that I could push through it. During this time, I was first in the band and then in the choir, yet I missed very few services.
By then, I truly understood the importance of, and many of the reasons for, God’s command to assemble together (Hebrews 10:25) and simply (though not always easily) refused to let my body dictate my actions. And God honored my choices.
In the band, I played small percussion. Percussion and migraines obviously don’t mix; neither do singing and migraines. Even so, almost without fail, as soon as praise and worship began I would be totally pain free and I would stay free from pain until I stepped down and sat in my pew. Sometimes the pain stayed away and sometimes, usually, it only eased up, but continually God reminded me that He had called me to serve in the music ministry and as long as I stayed right with Him He would make me able.
So… Today there is no “I don’t feel like going to church.” Or, perhaps I should rephrase. There are days when my body would rather not go to church. I, though, have realized that I always benefit from being in service. I want to be there on the good days, when all is right with my world, but I especially want to be there – desperately want to be there – when fear, doubt, pain, or heartache are hounding me, because it is there that I find solace and strength. It IS better to spend one day in His house than a thousand anywhere else!
And as strongly as I feel this now, oh how I look forward to Heaven!
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
We have been created anew in Christ Jesus to do good things. Other translations say “good works.”
When being encouraged to do good works, some people answer by quoting Ephesians 2:8-9. (KJV For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.) Yes, we are saved by grace, through faith and not by our works; salvation is a gift. Now, if those who quote verses 8 and 9 would only continue to verse 10, they would see why God gave us the gift— “to do the good things he planned for us long ago”. God doesn’t give useless gifts; He gives gifts with a purpose. Knowing this, we realize we are responsible to find out what His plans for us are and to follow through and do what He expects us to do. As Ephesians 5:17 puts it, “Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do.”
God prepared these works in advance, expecting us to do them. How much clearer can it get? God had a plan in mind, works lined out for each one of us, even before we accepted His gift of salvation. Now it’s our turn. Now it’s time for us to learn what those works are, pull ourselves together, and go get them done.
This is not merely something we can do; it is something we must do if we are to be pleasing to Him. After all, His Word says repeatedly that faith without works is dead. (James 2:17, 20, 26; KJV; Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead… But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?… For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.) Too, without faith it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6, KJV, But without faith it is impossible to please Him…)
10″Unless you are faithful in small matters, you won’t be faithful in large ones. If you cheat even a little, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.
11 And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?
Jesus pretty much hits on every aspect of life in these two verses, and keeps hitting on the money aspect in the verses that follow.
10″Unless you are faithful in small matters, you won’t be faithful in large ones.”
Every parent knows this to be true. Even toddlers can be given small jobs to do – small jobs that lead to bigger jobs as they prove themselves equal to the task. Parents watch their children and, as they show themselves to be diligent in their responsibilities, they receive larger responsibilities – more opportunities to shine. So also does our heavenly Father watch us as we grow and prove that we can handle responsibility.
If you cheat even a little, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.
One can look at this sentence in many different ways. Because my most long-term experience within the church was in the music ministry, I instinctively look to this group for illustrations. Unfortunately, they’re easy to find where this topic is concerned.
I suppose it is human nature to want the spotlight for ourselves. Often it is man’s greatest desire to step into the limelight and shine there – and his second greatest desire is to get there without paying the price.
The most obvious example of this in my experience is singers’ views of being a Front Line member (one who is out front with a microphone) versus a choir member. How many people have joined their church’s choirs with one goal in mind – to use the choir as a stepping-stone into the Front Line position they covet?
It is true that most Front Line singers, at least in our church, rise out of the ranks of the choir. And they do so just as these verses imply that they must – through faithfulness in all areas. They study to learn not only how to sing in harmony, but to hear their parts without needing to be taught each song. They are diligent to allow the Holy Spirit the freedom to minister through them at all times, whether they feel like it or not. They have also committed themselves to spiritual growth and maturity, to walk worthy of the calling with which they are called long before that calling actually draws them onto the main platform.
Who does not get called to the Front Line?
The one who cannot be bothered to be faithful to the choir – rehearsals and services – had best not expect to be called. The one who cheats even a little, choosing to depend on others around him to know the parts rather than learning them himself, had best never count on attaining any step higher than the one he stands on. Even more, the one who cheats God, refusing to grow up into the mature Christian God has called him to be, will not see God giving him any responsibilities greater than those a spiritual child can handle. Man may give them to him, but God assures us that He will not, and God is the one who counts.
 And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?
Again, this can be looked at from many angles, but three words ring in my hears.
“tithes and offerings”
In Malachi, God speaks to a troubled people, a people who are troubled, He explains, because they have robbed Him of tithes and offerings.
God puts worldly wealth – money – into our hands. He expects us to return to Him the tithe and offerings beyond the tithe. If we prove untrustworthy in this, choosing to keep the entirety for ourselves (or even stealing from Him only part of what is His – cheating “even a little”) we cannot expect Him to trust us with the “true riches of heaven.”
I love these words. In modern terms this means – “it WILL happen.” These words were spoken to the children of Israel, but since God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34) they can also be spoken over us. Of course, there is one “little” condition; it follows the next word – the IF.
thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day
Now, Moses was speaking of a particular list of commandments, a rather long list. Jesus later simplified matters by giving two commandments that cover everything. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. (Luke 10:27) This really does cover it all. If we truly love God with all that we are, we will make it our business to seek out those things that please Him and bring honor to Him and, likewise, we will actively avoid anything that displeases or dishonors Him. If we truly love Him with all our hearts, we will listen intently for His voice because it is our favorite thing to hear, and we will do whatever He tells us to do. And of course, if we do all of this, loving our neighbors as ourselves will be easy.
the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth
Again, God is speaking to Israel, but we have been adopted into that family, having been made heirs and joint heirs with Jesus Christ (Rom 8:17).
The thought of one people group (“Nation” translates as “people group” rather than being a political or geographical descriptor.) being exalted above all other people groups of the earth can be an uncomfortable thing to consider, but God said it, so think about it we must.
2And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God.
There’s that “if” again! Something will happen IF we hearken unto the voice of the Lord our God, IF we listen for it and pay attention to what it says. The Hebrew word used here is fairly pointed; it means “to hear intelligently” and often implies obedience.
Of course, if we are listening to His voice and doing what He says, we won’t be standing still; we’ll be busy about His work. And as we move forward with Him something will happen. He says that all (not some) of the blessings He is about to promise will come on us. As we move forward with Him, the blessings will come rushing up behind us and overtake us. How very opposite this picture is to the one mankind envisions. Most people feel the need to chase after the blessings, but God sees just the opposite – that it is Him we chase after and then the blessings chase after us. Matthew 6:33 comes to mind. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
The “all these things” mentioned in this verse is discussed in the verses above; it refers to all the things the Gentiles (or those who don’t know Him) seek. Every one of those things is covered by the blessings mentioned in Deuteronomy 28. Once again, Jesus takes a lot of Scripture and condenses it down to the bare essentials. He’s still saying the same thing, but in a different way; I love it!
3Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field.
This verse covers a lot of ground – in the literal sense. Some translations say you will be blessed in the city and the country, which implies that no matter where you are, as long as it’s where God wants you to be, the blessings will overtake you. You can also see it as the city and the field being the two different places a person of that day would work, in which case it would be clear that wherever you work, as long as you’re listening to God’s voice and actively doing what He wants you to do, the blessings will find and overtake you.
4Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body
Here is a promise any parent can appreciate! As long as I hearken diligently to the voice of the Lord my God, being faithful to pay attention to and do all He tells me to do, my children will be blessed. This one promise, alone, should be enough to motivate any parent to stay in the absolute center of God’s will!
Other translations present this promise slightly differently. The New Living Translation says that you will be blessed with many children. To people in an agrarian culture, which Israel was, “many children” does mean “great blessings.”
Regardless of translation, God obviously intends for our children to be blessed and a blessing.
and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep.
Again, God is speaking to an agrarian, or land-based, society here, so these were the primary areas in which a man made his wealth. He is saying in this portion of verse that whatever you do to make money, be it farming, ranching, sheep herding or anything else (as long as you are doing what He wants you to do), you will be blessed.
It is interesting to note that Proverbs 10:22 says, The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow to it. The word translated as “blessed” in Deuteronomy 28 is the root of the word translated as “blessing” in Proverbs 10:22. Looking at the definition, it is clear that the implication is definitely “prosperity.” It is God’s intent that we prosper financially.
5Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store.
Baskets were used for many things in Old Testament days. One of the ways in which a basket was used was carrying purchases home from the market. In some parts of the US today people still refer to those cards we push around inside grocery stores as baskets. I and many others walk in the knowledge of this Scripture when we go shopping, starting our shopping trips with, “Father, I thank You my basket is blessed.” I’m not the only one who has developed a reputation for finding bargains, and I’m convinced that our gift for bargain hunting is a result of our taking this particular blessing seriously.
As I said, baskets were used in many ways, and in any way a basket would be used God said it would be blessed.
The word “store” is interesting. Not only did they not have stores as we know them when this Word from God was given, but I have also seen the word translated as “kneading trough.” I went to my copy of Strong’s and found that kneading trough is, indeed, the more accurate translation.
Now, before anyone decides I’m questioning the accuracy of Scripture, let me point out that words change in meaning over time. How many words have we seen this happen to even in recent decades? (Look up the word “geek” in an older dictionary and you’ll see what I mean.) It is entirely possible that a kneading trough was called a “store” when King James had his translators work on producing a Bible that the common man could read.
Regardless, I appreciate the blessing on the kneading trough as much as I do the blessing on the basket. Not only are the efforts of one who goes out to work, to “earn a living,” blessed, but the work of the one who keeps the home is blessed as well. Bread was a huge part of the diet during Biblical times, so for the kneading trough to be blessed was a great thing. By implication, the bread made in that trough would also be blessed, and that blessed bread could only be a blessing to those who ate it.
6Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out.
Whether you’re coming or going, you’re blessed as long as you meet the requirements of the blessing. Here again is a promise of blessing that is great enough to motivate the person who takes it seriously.
If one were guaranteed such a thing – that the blessing of the Lord (that causes you to prosper) would be on one every time one came in or went out – would it not make sense to fulfill the condition? The fact is, we are guaranteed that blessing!
7The LORD shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and flee before thee seven ways.
There are many instances recorded in the Old Testament when both Israel as a whole and individuals experienced this promise in operation. This is not to say that Israel never had to fight, but in many cases she didn’t, and in many more instances God did the vast majority of the work Himself
Jericho fell without Israel lifting anything but her voice. Only after the walls fell did Israel enter battle. (Joshua 6)
Kings came from all parts of the country to attack Israel in Joshua 11, and in one day they were all destroyed. Their combined army was many times larger than Israel’s, but Israel was right with God and walking in His promise.
God enabled David and his mighty men to prevail in battle even when the entire Israelite army fled, leaving them to fight alone. My two favorite accounts are in II Samuel 23:9-12
Any time one enemy comes against the child of God who is walking as God commands, that enemy does not only come out against the child, but rather he comes out against the Father and his child. No matter what enemy we face, we have our Father’s promise that we do not face that enemy alone, and that if we will just stand firm our enemy will fall!
8The LORD shall command the blessing upon thee in thy storehouses,
The emphasis here is awesome. God doesn’t merely bless you in your storehouses; He commands the blessing on you in your storehouses. The storehouse, of course, was where the wealth of the people was stored. Today it could be a savings account or any number of other things. Whatever your storehouse is, know that as long as you meet the requirements in verse 1, God commands a blessing on it.
and in all that thou settest thine hand unto
Remember we’re talking about a commanded blessing here, and look at where God is commanding the blessing. …all that thou settest thine hand unto.
I’ve spent a lot of time meditating on this verse over the years, but still need to spend more. The scope is downright astounding. God commands the blessing on me in all I set my hand to. As my pastor is so fond of saying, “all means ALL.” No matter what I set my hand to, as long as I fulfill the conditions in verse one, God commands the blessing on me in it. I realize, of course, that there are things I can do to negate that blessing – You are snared by the words of your mouth comes to mind. But looking at this blessing, and considering that as long as I do everything the way I’m supposed to, God commands it…that’s big. That’s enormous. That’s more than I can reduce to a few words on paper.
and he shall bless thee in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
This is a two-fold promise, spoken first to the nation of Israel and now to me. God promised to give Israel a land that was their own, a place they could call home where they would be able to raise their children and make their living with herds of cattle, farms, or whatever else they chose to put their hands to. God promised, too, that He would bless them there. He kept both promises. As long as Israel put Him first, they prospered in this new land God gave them. They prospered tremendously.
God’s promise holds true for us today as well. Our land may be a rented apartment, but as long as we follow Him and Him alone, not turning aside to serve other gods (money, work, etc.) He will give us that land and bless us in it.
9The LORD shall establish thee an holy people unto himself, as he hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God, and walk in his ways.
Again, God is speaking to the people of Israel here. I see no problem, however, with taking this verse to mean Christians today. If we follow our Lord’s commandments and walk in His ways we are called by His name; we are called Christians. We have been established a holy people unto Him.
10And all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the LORD; and they shall be afraid of thee.
In the past, I gave little thought to this verse. In light of the events of recent years, however, I find them to be more than interesting. Christians and Jews around the world are under attack and both Israel and the United States, which many perceive to be a Christian nation, have been attacked in multiple ways. Much of this is just life, but I cannot help but wonder how much of the overall attack against Israel and Christianity is motivated by a simple fear of those who are called by the name of the Lord.
11And the LORD shall make thee plenteous in goods, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy ground, in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers to give thee.
It is interesting that this list ends as it does. The implication, to me, is that these things will happen only as long as we are where God wants us to be – geographically speaking. He says He’ll do them in the land He swore to our fathers to give us, not anywhere else.
And what will He do? He’ll make us plenteous in goods – seeing to it that we have plenty of “good things.” He will also make us plenteous in the fruit of our bodies – giving us plenty of children. Finally, He promises to make us plenteous in both the fruit of our cattle and the fruit of our ground – increasing the number of our livestock (stock traders might want to take this one seriously) and giving us abundant crops.
He is, essentially, repeating the promises made in verse four, and any good student knows that when a teacher repeats himself it pays to give attention to what he is saying.
12The LORD shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand:
To farmers this is a true prosperity promise. You can plant all the seed you want to, but if the rain doesn’t come at the right time, in season, your crop will fail. (We’re setting modern irrigation aside for the moment) No matter how hard a farmer of this time period worked with his hands, he relied of God to open up the heavens and give rain to his land at the right time.
We may not be a nation of farmers anymore, but it isn’t hard to translate this to fit today’s ways of making wealth. We still work with our hands, if in myriad ways, and God still opens up His good treasure and pours out whatever is needed to cause the work of our hands to be blessed. Just as the farmer did all he knew to do and trusted God to bless it, so should we do all we know to do and trust God to bless it.
in his season
I clearly remember the day these three words exploded off the page for me. I was reading right along when it suddenly dawned on me that this is quite specific. I went immediately to God and asked Him what He meant.
The most obvious answer is that God’s season is not necessarily man’s season, and that I can’t tell God when to pour out His blessing on the work of my hands. I went to God with the question, though, because I felt this was only a partial answer at best, and I was right.
God’s season, put simply, is whenever He chooses for it to be. He is not bound by “seasons.” Any business man can understand this concept. Some businesses, perhaps most, are generally considered to be seasonal – be those seasons literal (summer, winter, etc.) or figurative (Christmas, tax season, etc.). A business man who operates under the standard assumptions of the business world may expect his business to do poorly during a specific season. God says differently. He says here that He will bless all the work of our hands as long as we meet His conditions, so He reserves the right to open His good treasure and give rain to your land in His season, even if that time is one during which the world would consider such a thing to be impossible.
and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow.
At a glance, this seems like a command, but we must remember that God is giving us promises here; the command has already been given. So this is a promise He is making to us, a promise that we shall prosper so greatly in every way that we will be able to lend to all sorts of people (many nations) and never have to borrow. How different this is from the manner in which modern man lives!
13And the LORD shall make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath;
I particularly appreciate the first six words here – “And the Lord shall make thee.” I’ve tried doing it all on my own, advancing myself, promoting me; it’s a lot of work and doesn’t work anywhere near as well as one might expect. It is far better to let God handle the promotions, to let Him move you to the front of the line. Self promotion can only get one so far. When God makes you the head, you are the head.
Likewise, I appreciate His promise to make me above only and not beneath. There have been too many times in my life, when I tried to accomplish things on my own power, when I ended up on the bottom with a world of ‘stuff’ piled on top of me. This should be a completely unnatural position for the child of God. It is much better to do things His way so that He can keep me on top.
if that thou hearken unto the commandments of the LORD thy God, which I command thee this day, to observe and to do them: 14And thou shalt not go aside from any of the words which I command thee this day, to the right hand, or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.
Once again we see the conditions we must meet, and we see them expanded upon. We have to listen for God’s commandments, whether they come to us through His written word or spoken directly to our spirits. We must also both pay attention to them and do what He tells us to do.
And we must never go aside from His commandments, either. This is important. When walking a path towards a goal, if you veer to the left of the right even the tiniest bit, you will not reach your destination; you will end up somewhere else entirely. According to this Scripture, if we go aside from God’s will for us, veering to the left or the right even a little, our destination will be other gods and we will end up serving them.
That seems a strong thing to say, but I didn’t say it, God did. Christians do this very thing all of the time, veering off a little to the right to serve the god of self, veering off slightly to the left to serve the god of money. Whatever the god’s name, be it Little League or work, or even children or church (Anything, when placed before God on one’s list of priorities, becomes a god.), if we end up serving it first, it becomes our master and we are no longer serving GOD. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, no man can serve two masters.
And, consequently, for the one who has turned aside to serve another god, this first part of Deuteronomy 28 no longer applies. This person now falls into the category of people covered by the rest of the chapter, as Israel did more than once.
But thank God for His mercy, for just as Israel repeatedly repented and was delivered from the hands of her enemies, so might we also repent and be set free to walk the blessed path of His will once again.