NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–As Southern Baptist churches head into a time of prayer and repentance in January, Executive Committee President Frank Page says he is praying that believers “will learn the sufficiency of God’s grace” just as the Apostle Paul learned when he was battling his undefined “thorn in the flesh.”
“The way to the throne room is through the thorn room,” Page said Jan. 7 during a chapel service at the SBC Building, quoting former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor J.W. “Jack” MacGorman. “That is what I believe we need to learn today: that God has a grand plan. But that which He wants to teach us daily may not come from a cessation of difficulty or a removal of difficulty or thorns. It may — and often does — come from a learning of the beauty of the presence of the Lord through the difficulties of life.”
The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force’s 2010 report adopted by SBC messengers urges churches to hold a solemn assembly, and SBC President Bryant Wright and SBC entity presidents have asked churches to seek God in prayer and repentance during a time of solemn assembly on at least one day in January.
Preaching from 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Page said he wants Southern Baptists facing difficulties in life to have the reaction of Paul, who, after God refused to take away his “thorn,” was told by the Lord, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then wrote: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me…. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Christians, Page said, talk about prayer a “great deal” but rarely put it into practice, leading to “weak” prayer lives. Page said his prayer is that through the solemn assemblies, prayer will be used “with power, with passion, with the dependency upon the … all-sufficient grace of God.”
“I pray that as Southern Baptists go through a time of praying and solemn assembly, that they will learn the sufficiency of God’s grace. Why? As Paul said, ‘So that Christ’s power might rest on me.'”
The passage, Page said, teaches at least three points:
— The “universality of difficulty.”
“Many of you have been a pastor or in the ministry in some way,” Page said. “You know how many people come up to you and ask, ‘Why am I going through this? Why am I suffering this way?’ … All of us have a thorn. All of us struggle in life. All of us have afflictions. They are real.”
— The “natural reaction of the believer.”
Paul’s first reaction to his “thorn,” Page noted, was to pray.
“We all want to know, ‘God, why?’ But at least we’re talking to the right person and going to the right source. ‘God, please help me. Lord, explain this, and if you won’t explain it, hold my hand as I walk through it.'”
— The “beautiful provisions of our Lord.”
“In prayer, Paul received a beautiful message [but] not the one he wanted,” Page said. “He wanted this thorn in the flesh — this stake in his heart — to be removed, but that is not what God gave him…. Sometimes [God] doesn’t answer our prayers the way we wish or even the way we ask, but as a lovingly heavenly Father He does what is best for us.”
Paul “didn’t get what He asked, but He got something better,” Page said.
“In this passage, we see something of the nature of God. And God is a loving heavenly Father,” Page said. “He said, ‘I know what you need and I want to help you though this but as I help you through this I am going to show you something of Myself. And in the showing of Myself, you’re going to come out of it wiser, richer, better.
“It’s time for Southern Baptists to realize that our God wants to show them something better, something deeper,” Page said. “We ask for a lot of things from our Lord, but I am convinced it’s time to do what Paul did and say, ‘I am weak. God, You are just going to have to show me what You want to show me.’ We so desperately need this in our convention and in our churches and in our lives.”
Because of Paul’s thorn, Page said, “every day he had to lean on that daily supply of sufficient grace.”
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.