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A Thorn in the Flesh: How God Uses Suffering to Shape His Servants

A Christian woman sitting on the couch during her time suffering

By Hadassah Treu

Do you have a thorn in the flesh—a perpetual struggle, weakness, or wound without healing? 

Whatever it is, as a follower of Christ, this is a thorn in the flesh—a source of constant pressure and pain. 

You want to be freed from it, but it seems like God’s answer is no.

A Thorn in the Flesh: God’s Answer 

“Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 HCSB

When the Apostle Paul prayed for deliverance, God’s answer was no.

Even so, God graciously infused Paul’s ongoing suffering with purpose.

Let’s explore why God gives us thorns in the flesh and how God uses suffering in our lives. 

A Christian woman standing in the dark with her head in her hands praying for wisdom to understand how God uses suffering.

Eight Ways God Uses Suffering to Shape His Servants 

Here are eight ways God uses suffering and pain to shape and transform us.

#1 – Suffering helps us experience God’s sustaining grace.

“So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:10 HCSB 

At salvation, we experience God’s saving grace. But we need His sustaining grace, too—God’s ability to carry us through every difficulty. 

When we cling to Him, we learn how to overcome and thrive. 

Living with a thorn in the flesh is the perfect setup to learn endurance through God’s daily provision and grace. 

Because of Christ’s power and Spirit living in us, we can have His strength in our weaknesses. 

#2 – Suffering teaches us to depend on God. 

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” – 2 Corinthians 5:7 HCSB 

When life is sunny and we get what we want, we can become self-sufficient and complacent. 

It is easy to forget God and rely on ourselves. 

Suffering drives us to submit to God and depend on Him for strength, comfort, wisdom, and daily provision. 

A Christian woman bowed in prayer at the altar of a church praying to understand how God uses suffering to shape us.

#3 – Suffering trains us in humility.

“Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so I would not exalt myself.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7 HCSB 

Humility is an important prerequisite to be used by God and serve Him. 

Suffering is God’s way of training us in humility and freeing us from pride and prideful attitudes. 

It keeps us free from pride—a main reason God may allow a thorn in the flesh. 

Humility sets the right framework for our relationship with God and grounds us in God’s will. 

#4 – Suffering leads to character transformation. 

“And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.” – Romans 5:3-4 HCSB

God uses suffering to transform and shake us into new ways of thinking and living in accordance with His Truth and will. 

Through yielding to Christ, we can gain a deeper level of freedom, wholeness, and internal healing. 

This can be the freedom from controlling desires, idols, destructive mindsets, false beliefs, or soul traumas.

The more we overcome hardships with God, the more mature we become, and the better people can see Christ in us. 

An open Bible with a person praying in the background

#5 – Suffering perfects our faith.

“You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to struggle in various trials so that the genuineness of your faith—more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:6-7 HCSB

God puts everything to the test: our hearts, relationships, work, and faith. 

Testing is part of the process of transformation and maturity. 

Testing perfects our faith and testimony and has immense value in God’s eyes—and will be rewarded. 

#6 – Suffering is a path to self-discovery and God-discovery. 

“God, You are my God; I eagerly seek You. I thirst for You; my body faints for You in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water.” – Psalm 63:1 HCSB

Suffering tears down our masks and exposes our souls to God’s light. 

We are forced to face our wounds, doubts, and longings. 

Suffering is a path to God-discovery, too. 

We get to know our true selves, but we can’t do this without getting to know our Creator. 

Pain and suffering lead us on a quest to discover God’s heart of love and develop an intimate relationship with Him. 

A Christian woman sitting at her table with her Bible, praying for wisdom to see how God uses suffering to shape us.

#7 – Suffering prepares us for eternity.

“If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work.” – 1 Corinthians 3:12-13 HCSB

The life of a believer is a rehearsal for eternity. 

God is fitting beautiful garments meant to last for eternity for us. 

He is adorning us with gold and precious stones.

God uses suffering to transform our character so that we reflect Christ and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit.

#8 – Suffering prepares us to serve God.

“So if anyone purifies himself from anything dishonorable, he will be a special instrument, set apart, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 2:21 HCSB

Shaped in the image of Christ, we become comforters, encouragers, and hope-bringers. 

God wants us to become useful vessels so He can display the majesty of His love and power in our lives. 

God uses suffering to purify, soften, and enlarge our hearts and our capacity to love and serve. 

A Christian woman crying while another woman has her arm around her in encouragement

Embracing God’s Purposes in Our Suffering 

When we suffer and feel discouraged, we can submit to God’s way of transforming us and embrace His purpose and plan. 

We can humble ourselves under His mighty hand, and wait for Him to exalt us in the proper time (1 Pt 5:6).

Let’s embrace God’s calling to be His servants and bring Him glory. 

Hadassah Treu

Hadassah Treu is a Christian author, poet, and the Encouraging Blogger Award Winner of 2020. She’s a regular contributor to Devotable, Koinonia, Aletheia Today, and COMPEL Proverbs 31 Ministries Blog, and a contributing author to over 10 award-winning devotionals and poetry anthologies. Her first solo book “Draw Near” will be released in 2024.

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