Jan 9 2011

Fire, Thorns & Grace

BRSP 002At the end of December I spent a few days visiting my in-laws in the panhandle of Florida.  While there I drove over to Blackwater River State Park to do some photography.  The picture above is one I took almost as soon as I entered the park.   This scene caught my eye because of the contrast it presented with my last visit to this park a few years ago.  On that trip this same area had just experienced a prescribed burn.  The longleaf pines that live in this area depend on such fires for survival.   On this most recent visit the forest certainly seemed healthy.   Many people have trouble comprehending how fires can be good for a forest but in situations like this they truly are.

About the same time I visited Blackwater River State Park I was preparing to preach a sermon on the apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” mentioned in Second Corinthians 12:7.  We do not know for certain the precise nature of Paul’s “thorn.”  Whatever it was, it was excruciatingly painful.  The Greek word translated “thorn” was used to describe a stake upon which one might be impaled.   Paul prayed three times that God might remove whatever was causing him pain but God chose not to.  He told Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Rather than be disheartened by this Paul said that he would boast all the more gladly about his weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on him.

BRSP 045Pain and suffering, like fire in a forest, may seem to be a strange blessing but it can be one nonetheless.  I know of few spiritual giants, past or present, who have not had to suffer much.  Pain and suffering has a way of causing one to turn to and rely on God.  When we do so we discover, like Paul, that God’s grace truly is sufficient.   In our weakness we experience God’s power in ways we might not otherwise. 

I confess that God’s ways are often mysterious.  He can use fires to make forests healthier.  He can use pain and suffering to make us stronger and draw us closer to Him.  He truly is an amazing God!


(The bottom picture shows Blackwater River.  Its dark color is caused by tanins.  It is one of the purest sand-bottom rivers in the country.)