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Friendly Thorns

I’ve been enduring some challenging times lately. Most significantly, despite my rigid adherence to my new diet, my Celiac Disease is causing me almost constant stomach discomfort, sometimes acute. Before people chime in with helpful suggestions (which I think we’re too prone to do when someone is suffering), rest assured that I’m pursuing solutions with my doctor’s help—dietary, medicinal, and otherwise. I hope there are some.

My point in writing isn’t to mope or seek pity, but to point you to a few resources that have been especially helpful to me. Many are enduring trials much worse than mine and might find help here. First, knowing my own pride, meditating on Paul’s experience of an unrelenting thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 has been instructive. Not only did the Lord allow it to persist despite Paul’s pleading for relief, but He used it for Paul’s protection and growth. And even though it was foisted on Paul by Satan himself, God was using even the Devil as a sanctifying instrument in Paul’s life. I love that. Paul’s physical malady was such a spiritual balm that it became a cause of joy to him. That’s good for me to read, though I acknowledge I’m not there yet.

Second, I rather randomly came across Piper’s biography of Charles Simeon on my MP3 player a few weeks ago. It ministered to my soul, as all Piper’s historical sketches do. It reminded me that trials are a necessary part of Christian life and ministry, and it urged me not to give up. I commend it to you. You can listen to it here or read it here (packaged with studies on John Newton and William Wilberforce) as a free, downloadable book. Yes, free.

One portion of the study especially stuck in my memory. It’s a description of a ship’s ballast, which I confess I’d never heard of or at least never noticed. Although we are struck with the lofty masts of weathered ships, it is the ballast—the unseen weight—that keeps them from tipping. It may slow them and make them ride lower in the water, but without the hidden ballast, the ship would capsize. Simeon and Piper use that picture to describe the necessity of humiliation, both in our spiritual estimation of ourselves before a holy God and in our life experiences. Life is not all masts and sails, all branches and leaves. Our Lord graciously allows unseen trials to root us to Himself, lest we fall. They are, then, evidences of His grace to us. They allow us to stretch higher in our knowledge and service of Him because we are plunging deeper in our need of Him.

As often happens, my meditations on these themes have taken the form of poetry. (At the very least, it was distracting from my discomfort over the weekend.) I’m not sure that what follows is complete or even good—I should probably sit on it a while before making it public—but it’s the expression of my heart at present and may be of use to you in whatever challenge you face. I hope so.

Depend on God’s sufficient grace, which may very well be shown in the midst of trials, not by relief from them.


Friendly Thorns

For ev’ry branch that’s high and green
A root dives downward, dark, unseen.
To stand when furious winds have blown
A tree must cling to soil and stone.
So Christians who would upward grow
Are anchored deep by secret woe.

Where tow’ring ships o’er oceans blow
Their heavy ballasts lurk below.
Though lofty masts draw sailors’ eyes,
The sunken burdens save their lives.
So we who race through waves and reefs
Are kept upright by hidden griefs.

The soul that stretches wide and tall
Must root itself to Christ or fall.
So God of pride and peril warns,
Then tethers saints to Him with thorns.
Thus friendly thorns are gifts of grace,
And uneased pains, His strong embrace.

Copyright 2010 ChurchWorksMedia.com. All rights reserved.

24 Responses

  1. Praising the Lord for the gift He has given you to put the truths of His Word and the realities of our life into poetic form!

  2. Hey Chris:
    It’s a WINNER! The first two stanzas are brilliant…and the 3rd is awesome just the way it is, although I might quibble a little with line 4 poetically…guess I would wish for a word different than “tethers”…? Alas, like so many who snipe comments from the cheap seats, I cannot offer a better/potential solution :-/
    Again, this poem is a real blessing. Thanks!

  3. Great and thanks for sharing it.

  4. So God of pride and peril warns,
    Then tethers saints to Him with thorns.

    This moved me to tears. I needed it today. Thank you.

  5. I didn’t know you had Celiac Disease. Sorry to hear that.

    The poem really is good. Great thoughts and beautifully expressed.

  6. Sorry you’re not feeling well, Chris. I’ll be praying for you. Going to email this to my brother-in-law, Mike Knight. He can empathize with you. Thanks for posting your poem.

  7. Thank you for sharing so well the heart hymn of grace God is giving you. It is what the body does…Thank you Lord for the body of Christ !

  8. Needed this. Thanks for the encouragement.

  9. Glad this has been encouraging to you all. It’s been a helpful theme on which to meditate.

    FWIW, I made a few small changes. Small things.

  10. Thank you, my friend!

  11. Excellent. Cowper could not have done it better!

    As a sailor let me say that many boats look quite similar above the waterline. You have to see how the keel is shaped to know what make it is and how fast it is capable of sailing. You also caught the fact that we often focus on the rigging and deck to the exclusion of the hull and keel.

    Thanks for not waiting to put this poem out there!

  12. I’m praying for you, brother, from one who also has CD and is on the rigid diet regimen.

  13. Encouraging and challenging. Your title of “Friendly Thorns” reminded me of a quote by George Matheson I just read earlier today: “My God, I have never thanked Thee for my thorn. I have thanked Thee a thousand times for my roses, but not once for my thorn. I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross, but I have never thought of my cross as itself a present glory. Thou Divine Love, whose human path has been perfected through sufferings, teach me the glory of my cross, teach me the value of my thorn.”

  14. Chris, you have some impressive tropes there. Well done. I do agree with my co-sniper above about the 4th line of the third stanza (which itself is not quite equal to the first two in power, IMHO). And no solutions immediately recommend themselves.

    Speaking of recommendations, if you haven’t already, you might get hold of Ted Kooser’s /The Poetry Home Repair Manual/ (even though you might be past much of it) and Mary Oliver’s /Rules for the Dance/ which specifically addresses metrical (and, I think,rhyming) poetry.

    So no intrusive suggestions about your ailment, just your art. :)

  15. Chris,
    our great God has deigned that you encourage me with your writing. His afflicting you with CD as a means of encouraging me would not have been my plan or purpose, (nor yours I am certain) but it is His. Even in the face of the biblical data which points to His right to do this, I blanch and must accept it only by faith–even as I sense His glory increasing as I am encouraged by your words. That my encouragement comes at the price of one whom I know (but have never met) is profoundly humbling and God willing will help me to bear whatever affliction He ordains that I should bear. Grace to you, peace, and may our great God bring physical healing and spiritual strength…

  16. I like this poem just the way it is. It builds momentum with each stanza and saves the best for last. It paints a loving picture. Its wonderful!…Good Job Chris!

  17. Jodie,

    Thanks for the quotation from Matheson. It was a challenge and blessing.

  18. Does life always have to be about tropes? I’ve sometimes wondered if Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a thorn in the flesh. Maybe he had an accident whereby an actual thorn became embedded in his flesh which, due to not living in the 21st century with its medical advances, could actually not be safely removed???

  19. Even if the thorn was literal, Paul still employs a trope in calling it “a messenger of Satan to buffet me”. Can’t escape tropes, my friend.

  20. Confession: I had to look tropes up via an online dictionary.

  21. Chris,
    Thanks for “baring your soul” for us. I appreciate the humility with which you wrote this and the humility that you exhibited when I knew you far better.
    I love Paul’s frankness in 2 Corinthians 12 about himself and his need for humility and dependence upon God. Thanks for the reminder. I will be praying more for you.

  22. @Chris,

    Confession: So did I, once.

  23. […] Friendly Thorns by Chris Anderson, about how God can use a “thorn in the flesh” (II Corinthians 12:7-10). […]

  24. I’m just now reading this poem, as I have been away for several days. I was deeply moved, strengthened, and encouraged. I am sure God will use it greatly in the lives of His suffering saints.

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