Tim Shorey

My Badge of Weakness

I wear my weakness badge because it gives me a chance to boast in God. I will brag again even now: I glory in my headache because it has been an astonishing source of joy in my life. I know without doubt that I have tasted the sweetness of all-sufficient grace more exquisitely because of my weakness than I ever would have if my ordeal had never happened. The experience of God’s gracious strength through pain has been more precious than gold—so precious, in fact, that it is more dear to me than healing.

Do you have your go-to parts of God’s Word? I do. For comfort, there’s Isaiah 40. For identity in Jesus, there’s Ephesians 1–3. To see Christ’s majesty, there’s Hebrews 1. For a heavenly hug, there’s Romans 8:28–39. For a reminder of who wins, there’s Revelation 19–22. And for purpose in my pain—the help needed during seemingly senseless affliction—there’s 2 Corinthians 12:1–10.
That’s where Paul writes about a painful harassing thorn in his life given to him by God. Despite Paul’s repeated prayers, God let him know that he was not going to remove the thorn. Instead, the pain would keep Paul humble, and through that thorn Paul would experience the sufficiency of God’s grace and the perfecting of God’s sustaining strength. Consequently, he never felt stronger than when he was weak, and he came to glory in what gave him grief. Whatever this chronic pain was, it not only kept him from pride, it became his pride!
The Backstory and My Story
There’s a backstory here. Paul had had some incredible spiritual privileges in his life, what he calls the “surpassing greatness of revelations.” These visions of heaven were glorious enough to make any normal man pretty full of himself—and Paul was, despite all his gifts and ministry, still a very normal man. So God gave him a thorn to keep him from becoming conceited. What this thorn was we do not know, and it doesn’t really matter. It’s enough to know that it was a chronically harassing and painfully humbling trial, and that it was given to guard Paul from the pride of self-sufficient superiority. Apparently, chronic affliction is the kind of pride-deterrent that some of us need.
I should know. While I am no Paul, I have been privileged. I’ve heard the gospel since birth. I had godly parents. I’ve had great teachers. I’ve experienced supernatural gifts, along with ministry opportunities that many only dream of. I’ve never had a bad pastor. I’ve been reading and digesting theology since youth, with theology books coming out my ears. I’ve had wonderful partners in ministry, a happy marriage, beloved children, over a dozen grand-children, a measure of spiritual insight, forty years of ministry experience, and at least some ability to preach and write—all of which can tempt toward self-sufficient pride.
I am convinced this is why I have a headache. I will not bore with all the details (though if you want to know more, check out my book about this). What I will say is that I had viral meningitis over thirty-three years ago, and it left me with constant head pain, always at least 6.5 on a scale of 10. The math works out to more than 12,000 days and 288,000 hours of God-given aching pain in a row. I believe God saw the pride danger I was in and sent me a thorn—a piercing, painful, persistent problem—to remind me every single day that I cannot do anything unless he enables it. My stabbing thorn bleeds my pride with relentless effect.
Paul says his affliction was God-given, but Satan delivered. I believe the same is true for me. To be sure, the mystery of the heavenly realms is on display here. We know Paul’s thorn was God-given since it was intended to keep him from conceit, something Satan would not be interested in quelling. But we also know it was Satan-delivered because, well, Paul says so. I don’t understand the workings of the invisible dimension, but I do know that no trial ever gets to me without God’s consent and that whenever evil gets involved, God still wins (Gen. 50:20). Satan wants my headache to create doubts about God’s love.
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Are God and Satan Playing Chess With My Life?

This visible realm into which we are born is merely the chessboard on which invisible cosmic warfare is being waged. It is the stage on which we live out our days, rejoice over God’s gifts, suffer in life’s hardships, weep over our losses, battle through life’s temptations and trials, beat back Satan’s assaults, and then walk through our own shadowy valley of death, the final enemy of all.

Time to be real.
If I’m to tell it straight, I’ve felt a few times lately like God and Satan are playing chess, and I’m a pawn. Please don’t misunderstand. That’s just a figure of speech—though the feeling isn’t. I know that God would never use and treat me like a disposable game piece. I know, too, that I’m not cheap plastic, molded into an inanimate and passive pawn.
In truth, I am a hand-formed and divinely in-breathed person, both loved and cherished by the One who manages the game-board of my life. And while he chooses the next square where I will land, I get to choose what to do when I get there. Knowing all of this, I know that I am made to matter; and that, by the mercy of God, I will share in the victory with the Chess Master himself.
There is one more thing I know. I know that my God and Savior has been bloodied to death in this cosmic battle. He stepped into the arena as the One ready to sacrifice himself in the great universal struggle, to redeem the lost and defeated, so that we might share in his victory, glory, and love.
But still.
When I think about my present stage 4 cancer, my latest trial on a very long list (not to be recounted here), I’ve sometimes felt like God and Satan are contesting over me. Sometimes I’ve felt like a human pawn, rook or castle moved onto difficult spaces—either by God’s direct sovereign hand or by Satan’s fiendish but God-permitted hand. And even though I know that God can see and plan a thousand all-wise moves ahead, I’m still sometimes left feeling vulnerable and afraid.
In the Invisible Realms
By faith in God’s perfect Word, I take at face value those biblical texts that unveil the invisible realm. These describe a conflict between good and evil in which Satan and his minions scheme their evil, while God is always planning his good.
Consider Job. I believe that the cosmic conflict over Job, recorded in Job 1:6–2:10, really happened—that angels and demons, including Satan, really stood before God’s throne (1:6); that God called Satan’s attention to righteous Job (1:8).
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God Dwarfs the Nations

By one account, there were twenty nations already at war before Russia made it twenty-two. This latest aggression has produced daily heart-numbing scenes of death and devastation, leaving us in speechless grief over man’s brutality to man.
Yet I marvel over Russian citizens emboldened to take to the streets in protest against their leaders, fully aware that there likely will be a high retaliatory price to pay. And I’m amazed at the video of a steel-spined Ukrainian family singing the Ada Habershon and Keith and Kristyn Getty hymn “He Will Hold Me Fast”—all the while in the crosshairs of super-power aggression.
A Prophecy for Then and Now and Always
Isaiah 40 was written for ancient Israel and for every believer ever since who has ever been threatened by evil powers. Originally proclaimed to God’s people when violently displaced by a wicked nation (Isa. 39:5–6), Isaiah 40 comforts us (Isa. 40:1–2) by reminding us that God dwarfs the nations in at least four ways.
First, the nations matter nothing to God’s existence. Every nation—whether of the geopolitical sort or of the ethnic and tribal variety—is an inconsequential drop that dribbles from the rim of a ten-gallon bucket (Isa. 40:15). The spillage is so trivial that it isn’t even noticed. In other words, to note the prophet’s changing metaphor, God sits enthroned above the circle of the earth while all the nations on every continent crawl about the planet like the grasshoppers they are (Isa. 40:22).

Perfect Courtesy Toward All in the Worst of Times

It was among the worst of times when Paul wrote to Titus around AD 65. Ruling the world during this age was Nero, an equally corrupt successor to the degenerate Caligula. By comparison to these two, every President the United States has ever had has been choir-boy-esque. Among Nero’s many inventive ways to do evil (Rom. 1:29–31), he murdered his mother and two wives to secure his throne. He is also believed to have intentionally started a massive fire in Rome which he then blamed on Christians, leading to significant persecution of the Church. Such were the times.
And Crete was the place. Some early Mediterranean converts who were recently delivered from bondage to lots of ugly sin (Tit. 3:3) had planted several local churches there under Titus’s pastoral oversight (Tit. 1:5). Theirs was a culture infamous for its moral bankruptcy. Cretans were known as inveterate liars who were enslaved to evil, beastly behavior, and lazy self-indulgence (Tit. 1:12). If not the worst of times and places, this certainly was a very bad time and a very hard place to live out the virtues of Christ, quite likely worse and harder than ours.
By Way of Reminder
So in Titus 3:1 Paul tells Titus to remind his flocks of seven important Christian virtues. Their need to be reminded implies a tendency to forget. Apparently, top-to-bottom cultural corruption creates a need for repeated conscience re-calibration. While we might not be in such ugly times now, the message Paul didn’t want the Christians in Crete to forget is one God also doesn’t want local churches today to forget.

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