Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Paul's Thorn

NOTE:  An updated version of this post is available at my new website:

I imagine that most people who spend time studying the subject of divine healing will eventually encounter the following question:  ”What about Paul’s thorn?”
Before you continue to read this post, I strongly encourage you to read the passage in context for yourself.
There were people in Corinth that were spreading false teachings.  In this passage, Paul is listing some of his experiences as a Christian to show that his “resume” qualifies him to speak with authority when he comes against the false teachers.  This is an oversimplification, but I provide it here as a brief background to give context.
In the passage, he spends nearly all of his time talking about the persecution he has faced.  He had been beaten, stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked, lost at sea, hungry, thirsty, cold, and naked (and the list goes on).  (Notice that physical disease is not mentioned anywhere as part of this list of persecutions.  That should be kept in mind as you read the passage where he gives more detail regarding his “thorn.”)
Next, he talks about “surpassingly great revelations” that he received.  We know of no man that ever lived that received more revelation concerning the gospel of grace than Paul.  God showed him things that he was not even allowed to talk about.
That brings us to the passage that contains the thorn.
2 Corinthians 12:7b-10
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
According to Paul, the thorn in his flesh is actually a messenger from Satan.  Satan’s messengers are also called demons, evil spirits, or unclean spirits.  Paul is saying that there was a demon that was causing problems for him.

So, Paul's thorn was a demon.  That brings up another question, though.  What was this demon doing?
There are many possibilities, but I believe the three choices below provide a general summary of the main explanations I have come across in my studies.
The demon was either…
  1. …causing a physical sickness or disease in his body
  2. …attacking Paul’s conscience by accusing him of his past persecutions of Christians
  3. …stirring up severe persecution in the places Paul visited
If we limit our view to the immediate context of the entire passage, the option that appears to be the best fit is number 3.  Paul has been talking at great length about the persecutions and troubles he has been facing, but he says nothing about having diseases or deformities, and he says nothing about having a guilty conscience.  The messenger from Satan was probably inciting resistance to Paul’s ministry, which often led to him being physically mistreated.   This doesn’t mean that the other two options are not possible, just that they are less likely, if we are to base our opinion solely on the immediate context.
If we are to look outside of the immediate context, we must remember the fact that Paul had authority over demons.  He exercised this authority on several occasions in Acts, and he taught on this authority in his letters to the churches.  He exercised his authority in such a way that his reputation became well known even among the demons themselves.  (See Acts 19:13-16)
I find it very unlikely that Paul would permit a demon to operate continually in his body or in his conscience.  However, the idea that a demon or a group of demons would go around stirring up trouble for him is not difficult to imagine.
If it is true that the demon was stirring up persecution, then Paul would have been praying for Jesus to remove the persecution he was facing.  However, Jesus has warned all of His followers that persecution is part of the journey, and the fact that he said “no” to Paul’s request should not be surprising.  However, for Jesus to say no to a request for physical healing would go against the many examples he set forth when he walked the earth as detailed in the four gospels.
For these reasons, it is my strong belief that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was not a physical ailment, but spiritual warfare that was manifested in persecution.

Divine healing, trials, and persecution

NOTE:  The updated version of this post is located at my new website:

Jesus warned his followers that there would be persecution and hard times for them (John 16:33). He walked this earth as a living example of enduring persecution. He suffered persecution, and so did those around him. When he encountered persecution, he endured it.

He was slandered, shunned, and hated by his enemies, and he was eventually beaten and executed. He warned his disciples that that they too would encounter many trials, and we know from the bible and from history that this is indeed what happened. Many disciples were treated in the same way, including beatings, imprisonments, and executions.

It is important to note, however, that the persecution and hard times were not physical ailments in his body.  Jesus did not endure sickness and disease as part of his ministry, nor did he instruct his followers to do so. In fact, when Jesus encountered sickness and disease, he ministered healing to those that needed it.

Acts 10:38“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.”

During his earthly ministry, Jesus encountered many people with health problems. When people came to him that were in need of healing, he healed them. This is the case in every example that we have in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

There is not a single example of someone coming to him for healing and going away with their condition unchanged. Rather, we see the exact opposite. From the examples we have available for us to read, Jesus was always willing to minister healing.

We also see that every time he sent out anyone to represent him, he instructed them them to function in the same way.

He did this when he sent out the 12:

Luke 9:1 – “Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases.”

He did this when we sent out the 70:

Luke 10:1,9 – “After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go……And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”

He did this when he sent out everyone else(including you and me) at what we call “the great commission”

Mark 16:15-18 “And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel…And these signs will follow those who believe...they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

If we want to be followers and imitators of Christ, then it appears that He wants us to have the same attitude towards sickness that He did. If we are to act as His representatives, then we would be wise not to misrepresent Him by saying things that contradict the life He lived.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Healed from Fibromyalgia

NOTE:  I have a new website now.  Our testimony is available there in an article, and also in an audio version.  Here is the link to it:
Before I begin this story, let me make it clear that it is God who heals. I am including the first names of people involved in the story, but we are wise to put the focus on Jesus rather than the people.
In the fall of 2002, my wife Teresa started getting some pain symptoms in her back that we could not find an explanation for. Over the next few years, it spread over her whole body. After going to many different doctors, she was finally diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.  The diagnosis was confirmed by more than one doctor.
Fibromyalgia has different levels of severity in different people. My wife’s condition was particularly severe, and her health deteriorated to the point where she was only able to walk about 50 feet or so, and she could only be on her feet for about 90 seconds. The pain was getting worse and worse.
In December of 2005, she was struck with another condition in her arms that was eventually diagnosed as complex regional pain syndrome (aka RSD). Because of the intense pain, she lost use of both arms and hands, and was no longer able to care for herself at all. Her arms hurt so badly that it was painful even for air to blow on her skin sometimes. Over time, not using her arms, and not being able to walk very well, she became weaker and weaker, and her hands actually started to close up into a fist.
In August of 2006, I found out about a prayer email list at the company I work for.  I joined the list, and sent out this email:

—–Original Message—–
 From: Neal
 Sent: Friday, August 18, 2006 11:07 AM
 To: *****
 Subject: Prayer Request

 Hi everyone. I have a prayer request.
 Over the past four years, my wife Teresa has developed some chronic pain conditions that have baffled many doctors. The pain has become increasingly debilitating, and has left her very limited in what she is able to do physically.

 God has faithfully brought us through it this far, and sent many people to help us along the way. He has blessed us in many ways, and we are very thankful. He has also led us to some good physicians, and we hope and pray that she is on the road to recovery.

 I would like to ask you all to pray for her complete healing, and that God would use our testimony to bless others.

 Thank you
Someone replied to that email inviting me to a lunchtime bible study in one of the conference rooms at work.   It was a study on divine healing.  It was actually being led by a man named Bill Alsop who used to minister at a church I was attending many years ago. I came to the bible study.  After it was over, I spoke to Bill briefly. He didn’t know me, but I asked him about praying for my wife. He invited me to his home that Friday night, August 25.
So, that Friday after work I picked up Teresa and we drove to his house. On the way there I remember that I was somewhat excited, and I was expecting that we would receive encouragment and strength to go on. There had been many people praying for us over the years.  We had a few times where people came by to pray with us, and there were other times when we had gone to different places.  I know there were lots more praying for us that we were not always aware of.  It always helped us to keep going, and that was pretty much what I was expecting.
When we arrived, we talked with Bill and his wife Cathy for a short while, and then we started praying. Teresa was actually lying down on the floor at this point, and we were all praying in the name of the Lord Jesus. Some of the time they were praying in tongues, some of the time they were praying in English.
After a few minutes, he told my wife to stand up. He took her to the front door, and he told her to walk to the end of his street, turn the corner, walk up the hill to the mailboxes, touch one of them, then walk back. He told her to talk to God while she walked. (Bill later shared with us that the Holy Spirit had instructed him to do all of that in a vision he received while they were praying).
The first thing that I thought was “What? She can’t even make it to the end of the driveway”…but before I could say anything, she took off walking out the door and down the street.

Then Bill turned to me and said this:   “You have been praying to recieve the baptism with the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues.”  That shocked me because I had not mentioned anything about that, even though it was absolutely true. That was the word of knowledge in operation,and God was getting my attention…to help me believe.  He succeeded. I stood up, Bill put his hand on my chest, and I began speaking in tongues for the first time…just like they did in the bible.  I received the baptism with the Holy Spirit right there in his living room, while at the same time my wife was walking down the street receiving a miraculous healing from God.
For a few minutes as I was speaking, I was somewhat overwhelmed in a flood of God’s presence, and I forgot that Teresa had gone out walking without me and without her wheelchair. Before long, I looked towards the door and she was standing there talking to Bill.
She made it. She walked all the way to the mailboxes and back.  She was healed as she walked, and it was a miracle.
Bill told us to go buy her some walking shoes, and to go walking every day. We talked a little while longer, and then drove home. On the way home, I remember feeling like I just came out of a whirlwind, and wondering to myself “what just happened to us…”  The pain was gone from Teresa’s body.  She made the comment in the car that she was able to “feel her skin again.”
We got home and went for our first walk together in years. We walked halfway to the end of our street and back, and she made it with no pain. The next day we walked farther and still no pain. No more need for the presciption pain meds for fibromyalgia…and she has not taken one of those since then.
We continued going farther and farther each day, and she was regaining her strength now that all of the terrible pain and fatigue were gone. After about a week, she was able to walk for a mile. Not long after that, it became two miles. We donated her wheelchair to charity. She was able to use her arms again, and feed herself and dress herself and everything else you do with your arms and hands.
She had an appointment coming up with the main fibromyalgia doctor, and we decided to keep the appointment and tell him the good news.  I sent this message to the prayer email list:
From: Neal
Sent: Wednesday, November 29, 2006 3:06 PM
To: *******
Subject: Testimony Update
Hi everyone.
I am the person who sent out the testimony back in August about Christ healing my wife Teresa from Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (FM/CFS).
I just wanted to send out a little story that I hope will build your faith. This is a story about what it is like to tell a doctor that Jesus healed you.
Last Wednesday, I took Teresa back the specialist she has been seeing for FM/CFS. His name is Dr. Charles Lapp, and he’s in Charlotte, NC. He is one of the top experts on for that condition in America, and he is absolutely the finest medical professional I have ever dealt with.
Teresa hasn’t been back to seen him since God healed her on August 25, so we were very excited to tell him what happened. The last time he saw her she was in constant severe pain. She was only able to stand up for about two minutes before feeling like she was going to collapse, and even sitting up was difficult.
This time was a completely different story, because now she walks about a mile or two for exercise every day, and all the pain and suffering is gone
Here’s how the appointment started:
Dr. Lapp: “You look great! How are you doing?”
Teresa: “Have you ever heard of someone getting healed from Fibromyalgia?”
Dr. Lapp: “No I haven’t. (he looked surprised and excited).”
Teresa: “Well, I have a story to tell you. On August 25, God healed me…”
Then she told him the story of what happened. He looked to be both amazed and excited at the same time.
He did all of his tests on her, and he just kept laughing because everything was negative. He said he had never seen anything like this before. We said “we haven’t either, but it sure is awesome!”
Then, he gave her a hug, told her how happy he was for her, and wrote up his report. Here’s what he wrote at the end of the report…and I quote:
“Assessment: CFS/FM – miraculously resolved!”
There’s nobody like Jesus.
I hope this will help you to believe that God is still doing miracles, and healing people.
And now, seven years later, Teresa is running, lifting weights, and praising the Lord Jesus…by whose wounds she was healed.