Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Blessing of the Thorn



I miss my old Bible study group. ūüė¶ I had the privilege of being a part of that group for almost 5 years. I miss the teacher, and I miss the ladies. We were able to just be real, and you have no idea how refreshing that is when your flesh tells you to hide. I’ll never forget the day we talked about the “thorn in the flesh.” I even remember where I was sitting.

Many people have discussed what Paul meant by the “thorn in my flesh” (from 2 Corinthians 12:7), and the consensus is that no one really knows what his “thorn” was exactly. It’s rather fitting for God to have left that detail out so that perhaps all of us could relate to this “thorn” idea. We know one thing for sure: the thorn was meant to humble him.

If you read the chapter before his thorn confession, it gives some insight into Paul’s dilemma. He is combating the false apostles that have crept into the Corinthian church who have been claiming (or rather boasting)¬†to preach the gospel without charge like Paul had been doing (but without the boasting part). He writes:

Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I.¬†23¬†Are they¬†servants of Christ?¬†I am a better one‚ÄĒI am talking like a madman‚ÄĒwith far greater labors,¬†far more imprisonments,¬†with countless beatings, and¬†often near death.¬†24¬†Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.¬†25¬†Three times I was¬†beaten with rods.¬†Once I was stoned. Three times I¬†was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea;¬†26¬†on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers,¬†danger from my own people,¬†danger from Gentiles,¬†danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers;¬†27¬†in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night,¬†in hunger and thirst, often without food,¬†in cold and exposure.¬†28¬†And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for¬†all the churches.¬†29¬†Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?¬†30¬†If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 2 Corinthians 11:22-30

It’s actually quite humorous in parts. I’m talking like a madman! mwahahaha… (*cue music*) “I can do anything you can do better, I can do anything better than you!” Seriously though. He’s got quite a few things to be proud of yet also to be honest about. He got real with us in this section, just like those ladies in my Bible study group. I think we could safely assume that Paul, being a Pharisee, was probably also steeped in legalism and likely struggled with this after his conversion at times. I can relate to this. Somehow it’s comforting to think that he didn’t always get it right. So for him to admit weakness in any area must have been a HUGE breakthrough for him (just like it would be for any perfectionist). He continues on in the next chapter:

So¬†to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,¬†a thorn was given me in the flesh,¬†a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.¬†9¬†But he said to me,¬†‚ÄúMy grace is sufficient for you, for¬†my power is made perfect in weakness.‚Ä̬†Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that¬†the power of Christ may rest upon me.¬†10¬†For the sake of Christ, then,¬†I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For¬†when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10


That is such a nice passage to memorize, and it sounds really good, but it sure is hard to actually do!

In my small group recently we read through Philippians 2:5-11, quite the hefty theological passage. I highly recommend it. ūüôā We see the example of Christ as One who was completely humble, to the point of a criminal’s death (with a ton of thorns stuck into His head, I might add), and because of His work on the cross, God highly exalted Him above everyone and everything. I just can’t get this out of my mind. God exalts the humble. (James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6)

My husband raised the question, “is God humble? Is humility actually a godly trait?” Well, after we thought about it, we realized God doesn’t need to be humble. But He isn’t proud either. Humility is just not a quality that God needs to have because, frankly, He’s God and deserves all praise and glory. So although He isn’t humble, He does¬†esteem¬†the humble (Isaiah 66:2). He looks on them with favor. That was definitely true of Christ in our Philippians passage, and it seems true of anyone else who humbles herself.

It begs the question – why? Why is humility such a big deal to God? Isaiah 2:17 gives us a clue:

And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.

Will the clay say to the Potter, why did you make me? Will the clay actually try to take from the glory of the Almighty? Do we really do this? Unfortunately we do Рalllll the time.

But when we acknowledge our weakness, it is truly a thing of beauty to the Father. What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever (Westminster Catechism Question 1!). He delights in us coming to Him, fully acknowledging our need for Him. Ironically when we humble ourselves before God, He lifts us up (He’s the One doing the lifting up, not us, and there’s the key). Just like Paul said, when we are weak, then we are strong. It makes absolutely no sense! But there you see the blessing of the thorn.

If any of you have a “thorn”, you may be like me and have a love-hate relationship with it. For without it, you know that you wouldn’t be all God desires for you to be. But because you have it, you get frustrated that it won’t go away. You just wish you could be done with this problem and find yourself on the other side of it, more sanctified and not struggling in the way you do now. You can’t find tweezers large enough or pointy enough to dig it out yourself. You, like Paul, ask God to take it away, but there it remains, doing it’s work to humble you. Arg. and Yay.

In the end, I truly don’t want people to look at my life and say, “Wow, she was one amazing woman, wife, mother, teacher, etc.” I’d much rather them say, “Wow, her God is truly amazing. Look what He did in her life. If He can do that kind of a miracle, surely He deserves all praise and glory. I want to follow Him.” And at that point, I’ll thank God for the thorn and hear Him say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

Junior Holy Spirit


Holding badge

Hello, my name is Ashley Farmer, and I have a problem.

I’m a recovering legalist, but I sometimes revert back into the destructive habits of my old self. One of those habits: looking at where my neighbor is going wrong and trying to correct her (or just thinking about how she could be doing better). Yeah, it’s a pretty bad problem.

I’ll never forget the term a youth pastor threw at us one Wednesday night. “God doesn’t need any ‘junior Holy Spirits’ running around.” Junior Holy Spirit. Yeah, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be called the TRInity if there were four members…or 4 kajillion depending on how many people have tried it out.

The point of the lesson, all kidding aside, was that we as Christians don’t need to try to “convict” others of their sins because frankly that’s what the Holy Spirit already does perfectly. Now there is a whole other discussion concerning the issue of confronting a believer caught in sin, and this is prescribed in God’s word (one reference is in Galatians 6:1). But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to the person who thinks it’s her job to point out where another person is going wrong. In my case it often stems from my own tendency to be critical of myself (I need to follow the rules…be a good legalist).

There is definitely a difference in motives between the person who confronts a believer caught in sin and the person who tries to convince a believer or nonbeliever that he/she is sinning. The former does so out of love and obedience, and usually the confrontation takes place with another person to mediate or encourage repentance alongside the “confronter” (and this is not someone that the confronter gossips to about the “sinner”). The Junior Holy Spirit would try to confront alright, but it would be out of a spirit of pride or selfishness to make herself look better, more spiritual, or to belittle the other person (if it sounds ugly and looks ugly, it’s probably because it IS ugly).

I don’t believe a single person would say (or want to admit) that this is an area in which she struggles. Who is brave enough to walk up to a friend (or acquaintance) and say, “you know, you are so prideful and I can’t stand that about you”? Uhhh…chances are very few would do that. But I do believe there are times when we fall into the Junior Holy Spirit trap, only it looks a little less ugly, if you will.

I’m referring to the insidious, I’m-more-spiritual, comparison game that goes on in our minds. Here I am trucking along in my walk with Jesus, and though I know I’m far from perfect, I don’t do “really” bad things. Bad things like so-and-so does. I begin to dwell on that person’s issue. I get worked up over his behavior to the point that my focus is not so much on what I need God to work out in my life but what needs to happen in this person’s life. Why??! Why do I do this? I feel like Paul when he says, “I do the things I don’t want to do” (see Romans 7).

I think I can easily struggle with this problem because I’m recovering from¬†legalism. If I follow all the rules, I will be rewarded, and everyone (especially God) will like me. When other people don’t follow the rules, it will bother me because that’s not the way you play the legalism game. So if someone isn’t playing by the rules, I should probably be upset about it and wonder why they’re getting away with it. I may even be brave enough to say something to them, although it will likely come across as judgmental. Red flags should go up all over the place if this is my thinking.

God throws up the time-out sign and says, “since when does your obedience depend on another person’s actions, My child?” Uh… *gulp* it. doesn’t.¬†I’m sure God ever-so-gently speaks over me, “why are you wasting your time thinking about how so-and-so needs to change? That’s always been My department. You have no control over what other people do, and you need to let it go.”

Trying to be a Junior Holy Spirit is hard impossible work.

What’s a girl to do? My obedience does not depend on another person’s actions. If God tells me to serve someone who has trouble with pride, and I think to myself “gee, I really don’t want to serve her because she’s just expecting people to serve her…” then I have an obedience problem.¬†The other person is not my problem. I am my problem.¬†

Will it be hard to obey when God calls me to serve a difficult person? You bet. Does this mean I’m off the hook? Not on your life. Should I try to make myself obey? Well, it’s not about trying harder to do better (remember this¬†Just Try Harder?). It’s about abiding in the Vine, relying on Jesus to change your heart as you are in constant submission to His leading. The struggle of the flesh (I don’t really want to obey) will be strong against the spirit (I want to do what God calls me to do). But the good news is, the real Holy Spirit knows how to do His job (on me and on everyone else). He is at work in you, willing you to work for God’s purposes and pleasure. So let Him do His job. He doesn’t need our help.

Meeting Spiderman



I just wanted to get in and out of the store without talking to anyone, without melt downs from my kids, without being there for an hour (there HAS to be some kind of time vortex in grocery stores that suck your time, minimum of 1 hour…). Maybe this comes with the territory of being slightly introverted. Avoid eye contact. Smile when necessary. Just hunt down the items on your list and get to the check out.

Today was NOT that day. In fact, it’s not most of my shopping days. And it’s all because of those little people sitting in my cart that I affectionately call my sons.

This is how the scenario usually unfolds: My youngest waves and says “hi, I James” to everyone (but that’s not his name mind you, it’s his older brother’s name…). Then the older one corrects him to the stranger who has just received a toddler’s greeting and explains, “he’s not James, he’s Timothy. I’m James.” And I just laugh and smile and tell the stranger, “yep, he’s right. Silly boys” as I refrain from running away so the conversation doesn’t have to go anywhere else. I’ve got an agenda, ya know?

Well this time, my youngest changed things up on me. As we round the corner to aisle 5 (which means I still have at least 12 or more aisles to go people!), he shouts out, “pyer-man!” (For those of you who don’t speak toddlerese, that’s Spiderman.) Naturally he’s speaking of the man who is changing out the grocery store trash, because he OBVIOUSLY looks like Spiderman…black man, about 50 years old, bald, glasses, wearing a navy blue shirt. Right, son, that’s Spiderman.

So then I feel like I need to explain to the man what my 2-year-old just said just so he knows it wasn’t something bad (you never know how people translate little 2-year-old boy’s speech). Spiderman comes over to our cart and what happened could only be explained as a divine appointment. This man was so good with my two boys, and my two boys obviously thought his man was as cool as Spiderman (maybe that was what was going on in my 2 year old’s mind?? “He’s cool, just like…Spiderman” ?).

I’ll bet that people ignore this man all day long as he goes about his business of changing the trash in this gigantic store. I’m guessing he seems invisible to a lot of people, particularly those who are in the store just to get in and out (who is so busy to be that way??). But isn’t it interesting how children are so unlike us adults? In a good way, I mean. They’re so friendly to everyone, and what I’ve seen more often than not, is that the people my children greet respond in a very positive way. Their day is brightened or else they end up blessing me and my kids. It almost never fails. And I’m just trying to get out of there. Shame on me.

This introvert is learning some very important lessons from two little blessing-givers. The ironic part is that I have been trying to ingrain this message into my older son for a long time now. People are more important than ___ (toys, winning, getting my grocery list knocked out in record time to avoid the time vortex). Every time my oldest starts fighting with my youngest over a toy, I yell (yes, I do yell …sometimes) “your brother is more important than you having that toy, son!” Then I roll my eyes and wonder, sometimes aloud much to my shame, “why can’t he get that through his head?!” Um. Guilty as charged. I have a big plank in my eye on this one.

How is it that my 2 and 5-year-old see the value in the people around us better than I do? I have seen them brighten someone’s day way more than I can count. It’s a thing of beauty. Like I said earlier, it often ends up being a blessing to me. I end up beaming with joy to see my littles minister to people who are probably just trying to mind their own business as they tackle a list. I imagine this is much how Jesus viewed His time with the people He encountered.

He never seemed too busy to stop and talk or touch or teach.

He never seemed like one to hide or blend in just so He would go unnoticed to fulfill His list of things to do.

He took the time to let people know that He saw them. Really SAW them. Because He is the God who sees.

He sees the janitor changing the trash cans. He sees the single dad walking aimlessly down the aisles. He sees the cashier bagging the groceries. And He sees the mom with two little boys and invites them to see with Him.

I’m working on seeing with His eyes. I’m learning to be patient and let my kids greet every last patron in the store because you just never know who might need to experience a bit of Jesus through some little children. Hey, even Spiderman needs Jesus!

That’s my challenge I guess. Seeing people and not just trying to avoid them. Looking for opportunities to be a blessing and not just keeping to myself. Who knows, maybe we’ll get to meet Thor next time. ūüôā (and maybe he can do something about that time vortex!)

The God of ALL Comfort



My heart is with some dear friends in Oklahoma this week. We received tragic news (last week) of the passing of a genuine man of God – a husband, a father, a great example of Christ. It left us speechless. What do you even say when a tragedy crashes into the scene of a dear friend? What do you even do when you’re holding her hands or if you’re 400 miles away?

At first you feel a bit helpless, am I right? Then you want to do everything you can to help, whatever that looks like.

I’ve learned that sometimes there are people much closer to the situation/friend that can help better than I can. I’ve also learned that if I am one of those “inner circle” people, I can let God use me until I’m completely spent, but in the end, I’m still going to need to entrust my friend to Him.

One of my favorite things about God is that He is ever-present. I am only able to be in one place at one time. And even if I could be present with my friend, I’m not sure I’d be the comfort she needs anyway.

But my God, He knows how to comfort, in every situation, and He does it perfectly. That is actually one of the things John mentions as the Spirit’s “job” when He comes to dwell in the believer (John 14:16, 26; 15:26, 16:7 He is called “Comforter” or “Helper” depending on your translation). The Spirit of God knows the mind of God, and He also knows what is in our hearts and minds (1 Corinthians 2:11). This is such an amazing blessing for us! He intercedes for us with groans that words can’t express when we have no clue what to say or do. AND He somehow infuses into our hearts and minds the comfort and peace we need in those moments of sheer tragedy. {Note to self: try and remember this when you find yourself in the midst of tragedy.}

I’m discovering that what I can do when these terrible nightmares hit is pray for more Spirit, for more of God’s presence in the life of my friends. The grieving heart will be well handled in the hand of its Creator.

Then I watch God work. Sometimes we get to be pulled alongside as God’s instruments of comfort with a word of truth spoken at just the right moment or a hug that envelopes the grieving heart. But other times we watch and behold the God of all comfort who is well acquainted with our grief and yet also knows how to massage the wounds that grief leaves in its wake. He is so beautiful.

One final note. I’ve heard many people say that after they’ve lost a loved one, they receive lots of comfort and attention at first, but that slowly goes away and they are eventually forgotten. I really don’t want that to happen. Ever. So may I humbly suggest the importance of being sensitive to the needs of those around us in the months and years to come. My heart is definitely there now, but I don’t want to let the passing of time lessen my desire to lift someone to the God of all comfort (who, by the way, never forgets).