A husband once shared with a friend his secret to making his marriage last. “We go to a nice restaurant once a week and enjoy a good meal and some relaxing music.”

To which his friend replied, “Wow! That does sound nice.”

“It is,” the husband responded. “She goes on Tuesdays and I go on Fridays.”

Although the marriage relationship is one of the most rewarding relationships we can enjoy, it also can be one of the most challenging.  No other relationship requires such an intense level of emotion, communication, patience, passion, and more.  Simply by design, the marriage partnership sets itself up to be one of the most testing, trying, or even exhausting engagements in life.

But God often uses the people closest to us to do the greatest work in our hearts, minds, and souls. God always has a purpose for pain (Romans 8:28) when we commit that pain to him and his will.

The Purpose of the Thorn

One of the best passages on having a kingdom-based view of hardship or conflict is found in 2 Corinthians 12:7: “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me — to keep me from exalting myself.”

The apostle Paul is not suggesting you view your spouse as a “messenger of Satan” or a “thorn in the flesh.” Your spouse is a gift God has given you to better enable you to carry out your divine destiny in life. He or she is not your enemy but rather a tool God sometimes allows to soften your edges, strengthen your weak spots, and deepen the authenticity of your faith and love.

The Greek word for “thorn” refers to something that causes irritation. In marriage, it could be that thing your spouse does, or does not do, that always invokes your sigh. Or a difference in perspective that the two of you have never been able to resolve. It could be any number of things.

Some of us deal with emotional thorns in our marriage — loneliness, depression, regret, pain, or even bitterness.

Some deal more with relational thorns — when the personality, quirks, bents, or preferences of their mate simply annoy them. Couples often feel stuck spiritually, unhappy because their needs are not being met, but also unable to do anything substantial to change that reality.

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I’ve seen marriages battered by financial thorns as well. Despite two incomes, couples find it difficult to make ends meet. And then there are the physical thorns — health issues, such as chronic illness, headaches that won’t go away, disabilities, low energy, cancer, or any number of other ailments.

Marriage comes with pain. To ignore or dismiss that reality only makes wounds fester and grow rather than accomplish what they were designed to do.

Thorns come in all shapes and sizes. Yet regardless of its magnitude or sharpness, a thorn always hurts. Marriage comes with pain. To ignore or dismiss that reality only makes wounds fester and grow rather than accomplish what they were designed to do, which is to mature us into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Learning from the Thorn

How do you know when you are facing a thorn? Because it won’t go away. In 2 Corinthians 12:8 we read, “Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.” Paul’s thorn wouldn’t quit, despite his time in prayer with the Lord. When that is the case with your marriage, consider instead what God may want to accomplish through the issue you face.
If you’ve been praying for something in your relationship and it doesn’t seem like God has removed the issue or provided a solution, the next time you pray, ask God what he wants to teach you and your spouse through this thorn. One reason God gives you a thorn is because he wants show you something new. He wants you to see something beyond your normal comprehension and he wouldn’t easily get your attention without it.

Your Response to the Thorn

While God may to remove the thorn by answering yes to your prayers, if you are enduring a thorn he refuses to get rid of, he will also supply sufficient grace for you to handle it. This is a promise based on God’s Word: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed” (2 Corinthians 9:8).

The pool of God’s grace is available to you when you need it. You just need to access it by relying on his strength and focusing on his will in the midst of your pain and trials.

When you deal with a thorn in your relationship with your spouse and have committed it to prayer — and yet God has not removed it — ask him for his grace. Don’t try to pull that thorn out yourself, because you are going to rip something. Rather, go searching for God’s grace. The difference between a defeated marriage and a victorious marriage with the same thorn is that the victorious couple experiences grace while the other couple tries to fix things on their own. One marriage is resting under the spiritual cover of grace, while the other is battling things out in the physical realm. When you spend your life running from your thorns, you will miss the revelation and illumination —and grace — God wants to give you.

God’s grace is all you need to transform the thorns in your marriage into pearls of great value. When his grace covers that thorn, it will become a blessing at some level if you stop fighting it and yield to it, seeking his wisdom and strength.

Taken from Kingdom Marriage copyright © 2016 by Tony Evans. Used by permission of Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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