It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only (opening to A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens).
There are two Gardens in the Bible, but they are “night and day” apart Gardens. There is one figure in one of the Gardens that is not present in the other, and that makes all the difference in the world, literally and figuratively.
The first Garden we are introduced to in the Bible is the Garden of Eden. We know the story, right? God’s First Man and First Woman lived there (rent-free) in complete freedom with animals and trees as far as the eye can see, that is until they got tricked and disobeyed their Father God. “The devil made me do it” was, in fact, very true in this Garden, as the devil disguised as a serpent did make them do it. They didn’t have to do it, but they did it because they were tricked. They were offered a temptation too good to pass up, i.e., they could BE God and know right from wrong, good from evil. They just didn’t know that it was evil telling them to do bad. That IS what evil does best. And they really messed this up for themselves and for all of us, as “sin came into the world through one man, and his sin brought death with it” (Romans 5:12). Some make the claim that it was Eve’s fault, as she was the one to first eat the forbidden fruit, but I care not to engage this, as what does it matter who ate the nasty fruit first? The point is it was eaten by BOTH and BOTH died as a result and, unfortunately, so will we. They lost Paradise for themselves and us. Satan was victorious in this Garden. He won and we lost…BIG TIME!
But there is another Garden that comes later in the Bible, and this is the Garden of Gethsemane. There is someone very important who is in this Garden that was not in the first one (well, not really present in the first one, though God is ALWAYS in union with Him [John 10:38]). This very important figure is Jesus Christ. Let’s look at this Garden and compare it to the previous one:
The Garden of Eden had the serpent (Satan) and the Garden of Gethsemane had men who betrayed and were determined to kill Jesus (Satan’s men). But the Garden of Eden did not have Jesus silencing Satan whereas in the Garden of Gethsemane, Satan was brought to complete silence. Satan’s men came for Jesus and yet they were silent about it; only a kiss from Jesus’ betrayer, Judas, was “heard.” Peter took a sword to kill one of these Satan men but Jesus silently gestured Peter to stop such violence (I know Jesus spoke a few words but how to the point they were!). They took Jesus away to die a horrible death and Jesus, for the most part, remained silent through this but so, too, did Satan have to remain silent. All this silence was because there was a Higher Mission being planned out in the Garden of Gethsemane. There was Jesus in this Garden, bent over, sweating droplets of blood, knowing The Cup He had to drink from and, in a hushed tone akin to a silent plea, “if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will but as You will, Father”(Matthew 26:39). Jesus’ Disciples were silent at this time (in fact, they went to sleep) but so was Satan. Satan could not obtain ANY victory in this Garden with a prayer like this from Jesus. Satan did not want Jesus to do His Father’s Will but rather wanted Jesus to fight and destroy everyone, same as Satan would do. And Jesus did have the Power through His Father to do just that. But Jesus was all about the silence of His Father’s Business (“don’t you realize that I must be about My Father’s business?”[Luke 2:49]). Jesus was all about silently drinking from This Cup, because He knew His Father would get The Victory and The Glory, and Satan would be silenced once and for all.
This is a Tale of Two Gardens, but I invite you to return only to the Garden of Gethsemane with me. Forget the Garden of Eve. That is finished. The harm and foul that took place there has been done and there is really no getting back that Garden. In the End, we will have that Garden back but for now in the Garden of Gethsemane, there is definitely something to get back. There is Jesus. There is this Garden when you suffer (and you will) that you can return to very quietly where you are bent over with Jesus, where you are sweating droplets of blood with Jesus, and where you are in Union with Jesus, asking that your cup be taken from you but not your will but rather your Father’s Will, same as Jesus prayed. It’s true some won’t ever venture into this Garden to be with Jesus, but I go there every day because I suffer every day. I need to know there is a Garden I can go to where someone understands my suffering, where someone has experienced as much fear as I experience and am currently experiencing, where someone knows dread and despair as these are my common states, and where someone knows that it is NOT our will be done but “Your Kingdom come; Your Will be done” (Matthew 6:10).
It is the tale of two Gardens but let us only return now alone to the Garden of Gethsemane because that is where Jesus is praying AND waiting for us.
“There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure” – 2 Corinthians 12:7
Apostle Paul didn’t give us much to go on with “a thorn in the flesh,” other than to say it is from the messenger of Satan. Maybe Paul meant to be so vague, because each person has his or her own thorn in the flesh. For you, it might be an addiction to alcohol, cigarettes, gambling, sex, food, watching too much TV, being on the phone and/or computer too much, etc.(and don’t tell me you didn’t have or currently don’t have an addiction, because I won’t believe you!). Or it might be a person who is just a thorn in your side (flesh and heart, too). Or it might be a situation you have prayed about over and over and still have not received the answer you are looking for. Let’s go deeper with this, way further than the flesh, right through the bones and the muscles, all the way to the heart!
The whole “thorn in my flesh” came about from a workbook I am completing on getting to know the heart of Jesus Christ. When the question was posed to me, “What is the thorn in your flesh?” I kinda’ drew a blank. I had some ideas about many thorns in my flesh but I couldn’t pick just one. It was only when I wrote a God Sonnet this morning (https://timothyjverret.blog/2020/10/16/thorn/) that these words showed up:
The thorn in my flesh is not the pin prick. It IS the flesh.
That right there told me that whether it’s one thorn or many thorns in my flesh, the thorns are not the problem; it is the flesh that is the problem. It is what I call “fleshly living,” living my life by the ego, living for my own selfish gain, living life the way I want life to be and go. I’m talking about living by the flesh and NOT the Spirit (Galatian 5:16). If I live by the flesh, nothing in this world will satisfy me….NOTHING! Trust me….I pursued this for many, many years and it was dismal failure at best! But if I choose to live by the Spirit, I am FREE! Free from worries, free from confusion, just flat-out FREE! But what a challenge this is, right? The world tells us, by all means, to satisfy ourselves through our experiences of pleasure and comfort. The world basically poses this question to us: “You want to feel good, right? Well, then, I am the world and I have everything you need!” WRONG!!!! The world does not have one single thing we need. Because more money, more fame, more success, more clothes, more cars, and ad nauseum, will only make us more unhappy, more dissatisfied, more disgruntled, more disappointed. And the way I look at this is, “The more you gain, the more you stand to lose!” But with Spirit, we gain Love, Patience, Peace, Joy, Goodness, Gentleness, Kindness, Faithfulness, and Self-Control (Galatians 5:22). And we can’t buy any of these; we can only get these through the Spirit, the fleshless and priceless Spirit (unless you count the price paid by Jesus Christ for our lives).
Thorns hurt! They cause us a lot of physical pain. But it’s the psychological pain from the thorns that keeps us up at night. It’s the penetration of the thorn through the flesh to the bones and to the heart that really is the “ouch!” And nothing can hurt us like a pin prick that the world sticks into us. The loss of money, the loss of a job, the loss of a friend, the loss of a child. I’m not saying we shouldn’t grieve over these losses. I’m just saying the attachment to these is what often nearly kills us when we lose them. It’s the “possession,” the “it’s mine!” When we hold on to these things so tight, we are devastated and often beyond repair when these very same things vanish from our lives. It’s inevitable that they will vanish, not necessarily because we or someone else has done something wrong for the disappearance but simply because we and they are “timed.” We and they are not forever! And I’m not really trying to promote God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit (although, if I’m being honest, I kinda’ am), but I really want to promote the messages of this world that tells us we will be happy when we get this, have that, get this more, have this more. “More” is a dangerous word because there are no limits to it. For example, anyone who wants more money will, if he or she is being honest, tell you they really don’t know how much more they really want. They just know they want more.
“Thorny flesh.” Living by the flesh is always going to be thorny, but living by the Spirit promises to be thornless. You can prick the flesh but you can’t prick the Spirit. The Spirit is “prick-less” (sorry for that wording). No one can stick your spirit but they sure can stick your flesh. And we know this is true because we have all been stuck by someone or something, and we know how much that hurts. But we got a painless Spirit inside of us waiting for our call. And it really is as simple as a hotel phone call. Just pick up the phone, make the call to the Spirit, and get yourself free from the world and all its crazy and totally misinformed messages of assured happiness. Fleshly living ain’t got nothing to do with sustained happiness but rather and often enough just sustained misery. But Spirit living is sustainment of happiness and the promise of sustained and great FREEDOM!