Of all the many different flowers in the world, nothing has quite captured human imagination as the rose. Today it is mostly known as a symbol of love and affection, and traditionally roses are used to court the one you love. Roses were used as symbols of love even in the time of Ancient Rome and Greece, and even Medieval Christianity used it to symbolize the five wounds of Christ—symbols of His great love for us.
What is it about the rose that so captures the minds and hearts of people? Definitely its graceful, majestic curves and radiant colors are beautiful to the eye, its delicate, layered petals, seeming to open to reveal secrets hidden within. Its fragrance, considered by many to be pleasing, is used in perfumes and oils, while rose water is used in cooking, medicine and even in cosmetics.
One of the things that captures the imaginations of poets and lovers alike, is the contrasts that a rose offers. For all its beauty, its stem holds a small army of sharp thorns, as if the rose seeks to protect itself from those that would admire its beauty. So, one who would admire a rose, or hold it in their hand, would have to brave bring pricked by its sharp defenses.
You may wonder, however, just what are those thorns for? Some botanists believe that they really are a form of defense, a way to keep animals away. But aside from that, the thorns are also used by the rose as a way to help it cling to other vegetation so that it can grow. Some species of rose even use their thorns to prevent soil erosion, which protects their roots, so that they can bloom.
The rose itself can be a metaphor for life, a romantic notion, but one that many people are aware of to varying degrees. The Christian life itself can find a metaphor in the rose. Upon receiving salvation, people often have hard stems, a result of lives lived in sin, perhaps some unrepentant behavior, maybe even just from the difficulties of living our lives.
Like everything else in the world, however, that hardness can be a tool in the hands of God. In Exodus 9, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh. In verse 12, it says “And the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen to them, just as the Lord had spoken to Moses.” And because of this, God was able to show his power not only to His people, the people of Israel, but also to the Egyptians.
He also uses this hardness, these thorns in our lives, to make us better people. In 2nd Corinthians, Paul admits to having a “thorn” in the flesh. In verse 12: “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!” Paul admits that this “thorn” helped to make him a better person, a better Christian.
Now, some people will experience more trials in their lives than others, just as some roses will have more thorns than others. The reason or reasons behind this are known only to God, and we may only know the reasons after a revelation from God Himself. But we can trust that, as with Paul, the thorns placed in our lives are meant to do more good in our lives than harm.
This is a process that happens at His perfect time, and one that happens at a different pace from Christian to Christian. Sometimes, we can even mistake these growing pains, these thorns and hard stems, as all individuals can be, instead of the potential that God sees in them. Sometimes we can only see the thorns in our lives as well. But God sees beyond that, God has His plan in your life, in each of our lives.
If you see a Christian who’s struggling with His Christianity, know that God is at work. So long as they continue to seek His will, God’s hand will be at work to shape them into the people He wants them to be. And while some fellow Christians may seem prickly, Jesus is working in them just as He is working in you. In fact, many of the great men and women of God had to endure and go through their own thorns, their own growing pains.
So if you feel discouraged that life is getting too down, that you’re experiencing more trials than you can bear, that there are too many thorns, that your stem is too hard, take hope instead. Think of these things as tools that God is using to shape you, to mold you, into someone greater than you thought you could be. By allowing Him to work in your life, you will bloom like the magnificent rose does. And just as a rose’s thorns protect it, and allow it to grow, you will find that you will become all that God wants to you be despite the thorns, and even, in fact, because of them.