There must be thousands of commentaries written on Paul's struggle in 2 Cor. 12:7. I'm not motivated to read them because I don't want my impression to be tainted. But it's clear that many have meditated on this passage throughout the centuries. "Thorn in the flesh" even has its own Wikipedia entry, and variations of the phrase are widely used in the English language to denote a persistent trial.
I opened my Bible to refresh my memory about this incident and to see if there was anything I could apply. I was surprised to read about Paul praying only 3 times. Maybe it is figurative, who knows. But it seems like very little. I think that after 3 times I would keep trying. I don't know if I would have heard God's voice or recognized it as an answer.
I wonder which is better: to keep hoping for deliverance or to accept a condition and move on. Sometimes it seems like people who adapt to life with constant difficulties (physical or otherwise) are more content than those who continue to wait for a miracle. Certainly this is true if the person is completely consumed by his/her waiting. When all emotions and energy are devoted to a specific problem, even if it is time spent in prayer, life can pass you by. Yet, if the problem is debilitating, adapting is not so easy.
As for God's answer to Paul, His power is always made perfect in weakness. And we can always give thanks that He is using our weak bodies as vessels. But does it count as an answer to prayer if God is simply revealing His character, but not giving instructions? Was Paul to regard this answer as a sign for that particular moment, or for the rest of his life?
I have never identified easily with Paul and I haven't envied his life. But I do envy his intimacy with God; his ability to hear God's voice and discern His will.
I am glad the passage is confusing. Imagine if there were more of an explanation. Christian bookstores would be overflowing with "self-help" commentaries on the topic. The key to seeing prayer answered would be to pray the magic words 3 times, turn around in a circle, etc. And if we knew exactly what the "thorn" was, we might limit the application, instead of being able to apply the passage to weaknesses in general.
I am also glad the passage is confusing because I don't find the answer in a human resource. I have to go to the Source. I have to pray about things until I hear an answer. I have to seek God so that I hear when He answers.
Sometimes I'm afraid that the answer will be right in front of my face and I'll miss it because I'm not tuned in to God. Sometimes He tells me gently and patiently, but I don't listen, and understand the answer only through painful (but helpful) discipline.