I am weak
God has been teaching me a lot about weakness recently. The pressures of leading a church through a pandemic, discouragements in ministry, physical tiredness (I have three small children!) and personal sin have taken their toll and, to be honest with you, I feel a little worn out.
The phrase I’ve been using with my friends recently is ‘death by a thousand cuts’. There’s not been one major personal crisis for me or my family, more that a cumulative build-up of pressures, setbacks and discouragements have worn me down. I am not saying that I’m about to explode and go AWOL, although that is where this could lead. Nor has it been all bad. In fact lots of amazing things have happened too. I’m just saying that I feel weak.
More than that, I am weak.
I’m not the only one
I’m not alone in this of course. Looking at my own congregation, as well as talking with other pastors and Christians, I think a lot of us feel this way. The word I would use to describe so many of us at the moment is ‘depleted’. Our tanks are low and we’re feeling rather sore all over. We are weak.
We’re in good company though. The great apostle Paul knew weakness, speaking of it candidly and often in his writings, perhaps most famously in 2 Corinthians 12 where he says:
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
At the beginning of this chapter, Paul tells us that he had experienced ‘visions and revelations’ (v1) and a glimpse of Heaven (v3) and, apparently, such things can go to your head, so he needed knocking down a peg or two. Commentators debate what his thorn really was but it was certainly satanic and tormenting. It was just what Paul needed to set him straight though, to the point that he even ends up delighting in his weakness (v10).
I can’t claim heavenly revelations, but I do know what conceit is like. It’s ugly and it’s why I hate feeling weak. I want to be strong! So maybe a ‘thorn of weakness’, or at least a greater awareness of my weakness, is just what I need too.
Paul pleads with Jesus three times to take his thorn away. This doesn’t seem like very much but it is enough for Paul to get his answer:
But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor. 12:9).
This wasn’t the answer that Paul wanted. It is not the answer I have wanted, but it is the answer I’ve been given and perhaps you have too. I am learning that it is also the answer that I need and the answer that you do too.
Spurgeon makes the comment that it is in weakness, and only in weakness, that we can find the fullness of God’s grace and the fullness of God’s power. The one thing I really do want, more than strength and certainly more than weakness, is more of God and more of his grace and power. This is why weakness really is a blessing for the believer.
Firstly, because in our weakness God’s grace meets us there and we find it is all-sufficient for us. Like a fish in the ocean, we need not be afraid of drinking it dry! In my weakness, in my lack and in my brokenness, the Saviour finds me there and by his love, his kindness and his all-sufficient grace, he comforts me and sustains me. It is here, in this hard place of weakness, that God’s own love feels strongest. It is here that I discover that all my troubles are nothing compared to having him! He is enough and how sweet it is to be satisfied in him.
Secondly, in weakness, Christ’s power proves perfect, full and complete. Think of our Saviour, who did not overcome sin and all the powers of hell by strength, but by weakness. In weakness, he was made like his brothers and could not save us until he had descended into death itself. That is the same path we must tread and the same power we can know.
Weakness shows just how far Christ’s strength and grace can take me. What power I see in the cancer sufferer, rejoicing in the Lord and holding fast to faith in the face of death! What power I see in the weary young mother, persevering in serving her family and loving Christ! What power I see in the beaten down man, resisting temptation because he knows Christ is better!
What power we see when God takes the weak, the foolish, the small and the meek, and with them confounds the wise, pulls down strongholds and conquers the world! It was fishermen, not kings that Christ sent and through them the faith took root and spread through the world. It is not in the strength of the church but in her weakness that God’s glorious power is manifest.
Weakness is how his power and all-sufficient grace are seen and known. The one who is never weak, who never suffers or breaks down, will not be able to know the perfect power of God or his all-sufficient grace.
So then, I will glory in my weakness that his grace and his power might rest on me! That verb ‘rest’ means to dwell in or live in, but there must be a place in my heart for Christ to enter in. A full bowl of rotten food is no good to the living God. It needs to be emptied and thoroughly wiped down before it can be of use, even at the table of the King! Though it feels like weakness, we must be rinsed out, poured out and emptied of self, pride and boasting before we can be full of Christ and his grace and power.
Let me be gladly and delightfully weak, and let all the world see my weakness. Let me never exalt myself so that all may know just what God can do by my weakness.