Weakness and Strength

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about his health situation. You know, when he has a “thorn in his flesh”, and he asks God to take it away. But God refuses Paul’s request. Instead, God tells him, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” (verse 9) We talk about this a lot in Christianity. That in our weakness, God is strong. I was on a retreat around this time last year, finishing my degree at Regent University and we were having a group discussion. One of the girls in my class asked, “Can God work through a weakness without it becoming a strength?”

I thought it was an interesting question. I have had many areas of weakness that God has transformed into a strength. God does that kind of thing all the time, I think - If we let him.

But what about working in a weakness, where the weakness never becomes a strength?

I told her about my autistic daughter, Elle. God has used her to speak to many people, not least of all myself and my wife, yet her disability still exists. In the difficult struggles we’ve had with her, God’s grace has been all the more abundant. Grace to handle the trials, and to press forward in her treatment and development.

God hasn’t ‘fixed’ the situation, but he’s been present to meet the needs which have arisen out of it.

We know, from reading the Bible, that God is making all things new. He’s busy setting things right. That started with Jesus’ sacrifice and it will be set to completion when he returns. There will be a new heaven and a new earth, a perfect reality.

But here and now, there is still brokeness. The Fall still echos in us and in all of creation. We have been called to work among the imperfection. And while we are partners with setting things right, sometimes what we have to work with the brokeness before it has been fixed.

I will never be perfect on this earth, yet God chooses to work in me and through me. I am weakness personified, yet God has no plan B. Though I am still flawed and imperfect and fallen, God’s glory comes through when I let it.

Instead of throwing away this world and all that is in it, it seems like he’s taking all the loose threads and weaving a beautiful tapestry. He shows his greatnessbecause he uses the broken, the imperfect, the flawed. There is no such thing as a person who isn’t good enough for God. Because the weaker we are, the more we recognize we need him, and the more he shows up.

It’s only when we get a fat head, thinking God owes us a debt of gratitude that we end up full of ourselves and bereft of his presence.

Let us all, as Paul says boast only in what the Lord has done.

Real Christians Limp

Some television-personality ministers seem to want people to think that being a Christian means being healthy, wealthy and wise.  Also, you apparently have ridiculously white teeth and an expensive hair cut (or in the case of some, an expensive hair piece). But I have noticed a couple people in the Bible who may not agree with such sentiments.

Jacob met God in the form of a man (Genesis 32). After wrestling with God and refusing to give up until God blessed him, God puts his hip out of socket.  Ouch.  Jacobs’ encounter with God resulted in him limping away, but with a new identity: Israel.  He didn’t walk away with more money, or whiter teeth and certainly not healthier.  Wiser, maybe.  But he was definitely changed. His destiny was cemented. After wrestling with God, Jacob walked different. People could see something had changed in him.

Paul had a thorn in his flesh that God refused to take away (2 Corinthians 12).  It seems to have been some kind of illness that most people found gross (Galatians 4). Was it leprosy perhaps? No way to know. But Paul didn’t walk in complete health or wealth. Maybe his disease even made his teeth really, really not white.

We Christians tend to forget how temporary our time on this earth is. We’re not writing the novel of our lives here, we’re only doing the preface. We’re just setting the stage for the real story.  If our goal is to be healthy, wealthy and wise on this earth, then we’d better stay away from God. Because his purposes seem to include thorns and limping far more often than we would prefer.

Real Christians limp.

False Promises

You know, it’s funny. When Jesus called Peter and Andrew to be his disciples he didn’t say “Come follow me, and it’ll be a cake walk.” (see Matthew 4:19)

But I act like that’s what he said.

I also don’t think he said “Things are going to go really, really smoothly because I’ve overcome the world.” (see John 16:33)

But again, that seems to be my expectation.

I don’t know why I act like my life is supposed to be easy. It’s not. Even the best of us has struggled trying to figure out what God’s will is.

When Peter had the vision of the sheet descending from Heaven, he was like ‘what the heck are you talking about God? I’m not eating any of that stuff!’ (Acts 10)

When Paul wanted to go into Asia, the Holy Spirit blocked him (Acts 16:6) Not to mention when he asked three times for God to remove the thorn in his flesh and God said ‘stop asking’ (2 Corinthians 12:6-8)

Jesus himself didn’t want to have to endure the agony of the cross. (Matthew 26:39)

What marks the difference in their lives is simple: obedience. They obeyed God because God is worthy of our obedience. Not because it’s fun. Not necessarily because they understood it, but because our job is to do the will of God.

We must not make up false promises. Or accept them. Any person who essentially turns faith in God into a way to make money, live in luxury and/or avoid any sense of discomfort in our lives must be rejected in the same way Jesus rejected Peters effort to avoid a life of sacrifice: “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” (Matthew 16:23)

Instead of deciding what will make me happy and then demanding or expecting God to give me that, I will learn to take joy from obeying him.

This, I believe, is the dying to myself I am called to by the scriptures. So that I may be made alive in Christ.

In the life he gives, not the life I try to ‘get out of him’.