“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
When was the last time you were in a place of genuine dependence on someone else? When was the last time you were so weak you couldn’t accomplish some task on your own? I still remember the day after having my appendix out. I had some sort of a reaction to the anesthesia that caused all my muscles to gradually clench until I was curled up in a ball. I could actively feel it happening, but couldn’t do anything about it. It was one of the weirdest, most helpless, not to mention scariest moments of my life. And the doctor on call just stood there staring at me. Thankfully one of my nurses broke protocol by not waiting on the pharmacy order to go through to give me some medicine that resolved the issue. Being weak and helpless is no fun. If you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about. So then, what are we supposed to do with Paul’s glorification of weakness here? Let’s talk about it.
No one wants to be weak. When we are weak we might be taken advantage of. That’s what the world does. It preys on the weak to feed the strong. That’s what Darwin taught us and his “wisdom” has stuck. But, really, we didn’t need him to teach us that at all. We already knew it even if we hadn’t necessarily put those words to it. It’s just how the world works. Darwin wasn’t revealing anything new. He was simply describing what already was. If we are going to accomplish anything in life, we need to be tough enough and strong enough to get it for ourselves. We don’t want to have to depend on anyone else to get by.
The trouble with this very common (at least in my cultural context) approach to life is that if we take it, we’ll wind up on our own. The more we try and establish we don’t need anyone else to get by, the more we’ll push away the people who would otherwise be close enough to help us. Eventually, they’ll get tired of being pushed away and just leave us alone. We may win that battle, but if you’re fighting a war and you isolate yourself from your allies, your road forward will be much more difficult than it needs to be.
If we want to find the path to real strength, the kind of strength that can sustain us and help us even thrive through the various challenges we face, we need to take a path of weakness. The truth is: we are weaker than we imagine. When it comes right down to it, we don’t have what it takes to accomplish just about anything on our own. We may think we do, but the amount of help and support we receive along the way to any task we complete goes far beyond even what we might imagine.
Just think through your average day to have this point made rather emphatically. You wake up when the alarm clock rings (unless you’re weird like me and wake up early without one). Where are you laying on? On a bed, I imagine. Did you make that bed? I don’t mean putting the sheets and blankets on it when you last changed them. Did you make the mattress? How about the frame? Do you even have the skills to do that sort of thing? Maybe you do, but do you know how to make the tools you would use to do it? Could you mine and process the ore to get the metal that then needs to be refined and smithed into the right shape? Let’s face it: You’re not up to the task of doing life the way you’re used to doing it on your own and you haven’t even gotten out of bed yet (and we didn’t even talk about the fact that you have no idea how to make an alarm clock). Should we go on to the breakfast you didn’t really make by yourself or the personal hygiene products you couldn’t produce on your own? How about the clothes you probably couldn’t have sewn from the cloth you couldn’t weave? And we aren’t even going to try and talk about driving to work in the car you couldn’t possibly have built. If you or I were really and truly alone, we wouldn’t last more than a week.
No, the truth is that we need people. Lots of people. We need them at every point in our journey through the average day. Life without others to lean on is fantastically more difficult than life with them is. And there’s nothing particularly noble or praiseworthy about taking this much more difficult path just to prove that we can. At the end of the day, we’ll be so exhausted and burned out from the effort that we won’t be any good for much of anything. We may drag our way through life, but we won’t enjoy any of it. And if we’re not enjoying any of it, what’s the point?
Yet even as important as having other people around is, trying to do life just with people as our help isn’t a winning proposition either. We need more than that. When we embrace our weakness to rely on other people, life gets better. We find access to a strength that is stronger than our own. But there’s more. When we embrace our weakness to rely on the God who created us – along with everything else in the world – life becomes a joy. In Him we have access to a strength that is far, far stronger than our own.
This is what Paul discovered. In a world that valued strength and considered weakness of any kind a flaw, Paul boasted to the believers in ancient Corinth that he had discovered a path to strength that ran circles around anything they might be tempted to claim for themselves. This path was one of embracing his personal weakness and relying fully on the strength of God in Christ Jesus. As he writes in the verses before these, this wasn’t the path he wanted to take at first. He was dealing with some point of struggle and weakness and had asked God again and again to take it away. But God gently refused and reminded Paul that He was more than enough for him if he would only learn to lean on Him.
As long as we are trying to do life on our own, we are limited to what we can accomplish for ourselves by our strength. Between you and me, that’s not going to be much. But when we will embrace our weakness and throw ourselves on Him, He will come along behind, beside, and before us and supplement our weakness with His strength. Well, His strength was the power behind the creation of the universe. I think we can agree that strength will be more than up to the task of whatever it is we are facing. If He created the world, there’s nothing in it He can’t handle including that thing you have in mind that seems overwhelming.
Now, this doesn’t mean we don’t still try. This doesn’t mean we give up and sit around waiting for Him to bring everything to us on a silver platter. He doesn’t work like that. He works through our work. He empowers our efforts. He takes what we do and makes it more than enough. As we place our trust in Him and live out His character in the world around us, He fills us and equips us and enables us so that we have what it takes in every situation we are in. And, the more we rely on Him, the more of His strength He can loan us. The harder our situation is, the more insufficient to the task we feel, the more we lean into Him, the more capable He proves Himself to be. This is why Paul said that he delights in his weakness. When he isn’t up to the task, he gets to depend on God in Christ who never ever fails him. When he is weak for the sake of Christ, Jesus comes and makes him enough.
My friends, He will do the same for you and for me if we’ll learn to lean on Him as Paul did. Life is not without its challenges. When those challenges come because of our commitment to living out the life of Christ, we can lean on Him and He’ll help us overcome. His strength will be perfected in our weakness. His power will shine in our powerlessness. Now, if we have gotten ourselves into a mess because of the foolish choices we have made, we’re going to have to deal with the consequences of that. But even then, if we will stop trying to lean on our own strength and run back to His, He will help us pick up the pieces and craft something good and beautiful from the refuse. Stop trying to be strong. You aren’t. Lean harder into Jesus. He will make you more than enough.