II Corinthians 12:1-10
We don’t like weakness in any form. We are conditioned to hide any physical, emotional or mental weakness and compensate with a strength. The weak have no value. During job interviews we work hard to cleverly spin the inevitable question: “What is your greatest weakness?” into a strength in order to appear capable and confident. In this culture of cutthroat competition for the best jobs, the best of the best in everything, strength is demanded.
That’s why it is so hard to understand that, as Christians, God’s strength comes to us only in our weakness. If we’re honest, most of us want the Lord to remove our weakness. The Apostle Paul did. He begged God three times to remove some sort of debilitating physical weakness, known as the “thorn in his side” from II Corinthians 12. Ask and you shall receive, right? Not in this case. Can you imagine how frustrated he was? Seems ironic. Why would God give him wonderful missionary work and the gift of preaching and teaching and then allow this “thorn?” To serve as a constant reminder for Paul to rely only on His strength. Amazing how Paul did not reject his faith in God simply because God told him no. Paul knew he was still loved.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t always give our best effort when facing challenges, but if God revealed his power just to boost our strengths, we would take the credit for our success. It isn’t about us. When God enters into our weakness, all doubt vanishes. God’s strength comes only when we quit pretending. Only when we let go of the illusion that we are in control. To put it another way, God watches us strive and struggle until we exhaust ourselves and stop resisting. When we are at our worst, God is at His best.
Playing piano always lifts my mood and brings me joy. Although I can read music, I’ve had very little formal piano training. A start up church in Pittsburgh that lacks funding for professional staff musicians relies on volunteers. They had a need, and I eagerly stepped up. At first glance, the hymn they wanted me to play in the key of E flat didn’t look difficult. A few hours of practice was all I needed. An acoustic guitarist was accompanying me. Twenty minutes before the service started, you would have thought my fingers had never felt the keyboard before. I knew the notes on the page, but I suddenly couldn’t hit any of them in the correct sequence or rhythm.
The pastor prayed over us as he does for all musicians before every service. When it came time to play this hymn, another member of the church, who happens to be a professional classical violinist, calmly walked up to the piano, lifted his instrument and began playing the single note melody line. It was beautiful. The volume wasn’t loud, but covered the gaps in rhythm where I was scrambling to find notes. Did the guitarist or pastor beg him to help me just after the prayer, minutes before the service started? He hadn’t been at any other rehearsal. Did the violinist hear me and knew to come to my rescue? All I know was that I was relieved, humbled and a tiny bit embarrassed that I had agreed to do this. But I didn’t berate myself for long, because I knew it was also a lesson. It wasn’t about me giving a perfect performance. When I feel woefully inadequate for what God seems to be asking, I still show up because that is obedience. In my experience, it is only in obedience, through my weakness, that God works a miracle. And I can’t help but feel joy.
What if the little boy didn’t believe that his meager sack lunch of two fish and five loaves of bread wasn’t enough and did not offer it up to God? What if David, while still a shepherd boy with a mere slingshot, didn’t have the courage to face mighty Goliath? Neither were obsessing about their weaknesses. They simply acted in obedience.
It’s a paradox. We want to be strong in our strengths, not our weaknesses. We have to admit weakness before a Holy God in order for Him to fill us with His strength. Our weaknesses become our strength as we surrender to how God wants to use us. I think that’s what Paul meant when he said, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” (verse 10)
Prayer: Father God, I am asking for help in my weakness. Help me to continue to find joy in You as I surrender to Your power. I invite You to fill in the gaps where I am weak and inconsistent and rest in Your love. Amen.