If I feel adequately prepared for a task, I won’t rely upon the power of Christ to help me. When I don’t feel weak, when I don’t know that I really am weak, I don’t seek the power of Christ. This is the downside to our view of our own strength—it can block the flow of the power of Christ to us. I can make my marriage work; I can raise great kids who love God; I can do ministry effectively; I can be successful in life; I can beat my moral weakness; I can reach all my goals in life. I can . . .
As long as we assume that we can handle a task—any task—by ourselves, God may step back and let us have a go at it.
Why would any intelligent person (and Paul was certainly that) boast about their weaknesses? They highlight the very things we would most like to hide. Paul boasted because he realized something that we need to learn: Our weaknesses are the channels through which God often shows His power in our lives.
It is difficult, even painful, to admit that we’re not great spouses (or parents or children or coworker or friends) or that our abilities aren’t as impressive as we always believed they were. Most of our weaknesses are jealously guarded secrets that the whole world already knows.Just think of all the areas in which we expect ourselves to be strong. The first thing we need to learn (or remember) is that weakness is not failure—it is simply weakness, a standard experience for all of us.
Keep in mind that both weakness and power existed side-by-side in Paul’s life. The same thing was true of our Lord. Weakness and power existed in Jesus simultaneously. Isn’t the cross the ultimate example of power being perfected through weakness? “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (philippians 2:8).
Let’s explore another counterintuitive, countercultural statement made by the apostle Paul. “If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness” (2 corinthians 11:30). It is only with great difficulty that we try to understand this passage. Was Paul engaging in hyperbole? Was he writing these words merely for effect?
Paul’s goal was not to draw attention to his shortcomings (or his humility), but rather to shine the spotlight on the place where God’s power was going to show up most obviously. God had taught Paul that His power would be evident in his weakness, and Paul wanted to experience the power of God.
Most us of don’t mind admitting certain weaknesses because they pose no threat to our pride or sense of self-sufficiency.
“I’m no longer the athlete I once was.”
“I’m a little heavier than I used to be.”
“My memory’s not what it used to be.”
These are safe, easy (almost), admissions, usually even made with a bit of a smile. As long as we feel sufficiently strong or competent in another area—typically one that we feel is more significant—we don’t feel threatened by admitting weaknesses in “safe” areas. But there are two considerations we need to keep in mind. On the one hand, this is simply a willingness to admit weaknesses. Paul speaks of boasting about them, of pointing them out to others on purpose and with a purpose, and even with a strange pride. On the other hand, these are things that generally do not have a strong bearing on either our sense of identity or self-worth.
Why is it so hard for us to admit—to say nothing of boasting about—our deep and serious weaknesses? Perhaps it’s because we feel it will threaten our self-image.
Most, if not all of us, use our self-image as a protection for our ego. But Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans that wisdom begins with thinking rightly about ourselves. “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (romans 12:3). We hide our weaknesses from others because we think they will affect the way others view us, and we want to make a good impression, and because we think God wants us to feel strong because we’re Christians!
This last idea is most often a result of misunderstanding a popular verse: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (philippians 4:13). The part we tend to focus on is the “I can do all things” part, not the “through Him who strengthens me.” I suppose many of us have a “can do” attitude, which is why we are attracted to the first half of the verse and are confused by the second. Since we’re Christians, we certainly ought to be stronger than the average person—after all, we have God on our side, plus the Bible and the church.
Yet, the only time Paul said “I am strong” was right after he had said, “for when I am weak.” We may not feel weak, and we may not look weak, which is often our greatest problem. If we feel strong in ourselves, we will come up empty when we look for the power of God in our lives. When our successes are easily explainable by pointing to our training, methodology, talents, or circumstances, the results may be weak precisely because they do not clearly demonstrate the power of God.
God is not waiting for us to become weak, but to realize, admit, and accept our weakness, and then to ask for His power and watch Him work.This isn’t easy; it means we need to unlearn some behaviors and learn new ones.
When a situation arises in our life that is a problem, a challenge, or a calamity, we usually react in a certain way. We’ve developed habits we may not even realize. Let’s visit that for a moment. Before we can start to do something different, we need to learn how to change our first reactions.
How do you react? Some react negatively:
I quit! I’m not up to this.
I’ll never survive this.
I’m going to be destroyed by this.
I’m going to fail!
This is just impossible!
I can’t beat this.
I can’t bring myself to do this.
Others react positively:
I can handle this.
This won’t beat me.
I’ll figure this out.
I believe in myself.
This is just a speed bump.
I’m not going to fail!
I will survive!
Each of us has a default reaction in most situations. Some of us are positive, we-can-beat-this kind of people; others of us are negative, I’ll-never-beat-this kind of people. Some react with confidence in their abilities; others react with skepticism and trepidation. Oddly neither response is correct.
You see, either way we are focusing on ourselves, not on God and what He might want to do in this situation. Both reactions are difficult to overcome. When you’ve learned to quit, to surrender, to imagine failure in all you do, your eyes are constantly on your weakness, not His power. When you’ve learned to think positively, to believe in yourself and your own ability to succeed, your eyes are constantly on your own power, not on God’s. In both situations we are finding the answer to the test or challenge within ourselves—forgetting God and His power that is available to us.
In our weakest moments God can deliver us in a mighty way, and in our strongest moments He can do far beyond what our puny human strength and giftedness can accomplish. However we might feel, or whatever pose we might strike, we are weak and powerless before almighty God. Whatever our first reaction is to weakness or challenges, if it isn’t seeking Him and His power first and foremost, we need to change.