The Upside-Down Reality of Weakness

The Upside-Down Reality of Weakness

Paul’s life was a constant reminder that his own strength could accomplish very little.  That dang thorn in his flesh never gave him much wiggle room.  I imagine Paul trying to take a few steps in his own power, in some self-reliant deviance, only to fall face-down, back into dependence on his Maker. 

Paul, I feel you, brother. I keep forgetting this God-dependence thing, and I keep trying to walk in this soul-amnesia.  I foolishly think that I can stand on my own two feet and white-knuckle through this life in my own feeble strength.  As soon as I start to act a little cocky, wobbling along in my own power, I receive a sucker-punch to the gut, and find myself trembling on my face, totally helpless in the presence of my own thorns in the flesh. 

And there you are, saying, “I will boast in my weaknesses, for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  And here I am, asking, “what in the world is this upside-down kingdom about, where we praise God for our weaknesses, and glory when we reach the end of ourselves?” 

What counter-intuitive calculations lead us to the conclusion that the meek shall inherit the earth; that those who weep will rise in joy; that when I am weak, then I am strong; that the poor inherit the kingdom of heaven; that the King of the universe came into the world in a cattle stall? 

And yet, here-in lies our hope: Paul asked three times for healing, and God said, “MY grace is sufficient for you, MY strength is perfected in your weakness.”  So Paul, head bowed and hands raised in submission, said, ” I surrender.” 

So here I am, flat on my back, at the end of myself, reminded for the 134,582nd time that I am, indeed, weak.  And, Paul, you say this: 

Most gladly, therefore, I will boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. I am well content in weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

I will celebrate in my weaknesses for this reason: They create space in my life for the power of the Almighty God.  And I will be content in my suffering for this reason: it opens me up to deep communion with my suffering Savior. 

And yes, Paul, we can laugh together along with rest of beat-up, face-to-the-floor humanity, because in Christ, all of this mess is simply grace. 


How Long, oh Lord…

“How long, oh Lord, will the depression grip my soul…”

The Psalmist sets an example for us in his expression of pain.  Why is it permissible to bemoan external adversity but not okay to cry out in the internal  battle?  Why is the external battle something that is done to us, but somehow the internal battle is a weakness or flaw in our own character?  I love the Psalms because they are raw about the internal struggles:  The depression, the anxiety, the inner demons.  And they still made the cut.  They made it into the Holy Word of God.   It is okay to cry out in despair.  And sometimes that despair is not our fault, just like the external tragedies are not our fault.  No one says, “well, maybe if you pray enough and have enough faith, you can undo the car accident that killed your wife.”  But for some reason, it is entirely permissible to say such things about internal trials.  No one is pointing fingers at the lamenting Psalmists.  No one is saying, “you must have brought this on yourself.”  I have a feeling that God is completely okay with the agony expressed throughout this book. I actually think that it probably delights His heart.

There is certainly a line between wallowing and crying out,  but crying out and communicating the agony of internal unrest is not always simply self-indulgence.  Sometimes, that is what we are called to do.  It is okay to be honest about what’s going on internally.  It is also okay not to always have to paint a pretty picture of our lives.  Sometimes, our lives seem pretty hideous. 

“How long, oh Lord….” 

He hears the heartfelt prayers.  He sits with us in our pain, and in doing so, He reminds us of His greatness, so we can say, “But I trust your lovingkindness, and my heart shall yet rejoice.”  He doesn’t redirect us to His goodness through lectures or chastisement or shame, but through His loving presence in our honest pain.  And then our exclamation of His faithfulness is not one of duty, but of deep conviction, “For God has been good to me.”