From Weakness to Strength
By Pastor Jong Duterte
God uses broken things. Broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever. Vance Havner, Christian Reader, Vol. 32, no. 4.
The Apostle Paul was an ordinary man who received an extraordinary calling. Early in his career as a religious zealot he persecuted Christians and tried to destroy their faith. All of that would change when he encountered a blinding light on the way to Damascus. Instead of destroying Christianity he would become its most powerful defender. Preaching and spreading this new faith, rather than stopping it, would be his passion in life. This new direction that Paul took would make him a witness to the deepest revelations, the profoundest insights, and the greatest miracles.
During all these God would give him a reminder of his humanity, something that would keep him humble….
God had looked for a man weak enough, and He found me.
Hudson Taylor, when asked why he was used of the Lord so greatly in China. From the files of Leadership Magazine
PAUL’S THORN IN THE FLESH
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. (2 Corinthians 12:7)
God gave Paul a constant reminder of his weakness. Countless explanations concerning the nature of his thorn in the flesh have been offered: non-stop temptation, difficult opponents, (we often refer to difficult people as our “thorn in the flesh”), unrelieved ailments (such as eye problems, malaria, migraine headaches, and epilepsy), and a speech impediment. No one can say for sure what his thorn in the flesh was, but it was most probably of a physical nature.
Having a weakness is part of being human. These are constant reminders from God that we need Him, and we need others. Weaknesses are something that we must learn to deal with. The nature of our weaknesses may vary. For some it’s an emotional predisposition like having a bad temper or being prone to loneliness and depression. For others it’s a spiritual struggle like learning to forgive or being set free from a sinful habit. While for others it’s physical, like having to deal with a chronic illness.
If having a weakness is part of being human, then it is also part of being a leader. Our weaknesses should not disqualify us for leadership. In fact, having a proper appreciation for our weaknesses can even enhance our leadership.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. Verse 8 (NIV)
It is understandable that Paul would consider this thorn a hindrance to wider or more effective ministry (cf. Gal. 4:14-16) and that he would repeatedly ask God for its removal (2 Cor. 12:8).
How do you deal with your weaknesses?
- Do you ask God for deliverance? That’s what Paul did three times. No one wants to admit that we are weak. So, the first reaction and the easy way out, is simply to ask God to remove it or be delivered from it. Don’t you think it would be easier if we can just pray away our weaknesses and imperfections? But like Paul, God doesn’t always deliver us. We must learn how to accept our weakness and learn to depend on God inspite of it.
- Do you simply deny it? Admitting weakness is almost equal to saying that we need others, and we need God. It’s always difficult to admit that we can’t make it on our own being the “strong, independent” people that we are.
- Do you try to hide it? We have been taught to exploit the weaknesses of others. Knowing the weakness of others always proves to be an advantage, whether it’s a basketball game or a business. By having this mentality, we are very careful not to let others discover our weakness. We want to make the impression that we are strong and we try to hide our weakness.
How God’s Grace Works
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor 12:9-10
- God’s power is best demonstrated against the background of human weakness
As far as God is concerned, weakness has a purpose: that we might rely on the power of God. That’s why Paul would rather boast about his weakness rather than deny it or hide it. His weakness became an opportunity for God to show His strength.
- Rather than removing the problem, God gave him grace in it. This grace is sufficient. (Meaning, it is adequate in the sense of providing contentment).
God doesn’t always give us what we ask for. What He promised He would give us is the grace to be content/peaceful in whatever situation we are going through
- God’s grace transformed Paul’s perspective.
Experiences in his ministry that he would naturally hate, he could welcome supernaturally because the manifestation of Christ’s power in the midst of them brought glory to Him, not Paul. When Paul came to the end of himself, Christ alone was seen. When he was weak, then Christ, by His strength, would make Paul spiritually strong.
WRITTEN BY A MAN WHO WAS WOUNDED IN BATTLE AND WAS NEVER ABLE TO WALK AGAIN
I asked God for strength that I might achieve, I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things,
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy, I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men, I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life, I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for – but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men, most richly blessed
Max Clealand, “Strong at the Broken Places” Lincoln, Virginia: Chosen Books, 1980
How Do We Transform Our Weakness into Strength?
A strength is a weakness if it is not dedicated to the Lord. On the other hand, a weakness is a strength when it is offered to God. Having the confidence to say what’s in his heart was an asset to a preacher in training like Peter. But this asset became his weakness because it made him depend on himself and eventually deny the Lord.
Certain weaknesses are overcome when we recognize that we need to change. Jacob was a schemer all his life. He had learned to do things his way and depend on himself for solutions. God could not work in his life until he had learned to let go of his schemes and ultimately depend on God.
J. H. McConkey once asked a friend who was a physician, “What is the significance of God’s touching Jacob upon the sinew of his thigh?” The doctor replied, “That is the strongest tissue in the human body. A horse could not tear it apart.” “Ah, I see,” said McConkey, “the Lord must break us down at the strongest part of our self-life before He can fully bless us.”
An apparent weakness becomes a strength when redirected. Paul’s passion for persecuting the Christians is considered a weakness but when this same passion was redirected towards proclaiming the Gospel, it became his greatest asset.
One Final Thought
Our world prizes strength—the physical strength of athletes, the financial strength of companies, the political strength of officeholders, and the military strength of armies. But God put a new twist on the notion of strength: weakness can make a person strong if we learn how to depend on God.
What do you need to do with your weakness so that God can use you?
Lord may You be my strength. I ask for Your help for me to rely fully upon You and You alone, not on myself. Empty me of any desire to depend on anything or anyone and fil me with a yearning to trust in You and like Paul declare that “when I am weak, then I am strong”. In Christ’s Name, I pray. Amen.