This was the message I delivered to Gateway the Sunday after hurricane Ivan slammed into Pensacola in 2004. Now that Fay is blowing and storms of other kinds are blowing in the lives of several of my friends, I thought it would be profitable to revisit this lesson. It is kind of long for a blog- so be warned! 🙂
There are many paradoxes in Christianity about which we should not be surprised. God has called us to be different- to think differently and view things differently and have a heavenly perspective. Therefore when he asks us to love our enemies we can understand it. When he asks us to turn the other check instead of retaliate we can. When we read statements like “the first will be last and the last will be first” we can get a handle on it.
One such similar statement in Scripture is very appropriate, I think, for us to consider now. It is found in the context of 2nd Corinthians 12:1-10. This is a very personal section of Scripture for Paul as is this entire letter. Here he is speaking of his experience as a man, a Christian and an apostle. This entire letter is a defense of his right of apostleship and our context is an explanation of his strength. The paradoxical statement is in verse ten in the last sentence. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” On the surface it makes no sense. To those who do not share a relationship to God in Christ it will never make sense. But to those whose mind is set on the things of the Spirit it speaks volumes- and is a continual source of comfort and power.
In the immediate context Paul is writing about what he calls his “thorn” in his flesh. This is to be understood as some type of physical disability. (Possibly poor eyesight) He asked God to remove it three times, God did not. Rather God increased his grace to Paul to help him deal with it. Paul’s inspired conclusion was that this was “to keep me from becoming conceited.” (vs. 7) He also viewed this weakness as an opportunity for him to rest in and trust in the power of God since his own strength was lessened. This allowed him to view and handle his personal trials- insults, hardships, persecutions, difficulties- in a uniquely heavenly way. That is to actually “delight” in them knowing that these weaknesses were in reality working to strengthen him. Hence the statement, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” His personal physical weakness worked though the assurances of God to strengthen his spirit and personal relationship with God.
Now, do not try to tell me that Scripture is irrelevant and out of date!
Ivan has taken our strength away. This storm has made us weak. Many of us find ourselves facing a new reality- at least for a while- and are left wondering why and what to do next. Paul’s own words and personal experience are speaking directly to us. As difficult as it may be, it is an opportunity to rely on the power of God as maybe never before and witness his strengthening in our life and our church as possibly never before. For sure it is how God wants us to approach the challenges we now face.
And it does not have to be a hurricane to get us here either. And at some point we will all get here. Like Paul, it could be a handicap. It could be a disease, or a divorce, or a death, or a financial crisis, an addiction or an accident, etc. How we deal with it makes all the difference. Paul could have taken a different approach and ended up angry and bitter. So could we all.
God is not asking that we do not hurt and mourn. He is not even asking us to not ask why. He very much wants us to communicate to him all we feel. Paul did not hesitate to seek God’s help with his problem. What he is asking is that we receive his message and his strength. That we allow his power to work in our thorns and weaknesses to produce his will: That we rely on his strength when we find ourselves having none.
Three points and three Scriptures:
- God will not overload us. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1st Corinthians 10:13) His grace will always be sufficient for us in every situation we face. He is that faithful. He will not leave us to face overwhelming odds. His strength will always kick in. Talk about blessed assurance!
- We must always keep our focus on heaven. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is seen is eternal.” (2nd Corinthians 4:17-18 ) This focus helps us understand the paradoxes and keep a godly perspective. It is the “not seen” part that is paramount. Here is where we find God’s strength.
- Then his power will be made perfect in our weaknesses. Back to our context and verse nine. Then we will be able to face down the thorns through God’s grace and even glory in our trails knowing what they are accomplishing in us spiritually.
David said it long ago. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart”” (Psalm 51:7) because he knew too that this is exactly where God begins in us to do his best work- when we are broken and surrendered. “When I am weak, then I am strong.” Later David would add this about God, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)
How about it? Will you give him the chance to work in your weaknesses? Will you approach all of your storms with an understanding that God’s strength will not only get you through but help you triumph? His grace really is that sufficient. And it is available for you right now.