Finding Our Strength

I think we spend much wasted time trying to protect the identity of our weaknesses—even from our own selves. I’m not suggesting that we wear them on our sleeve, unloading on every person who asks us how we’re doing. But perhaps we need to get real with ourselves and be honest about the image that we are portraying. We all want to be strong. There’s nothing wrong with that. But where do we find our strength? Most of us would agree that the apostle Paul was very strong. But it wasn’t manufactured strength at just the right times. No, it was cultivated throughout his ministry through honest vulnerability. We’re comforted by the fact that Paul had a thorn in the flesh because we see that he was vulnerable like us and he had to wrestle with his own weakness. Paul shares something amazing with us from this struggle. He says:
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
There’s been much speculation about the nature of Paul’s “thorn.” We just don’t know for sure. Yet he does reveal to us if not that thorn, another that I know I can identify with. Paul shares that without this thorn he would be exalted above measure by the abundance of revelations from which he has been blessed. Hmm. Is he admitting here a weakness that targets his own pride? I guess in a sense all weaknesses do that. We want to find strength in ourselves. We want to be strong for ourselves and for others. But our own strength isn’t good enough. Paul gets a reply from the Lord. His grace is sufficient. I don’t know which word to highlight here because this is a lesson I need to constantly relearn. His grace is sufficient. Not whomever I am trying to impress. Not my own power to forgive any offenders to my pride. His grace is sufficient. Because that is my real need in any weakness. Infirmities, reproaches, needs, or persecutions point me to my need for grace. His grace is sufficient. It really is! Mine isn’t. That’s why I feel so vulnerable. His grace is sufficient. It’s not only enough; it is necessary and abundant. That is what I really need. My greatest weakness is looking to everything else for strength. With a feigned confidence, we say that we can rejoice in our weaknesses. Most of the time we are liars. The fact is we coddle them. Is it another’s approval or respect that makes us feel strong? If we look to pleasing others to feel better about ourselves, it leads to dishonesty. Is it our own independence that fuels our strength? We often confuse self-sufficiency with strength. Asking for help or guidance is an uncomfortable vulnerability to avoid at all costs. But the inability to share your weaknesses doesn’t make them disappear. And it really stinks living on your own island with a volleyball as your best friend. Our weaknesses are painful, ugly, and embarrassing. But adversity reveals our faux strength of protection. We might not think we are looking somewhere besides Christ for our strength until he graciously exposes that to us. And it is in our utter humility that we are forced to look to Christ in our bankruptcy. When our weaknesses are made known, we see all the dross of our own pride. Paul boasts in adversity because it points him to his true need. Through adversity his real source of strength is magnified. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” I can’t honestly say that I have come to the place that I boast in my infirmities and that I take pleasure in them. I still find myself making excuses, covering them over, and praying for God to remove them. I suppose praying for God to remove them is the best place to start. Then I actually look them in the face and bring them to the one who is sovereignly in control of my situation. That is where I find my strength. In hindsight I can thank God for humbling me. In wisdom I can see that my strength is found in utter humility.