Weakness = Strength?

One of the many paradoxes in the Bible is this idea: weakness is strength. Lately it’s comin up everywhere in my study, so I’m taking this as a Godcidence that I need to spend some time pondering. This idea comes up in 2 Corinthians, when the apostle Paul talks about his “thorn in the flesh.” We’re not sure what that thorn was — some physical ailment that many scholars believe to be poor eyesight. None of us enjoy putting up with a disability, and Paul prayed over and over to be relieved of this problem, yet it persisted. Finally he comes to the conclusion:

“But he (God) 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 Corinthians 12:9-10

It sounds counterintuitive. How can weakness equal strength? The point, of course, is that when we come to the end of our own ability, understanding or power, we have no choice but to rely upon God. I admit, I’m not very good at this. I like to plan, I like to be in control, I like to be aware of what’s about to happen next. It gives me a sense of security. God has given me some opportunities lately to let go of this need, and depend on Him. I’ve experienced some illness — nothing life-threatening, but uncomfortable and draining; and my husband is about to return from pastoring our church. Both of these circumstances have made it difficult to look ahead and feel sure about what I can or should do. Will I feel well enough to make a trip? Will I be able to continue with a particular ministry? Where will we attend worship services? To all of these questions, the only answer is; “I don’t know.” This is forcing me to live day to day and see what God has in mind.

Here’s a quote from my daily devotional:

“It is possible, I dare say, for those who will indeed draw on their Lord’s power for deliverance and victory, to live a life in which His promises are taken as they stand, and found to be true. It is possible to cast every care on Him, daily, and to be at peace amidst the pressure. It is possible to see the will of God in everything, and to find it, as one has said, no longer a sigh, but a song. It is possible, in the world of inner act and motion, to put away, all bitterness, all wrath, and anger, and evil speaking, daily and hourly. It is possible, by unreserved resort to divine power, under divine conditions, to become strongest, through and through, at our weakest point; to find the thing which yesterday upset all our obligations to patience, or to purity, or to humility, an occasion today, through Him who loveth us, and worketh in us, for a joyful consent to His will, and a delightful sense of His presence and sin-annulling power. These are things divinely possible.” Handley C. G. Moule

I’m not there yet, but I’m trying. What about you?

For more on this topic see these posts:

Surrender to Be Strong?

A Thorn in the Flesh

Grow Through Surrender and Trust

Our Anchor

When I first starting working as a buyer, back in 1972, not only were there no desktop computers, there was no such thing as voicemail!  All of our records were manual copies, kept in a file cabinet.  I didn’t have a cell phone or a microwave.

While technology has improved immensely, I can’t say the same for my physical body.  I’m about thirty pounds heavier, I have to dye my hair to keep the gray away, and I have all sorts of aches and pains I never imagined!

A  Greek philosopher, Heraclitus once said “change is the only constant in life.”  That seems about right.  That’s one of the things that makes life uncertain — it’s impossible to predict what things will be like in thirty or forty years.  Our jobs may become obsolete.  Our health may fail.  Our best friend may move across the country.  There could be wars or climate change or natural disasters.  Who knows?

That’s what makes faith so important.  It gives our life an firm foundation because the truths and character of God are certain.  When everything else around us falls apart, those things remain the same.  In our Hebrews sermon series at church, the most recent sermon centered on this verse:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

There’s a big word for this — immutable.  In the book of Malachi, God Himself tells His people:

“”I am the LORD, and I do not change.”  Malachi 3:6

In other places in the Bible we are told that God’s love is steadfast and His mercy endures forever.  These are just different ways of telling us that we can trust God and rely upon His promises.  He knew us in the womb where He formed us, and He will love and care for us until the end of our earthly lives and beyond.  That’s the one thing we can count on.

“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. ”  Hebrews 19-20

 

For more posts about the unchanging nature of God follow these links:

A Parent Who Never Forgets

Mercy For Today by Jonathan Parnell– Book Review

 

Confession — It’s Good for the Soul

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. ” 1 John 1:8-10

Recently an elderly member of our congregation died.  The “funeral” was not held at the church because the woman’s daughter did not want the Pastor to say her mother was a sinner.  Instead, she wanted a “celebration of life” where her mother’s virtues and accomplishments were lauded.

Don’t get me wrong.  This woman was smart, funny and creative.  She had done many good things for her community, and yes, this deserved to be remembered with rejoicing.  However, as my husband puts it, “if we’re not sinners, the gospel isn’t good news.”  If we’re not sinners, we don’t need Jesus.  If we’re not sinners, we can make it on our own.  The fact that we’re sinners is the starting point for a faithful life.

The verses above tell us that when we deny our sinfulness, we’re living a lie.  Only when we confess and turn to God in true humility, will we begin to experience the freedom of forgiveness.  If you’re a Lutheran, you probably have a point, very early in the worship service, called “Confession of Sin.”  That’s so we come before God acknowledging our unworthiness.  Here’s how the one at St. Paul’s reads:

“Holy and righteous God, merciful Father, we confess to You that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and that we have sinned against You by thought, word and deed.  We have not loved You above all things, nor our neighbor as ourselves, and are worth therefore to be cast away from Your presence if You should judge us according to our sins.”

I don’t know about you, but I know if my heart that I haven’t loved God above all things –in my inner heart what I love best is myself!  And my neighbors?  Well, they’re pretty far down on my list.  I’m much more likely to criticize and complain than love them.  So guess what, that makes me a sinner.  No matter how many good works I do, no matter how many hours I pray, or worship services I attend.

Here’s the good news (also from the liturgy).

“But you have promised, O heavenly Father, to receive with tender mercy all repentant sinners who turn to You and with a living faith seek refuge in Your Fatherly compassion and in the merits of the Savior, Jesus Christ.  Our transgressions You will not regard, nor count them against us.”

Confession is good for the soul.  I need to do it not just weekly, but daily.  It puts me in the right place — depending on God.

Dem Dry Bones

Image result for the dry bones of ezekielHave you ever felt like a pile of dry bones?  I know I have.  There was a time when I became totally exhausted and burned out.  The children were young and my husband had a long commute;  all the responsibilities for the household and everybody in it fell upon me;  my job became increasingly unrewarding and even my relationship with God seemed distant. I kept going, just putting one foot in front of the other, but I wasn’t happy with my life or myself.

What happened?  All I can say is God changed things.  Not in an instantaneous flash of lightening, but through a slow, steady working in my life.  I went on a Marriage Encounter weekend which did a great deal to revive my marriage;  a few years later, I attended a Via de Cristo weekend which revived my soul. Both of those experiences led to small groups and deep friendships that grounded and sustained me. The children grew older and more self sufficient, jobs changed and life turned around.

Have dry bones times come back?  Sure.  However, now I have the experience and  confidence of knowing that if I stick with God, they will pass.  When we’re faithful to Him, He changes things.  Sometimes He changes us!  It’s amazing to see what God can do.  He can even make dry bones live again!

“Behold, I am doing a new thing;  now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  Isaiah 43:19