When I Am Weak

The Christian life is filled with paradoxes.  Our former pastor Rick Mann used to call these apparent contradictions:  “Upside Down Kingdom Principles.”  They are those spiritual truths that are the opposite of what you might naturally think.  Teachings that make you do a double take.  Things like:  “The first shall be last.” or “To save your life you must lose it.”  Or the one I’ve been pondering recently:

“When I am weak, then I am strong.”

I must admit I’m somewhat embarrassed by my weaknesses.  I’d prefer to hide them, ignore them, deny them.  I don’t understand how weaknesses could possibly be a means of strength.  The way I see it, when I am weak, then I am…weak.

Apparently the apostle Paul felt the same way.  But after having a few heart-to-heart chats with the Lord (three, to be exact) concerning his weakness, Paul did a total turn around.  He now saw his situation in a completely different light.  And an “Upside Down Kingdom Principle” was born:

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 Corinthians 12:9-10, NIV)

I wanted to try and get this principle right side up in my brain.  Because I honestly didn’t get it.  So I prayed for understanding.  I studied and meditated upon this passage.  I liked the way “The Message” translated the first part of verse 9:

“My grace is enough; it’s all you need.  My strength comes into its own in your weakness.”

I’m a big fan of grace.  It appears that weakness, like a magnet, attracts it.  Maybe our weakness really is a blessing in disguise, if it invites grace and shows off God’s strength.  Perhaps this is why Paul could not only endure, but could also exult in his weaknesses:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9b, NIV)

I discovered that the Greek word for “rest on” is episkenoo, which means “to fix a tent or habitation on.”* The Pulpit Commentary explained that a literal translation would be “to tabernacle over.”

This immediately brought to mind the image of the tabernacle, the tent where God’s presence dwelt during the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings.  Robertson’s Word Pictures seemed to agree with this imagery, describing Paul like this:

…as if the Shechinah of the Lord was overshadowing him.”

I’ve heard the word “Shechinah” tossed around here and there, but never really knew what it meant or where the term originated.  Curious, I googled it:

Shechinah:  An extra-biblical expression coined by the Jewish rabbis from a form of a Hebrew word that literally means “he caused to dwell.”**

It was all starting to come together!  I could now see how Paul was able to “glory” in his weaknesses:  Because they revealed GOD’s glory!  God comes and dwells right there.  His grace meets us in our places of weakness, embarrassment, and struggle.  We can rest in the Power that rests on us.  Rather than minimizing Paul’s effectiveness in ministry, his weaknesses were paradoxically the very things magnifying the “Shechinah” glory of God in and through him!

This summer these ceramic lanterns kept catching my eye.  I’d notice them on TV or in the Home and Garden section of a store.  They are rather plain and ordinary, but quite stunning when they’re all lit up.  The openings are where the light gets out.

We are like these lanterns.  We’re nothing fancy, but we have the light of Christ in us.  Our weaknesses are the holes, the cracks that let the Glory out!

If, along with Paul, our life’s goal is to glorify Him, then this begins to make sense:

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  (2 Corinthians 12:10a, NIV)

We can say, “Yes, Lord.”  Yes to weaknesses, challenges, and difficulties.  Yes to gaps, flaws, and cracks.  Yes to plain and ordinary.  If they invite Your grace, if they reveal Your strength, if they manifest Your glory, then we too can delight in saying YES!

For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10b, NIV)

YES!  I am weak, but HE is strong!

Lord, let YOUR glory shine!

 

*The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon

**Source: www.gotquestions.org

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The Star in Our Faults

Star painting

I am weak;
Sinner, still.
Faults exposed,
Heartsick, ill.
 
Head bowed low,
Hand raised high.
Who will free me?
This, my cry.
 
Mercy dawns,
Purest light.
Heaven to earth,
Shattering night.
 
Perfect Life,
Violent death.
Faultless Lamb,
Final breath.
 
Veil now torn,
Victory won.
It is finished!
Love’s work, done!
 
Grace sufficient,
Covers scar.
Faults, forgiven!
Hero!  Star!

 

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25, NIV)

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Earthen Vessels

earthen-vesselThis fall I have the opportunity to teach, for the third time, a class at our church called “Foundations:  Christian Living.”  I’ve known and walked with the Lord for over three decades.  I should have this Christian Life thing down by now, shouldn’t I?

Well, turns out I don’t.

It’s easy to become discouraged when the gap between Who-I-am and Who-I-am-called-to-be appears to widen instead of narrow.  Being confronted with one’s weaknesses and failures at this stage in the game can certainly intensify feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy.  The enemy of my soul knows and loves to exploit this.

Who are YOU to teach a class on the Christian life?  Look at you!  All this time, and you still don’t have it together.  What kind of example are you to these young believers?

These defeating thoughts kept running through my mind last week as the start date of the class approached.  I decided to go for a walk in an effort to clear my head and pray.  So I headed down the hill that leads away from our house, pouring out my heart, confessing my sin, and acknowledging my fears and feelings of inadequacy to the Lord.  As I turned onto a side street, the following phrase entered my mind, clear and succinct, the way I’ve come to recognize God’s voice when He speaks:

We have this treasure in earthen vessels.

I caught my breath.  Tears sprang to my eyes.  I repeated this verse, which is from 2 Corinthians 4:7, over and over as I continued down the dirt road, meditating on the meaning of His words.

We have this treasure…  Jesus… the Pearl of Great Price… the One Thing that Matters… I have Him!

…in earthen vessels…  that’s me all right… weak… flawed… inadequate… unworthy.

See?  Just look at you!  That ‘other’ voice taunted again.  Only now I knew how to respond.

“If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that.” (2 Corinthians 4:7, The Message)

(That last part makes me laugh.)

What if our weaknesses actually create a better backdrop to highlight His power?  The apostle Paul certainly came to accept this as true in his life and ministry:

“Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9b, NAS)

Rather than disqualify us for ministry, what if our flaws even help to enhance our effectiveness?  After all, they keep us humble, honest, and dependent on Him.  Isn’t that the best and safest place to be?

We are earthen vessels, ordinary and imperfect.  God’s only condition for service is that a vessel be clean.  Then He delights to fill and use it to accomplish His purposes.*

He is the Treasure, extraordinary and perfect.  May our weaknesses draw attention to HIS greatness, and our imperfections serve to showcase HIS glory.

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves…” (2 Corinthians 4:7, NAS)

*See 2 Timothy 2:21.

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