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