Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Thorny Weakness

So in America and most cultures of the world, strengths are celebrated and weaknesses are viewed as...weak. Whether you're a guy on the football team, a woman in an office full of men, a man who just bumped his head, or a girl on a cheerleading team, you don't want to appear weak. Being strong, even appearing strong, is the way to get ahead. Looking weak isn't.

This is why when we bump our head or accidently trip, we want to say, "I'm good." It's why bodybuilders with skinny legs don't wear shorts. It's why we rarely use an unflattering pose for a Facebook profile pic.

In Christ, weakness is an opportunity for God. Our weakness actually can work for us and our strengths can work against God. Make the most of your strengths? This might be true in the workplace or on the football team. But in Christ, make most of your weakness.

In 2 Corinthians 12.9, Paul is given something. He compares this gift to getting stuck with a thorn. 
Here's the thing about thorns: it doesn’t take a big one. If you’ve ever wandered into a briar patch, handled a rose, you know it doesn’t take a big one. The smallest thorn is irritating.

What was it? We don’t know exactly. (Leave it at that. No need to speculate.) But verse 10 gives us clues:  insults, hardships, persecutions, difficulties. 
  •  Insults – to be on the receiving end of words or actions that are rude or insensitive – that mean to offend
  •  Hardships – things that happen to you that you can’t avoid; your lot in a season of life.
  •  Persecutions – when you become a target because of your faith in Christ, passed over for a promotion, or ostracized in family, or other.
  •  Calamity – affliction; “narrow space” like between a rock and a hard place.

What it isn’t: not a behavior, like “He’s got a weakness for ice cream." Or, "She has a weakness for the home shopping network.” Rather, these are weaknesses that result from things that happen to us, circumstances, situations, challenges you were born with beyond your control—weaknesses that we would gladly change if we could.[ii]

  • You wish you could grow another foot tall and have an imposing stature. But all the men are short in your family. Or, you’re no beauty queen and you’d change that if you could. Or, you're insulted for being shy, or not smart. 
  • You were raised in a dysfunctional home, or you have kids with physical challenges, or you're caring for a family member with mental illness; or maybe a sadness seems to hang over you; a sexual coldness in your marriage partner; or you lost a baby at nearly full-term.
  • You've been ostracized by family because you don’t embrace the family religion.
  • You're between a rock and hard place; a husband that can’t keep a job, denied health coverage, mounting debt from sickness; a child you gave up at birth because you had to yet there is that relationship with your child that you long for.

These are all things that make you weak or appear weak, and you want to be strong. Maybe you say, "I just want to get on the other side of it." Paul wanted to get rid of his weakness, too, whatever it was. But God said, “My grace is sufficient for you.”  Paul asked three times for the thorn to be removed. It could’ve been a physical problem, a people problem, or an internal battle with no end in sight. Whatever it was it continued. God’s answer was not thorn removal but thorn survival--sufficient grace. Paul wanted the thorn out, but he also wanted greater grace. God answered the “more grace” prayer with an unwelcome gift, a thorn. 

We want life to be without thorns. “God take away this thorn.” And we pray and pray again. Paul prayed three times. Nothing wrong with praying to be delivered from the thorn. But God sometimes says, “I’m not going to deliver you from the thorn. I’m going to deliver you through the thorn.” The grace is equal to the thorn. It is... SUFFICIENT. ENOUGH.

'Enough' doesn’t mean there is an abundance. It means 'sufficient for the need.'

And here's the truth. There’s never been a believer in history who dealt with a weakness, a hardship, a calamity, who could say, “What I faced was so severe that it emptied God’s grace tank and I was stranded by God.” That never happened. It never will! [iii]

Have you prayed that God would reveal His grace in your life? I’m not talking about grace that forgives your sins and doesn’t give up on you. I’m talking about grace that doesn’t give out on you. God wants to reveal that kind of grace in you. But here’s what He says, “It comes with thorns.”

The prettiest flower is often known as the rose. And a rose grows with thorns. There are no true roses without thorns—unless they’ve been genetically altered. 

The most beautiful grace comes with thorns. As the preachers I grew up under used to say, "You can’t have a testimony without a test. Can’t have a crown without a cross. Can’t have a victory without a fight." And you can’t have grace that doesn’t ‘give out’ without thorns. 

God has a message for you: Don’t despise your weaknesses—the insults, the hardships, the persecution, the calamity—even though you’d avoid it all if you could. Your weakness is the place of sufficient grace.

[i]This statement is adapted from a blog by J.D. Greear, “Are you weak enough for God to use you?”  (Accessed 5/13/2017)
[ii]This paragraph an adaptation of John Piper’s comments on this text, “Christ Power is Made Perfect in Weakness,” (Accessed 5/13/17)
[iii]Adapted from an idea I got from a statement by Tony Evans, Life Essentials for Knowing God Better, Experiencing God Deeper, Loving God More [Moody Publishers, 2007], 84.

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