One of the authors that I hold in highest regard is J.I. Packer. In fact I would consider him to be one of the more important theologians, and critical thinkers, of my lifetime. I was able to download his book Weakness is the Way from Audible.com upon our return from Southeast Asia. I, honestly, had no real clue what the book was about, but had an extra credit to “spend” and chose it just because Packer was the author. It’s a short book and I listened to it in its entirety in two sessions – the final one being a long walk I had by myself. There was a lot to be gathered from this little work focused on 2 Corinthians, but I have been mulling over the idea of something that Packer alluded to.
It was this: (paraphrased in my own words) What if God, in order to bring his children to maturity, actually made them more acutely aware of their weaknesses and inabilities?
Of course he, at that time in the book, was referring to 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:
7 …So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong...
As I continue to think about these verses, I think about how I tended to encourage Christians (when I was a pastor) to be “a strong believer”. I see it and hear it often. And I think the message is morphing into a belief that somehow, someway we are striving for a level of Christianity where we personally are strong enough to “handle” life. Those that struggle and slog through life are made into negative sermon illustrations and, as a result, there is less desire for transparency within the church to admit that one might in fact be “weak”. Add to that an American mindset of “can do” and all of a sudden Christianity becomes all about us “working out” with the spiritual disciplines, fanatically, so that we turn into a Mr. Universe Christian so “muscular” but who can’t practically tie his own shoe strings, or scratch his nose, due to an overemphasis on personal strength & willpower rather than a dependence on the Holy Spirit.
Someone recently made a wisecrack to me about still adjusting culturally back to America and the western world. I am. But not so much culturally as spiritually – although the two are probably inexorably linked. Even today as Angie & I shared about our time in Cambodia with the 4th grade students at Lincoln Elementary, I was asked this question, “How did living in Cambodia change you?” One of the most significant changes was that it showed me, brilliantly, how weak I truly am. Now at first that was incredibly frustrating and maddening. It was humiliating. I was angry at God about it. Paul makes his prayers sound so much more spiritual than mine, but I can guarantee you that I “begged the Lord to take it away“. I was disappointed and frustrated that I wasn’t strong enough as a believer to handle the battles that I faced, the challenges, the spiritual nightmares, the decisions, the “thorns in my flesh”, etc.
And then I purchased this book that Packer wrote on 2 Corinthians.
I began to see that the weakness that God was revealing in me was actually being used by a loving God to make me stronger in my reliance in him. And I think I am just beginning to understand that I am coming to the point to where I can actually begin to talk to others about these things – these weaknesses – but in a way that shows the power of Christ working in me, rather than the old just “choose to do right” and “mind over emotions” and other mumbo-jumbo that we discuss on a regular basis in the church today. Are those things true? Yes. But we’ve written the Holy Spirit out of the equation almost totally.
We have got to the point where we can say, “I can’t but he did, and he will continue to work through me by his power”.
I’m writing this late at night and still kicking the ideas around in my head. These are my initial thoughts and I’d be interested in yours.