Trust for the shape I'm in.
The Apostle Paul wasn't a pessimist or a negative person. By all biblical accounts he wasn't comfortable in the darker emotional sides of life. We know he lived in a dangerous, threatening world and often experienced the mean streets of being a Christ follower. He had scars and evidences of hard living. Scribbled in the margins of his honestly written accounts, however, are notations of encouragement, joy, peace, hope, gratitude, and personal strength. In one thrilling letter he wrote what could be considered his most perplexing and confusing confession: "when I am weak, I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10, ESV). You see, Paul understood the concept of weakness in it's broadest context. He knew that humans are basically spiritually weak, and can experience occasions of emotional and physical weakness as well. His oxymoron about being weak and being strong addresses his understanding of trust. When we are at the ends of self we can trust God. Ah, yes! Then we are strong.
Paul had lived much of his life under the delusion of spiritual strength. As a Pharisee and son of a Pharisee he knew the perks of position in the ancient Jewish world. That he was a persecutor of the early Christian community testifies to his first-hand experience of what he thought was spiritual strength. When he met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus he began a reversed learning curve that dispossessed him of such notions. Everything he had valued as worthy became meaningless. He counted everything as loss compared to knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8, ESV). What he had seen as strength became rubbish. Suddenly, he knew the absolute weakness of the human condition even with the advantages afforded him by privilege. He learned that we humans can accomplish nothing spiritual without the abiding Christ.
The confession of discovering strength in his human weakness is a profound lesson for spiritually weak humans. In his previous life Paul practiced a works oriented system to establish and maintain personal meaning, worth, and strength. The new Paul understood that his natural, innate spiritual weakness was an occasion to rely and depend on the strength provided by God. He had moved self out of the way so that he could trust God in every area of life. This is the only remedy for human spiritual weakness. In this sense, when we are weak, we are strong. Acknowledging human weakness is the doorway to a trusting reliance on God's provision of strength for every occasion of human experience. His entire thought about this miracle is encouraging, and challenging---
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 of my weaknesses, so that the
power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with
weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then
I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV
The encouragement is that the Father's grace is sufficient for us. Paul understood this trust element as a certainty of his grace---the grace that saved him and the grace that sustained him daily. This grace gave him the strength to endure the thorn in the flesh he prayed three times for God to remove. The challenge is for self-centered humans to allow the power of Christ to rest upon us and therefore be the source of our strength. This challenge extends in human experience when we become content in the rigors of life, especially those connected to the living out of our faith.
Is redemption possible to weak humans? Yes, only through the provision of his grace. Are we weak humans able to navigate real life, that is, a life where doubt, uncertainty, sinful behaviors, relational crises, parenting, careers, living in a secular world, and so many other intrigues confront and test everything we believe? Once again, the answer is yes, without doubt. But, trusting the power God provides in Christ is our only escape from the spiritual weakness that defines our species in those circumstances.
The trust thing is my greatest daily challenge. Like so many others, especially us boomers, my tendency in times of trial or hardship is to work my way through them, to devise clever answers for my predicaments, slick maneuvers and leadership grids and programmed steps around the mystifying realities of twenty-first century life. When I am weak there are usually strength calisthenics or training exercises to equip me for the road forward. Like Paul I ultimately discover the flimsiness of my systems. This human frailty is one of the lingering realities of those of us in the "Between 65 and Death" stage of life, the elephant in our bathtub. God's grace empowers us to shoulder these changes of mind and body with certainty and strength.
That's when he shows me, again, the trust for the shape I'm in. And, that's the real deal when spiritual weakness comes knocking.
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