I don’t remember when I first read it, or the circumstances that were involved. But I remember the impact.
As a young Christian, I wanted to do my best for Jesus. I wanted my gifts and abilities and strengths to be used by God in ways that brought about real transformation in people’s lives.
I think my ambitions were honorable. Certainly they were tainted by my stubborn and resilient flesh. My motives were never 100% pure. But I was committed to stewarding my gifts to serve Jesus.
Until I read 2 Corinthians 12.
You’ve no doubt read the passage. Paul tells the people in the church in Corinth about some experience he had that he doesn’t fully explain and that we don’t fully understand. Something about visions and revelations and being caught up “to the third heaven,” whatever that means.
We may not understand what he’s describing, but we understand how such a remarkable, unusual spiritual experience could leave a person feeling unusually blessed or honored. And we understand how unusual blessings can quickly devolve into pride, boasting and a sense of smug spiritual superiority.
Paul understood the danger. He writes to the Corinthians about how, because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations he had experienced, God used some kind of adversity – a “thorn in the flesh,” he calls it, to keep him from becoming conceited.
No one prays for adversity. No one relishes it when we face it. And Paul is just like us. He asked God to remove the thorn.
God answered Paul’s prayer. His answer was “no.”
And we ought to remind ourselves, as Paul did in his letter, that when God answers our prayers with a “no,” it is an act of love and grace. God’s good “no” to your prayer is always better than the yes you were hoping for. He knows what you need. And when what you need is not what you want, He gives you what is best. That’s grace.
But here’s what I read so many years ago that has not only stuck with me for decades, but has changed how I approach my walk with Jesus.
God told Paul, and by extension all of us, that His grace is sufficient for us, because His power is made perfect in our weakness.
When Paul realized that when he is weak, needy, depleted, overwhelmed, anxious, afraid, in turmoil or facing hardship, he has an incredible opportunity. He can be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might (Ephesians 6:10). And when we are weak, and God is strong in and through us, then He gets the glory for our victory.
So, Paul concludes, “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.”
It’s crazy, right? When we’re weak, we’re strong? That’s upside down.
Exactly. Tim Keller says that’s the Kingdom God rules over and where we live. The Upside Down Kingdom, where “Strength is weakness, and weakness is strength.”
Keller says “Let’s admit it. When have you really come to know yourself? When have you really come to meet Christ? When have you really come to get connected with God?”
“It’s not when you’re rich, happy, laughing, or included. It’s the opposite.”
In our strength, we can function easily and separately from God. That’s the problem. We’re like children who have learned to ride a bike and who cry out “Daddy, look at me! Look what I can do!”
But God is glorified not when we’re showing off all the things we can do. He is glorified when we’re saying “God, I’m in over my head. I can’t do this. I need you.” That’s when He draws near. And when, in our weakness, He becomes our strength.
In what areas of your life are you depleted, exhausted, overwhelmed or on the edge of defeat?
I’ve been there. And in the times when I have embraced my weaknesses instead of trying to run from them – when I have purposed to be faithful and obedient even when I’m empty or overwhelmed – God has drawn near. And in my weakness, He has been shown to be strong.
His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay
On Christ the Solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
If you weren’t in church this past Sunday, you can still go back and view our worship service and our annual business meeting. The link for the video is here. Or you can download or stream Sunday’s message or the audio from the business meeting.
I told you on Sunday that our hope is to work with our contractor to build a facility that will help establish us as a rooted and not a transient gospel outpost in Little Rock. A home that can provide better facilities for our children and for the children in other families we would hope might join us in ministry. A facility that will be more welcoming and accommodating for unchurched or occasional churchgoers who need to hear and better understand and embrace God’s good news.
And I asked you to consider three things. If you’re not currently giving to support the ongoing work of our church in this community, would you ask God if He wants you to start giving? And if you are currently giving regularly to our church, would you ask God if you should be giving more? Finally, would you ask God to give you an amount you can begin praying for, asking Him to provide some unexpected additional funds that you could cheerfully and joyfully give to help defray the cost of the new building?
I had a friend share with me to day that she and her husband both sensed God was giving them the same number to start praying for. And I’m excited to see in the days ahead what our God will do as we seek to move forward in faith to a new location for our weekly worship services and our other church meetings.
Finally, if you have questions or concerns or thoughts about the new building, we’d love to hear from you. Send an email to any of the elders or let’s set up a time to talk.
Did you pick up the new Summer Activity Calendar at church on Sunday? If not, be sure to grab one this week.
We have plans this summer for some special activities for our children. Plans for a Redeemer Night with the Travelers in July. And plans for a church wide baptism this summer as well.
Have you been baptized since you became a follower of Jesus? If not, consider that God calls us follow His example and to be baptized as a way of publicly declaring that our sins have been washed away.
If you have never been baptized, can I encourage you to take that important step of obedience? Contact me or any of the elders so we can set up a time to visit with you and make plans to include you in our baptism service this summer.
And of course, don’t forget the ice cream and movie night on Sunday, June 11.
We’ll be showing a new feature length movie called Like Arrows: The Art of Parenting. It’s a film I’ve helped write and produce this year. And I’m excited for you to see it and to get your feedback.
We’ll meet at church at 6:30 for ice cream sundaes. And the Kids Small Group team will be on hand to keep the 12 and under crowd busy while we show the movie.
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