When was the last time you recognized your own weakness? Was it chronic health issues, conflict at school, problems at work, giving in to that sin yet again, a fight with your spouse, or your child’s outright rebellion that left you hopelessly deflated, discouraged and feeling weak? When you sense your weakness, where do your mind and heart go?
Having spent the past three years dealing with chronic pain while transitioning to a foreign country, a husband beginning full time ministry, and the addition of a second child with difficult health, I came face to face with the reality of my weakness. Here’s what I learned:
- that my flesh would prefer to appear self-reliant than see a glimpse of my weak state and need for help outside myself
- that I listen to myself more than I preach truth to myself,
- and that I believe the lie that I would be more effective for the kingdom if I wasn’t so weak.
But these aren’t the words or logic of Scripture. God’s Word tells us what happens to those who recognize they are weak: they get saved. God takes pity on the weak and needy to save them from death (Psa. 72:13), choosing them in order to shame the wise and strong (1 Cor. 1:27). Those who are strong in themselves have no need for a Savior.
Our reality is not that we are all-powerful people who experience moments of weakness but WE ARE totally weak people with an all-powerful Savior!
The Apostle Paul, faced beatings, imprisonment, sleepless nights, hunger, riots, lashes, robbery, stoning, and shipwrecks (6:1-10; 11:23-29), attacks on his Gospel ministry to the Corinthians by “super apostles” (AKA false teachers), culminating in this statement:
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh… Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 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 Cor. 12:7-10)
It is a lie from the devil to believe that God only uses those who are naturally put together, shiny, pretty and strong. Weakness then becomes an obstacle and deficiency. We make “weak” out to be a bad word. Paul says it’s the grace of the Lord protecting him from conceit, showing that he IS weak, SO THAT the power of Christ may rest upon him.
So what do we do after we acknowledge the presence of weakness? Run and hide? Cover it up with some spiritual make up? Quite the opposite…
Boasting Publicly, Gladly, and In Christ
Paul modeled what we ought to do with weakness when he said: “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” and “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.” (2 Cor. 11:30, 12:9-10)
In Weakness is the Way, JI Packer sums this up well: “When circumstances seem to conspire to make and leave you weak, Christ always intends that you should turn to him and find new strength…as our discipleship continues, God will make us increasingly weakness-conscious and pain-aware, so that we may learn with Paul that when we are conscious of being weak, then – and only then – may we become truly strong in the Lord. And should we want it any other way?”
So what characterizes Christian boasting?
It is public. Rather than hide or minimize – let others hear and see your weakness. I can’t stress how counter-cultural this is. It is counter-humanity, actually. I am tempted to do what I can to manage and downplay my weakness from the full view of others. But I have seen how admitting my weakness to my husband has encouraged his leadership and shown my children that repentance is better than self-righteousness. I have also seen fruit from sharing my weaknesses with sisters in the church. I am the recipient of their help as they protect me from sin, cover me with prayer, speak God’s Words back to me, and love me in practical ways. I’ve seen the church grown, as weak and fallen vessels like us share openly of our weaknesses to the family of God and then let HIS marvelous Spirit lead us in service to one another. Lastly, do non-Christians around you hear you speak of your need for a great Savior because you are profoundly weak?
It is done with gladness! If we are under the illusion that we are in control and strong in ourselves, we are enslaved to a safety net as strong as cotton candy. Boasting in our weakness should free us from despair and lead us to dependence on Christ’s power – the very power that resurrected Him from the dead. Let us gladly boast that we are freed from enslavement (Lk. 4:18-19), spared from God’s just wrath (Jn. 3:36; Rom. 5:9), and adopted as needy children (Eph. 1:5) by a Father who LOVES giving good gifts and meeting needs.
Finally (and most importantly), we boast in Christ! C.S. Lewis talked about how we praise that which we delight in and enjoy – a good restaurant, memories, dear friends, a great novel, etc. Let us fulfill our delight in Christ by boasting of His love, which transforms weak vessels like us into trophies of His grace.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)
“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal. 6:14a)
Boasting in our weakness and God’s perfect power is a means of grace by which God’s divine strength will rest on us, enabling us to carry out his commands with deep joy. Imagine what the local church would be like if we all embraced the Biblical understanding of weakness and boasted in our dependence on God’s strength alone for Christian maturity!
And I love singing my boasts as well, echoing with the hymnist as I sing words like these:
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, love and power.
Let not conscience make you linger, not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth is to feel your need of Him.