Our Weakness into His Strength
At our recent Staff Prep Day for the 2012-13 Bible school year, I spoke to our staff about our weakness and God’s strength. Here is some of what I shared:
“For anyone who is in Christian service, the feeling of being overwhelmed, under qualified, unprepared or inexperienced is very familiar. In Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring,” Bilbo Baggins tells Gandalf, “I feel sort of thin, like butter scraped over too much toast.” I resemble that remark! And maybe some of you can identify with that feeling as well.
Weakness is not a feeling that I enjoy. And weakness in one area brings to light weaknesses in other areas. The butter gets spread too thin and more and more toast is revealed. Our inadequacies get exposed.
My tendency is to look for ways to hide those weaknesses and avoid situations where my weakness will be exposed. “Play to your strengths!” That’s the advice I have heard and have often given to others. Put yourself in situations where you are guaranteed (or at least have a good chance) to succeed. Avoid those responsibilities or situations where you might risk failure – by others’ standards or by your own standards. That’s the way many of us live, isn’t it?
But all of this is so contrary to what the Bible teaches about the life of service. We want to play to our strengths, and God wants to show Himself in our weakness. We want to avoid all risk of failure, and God wants us to throw ourselves at His feet and trust Him for success.
Stephen Altrogge puts it this way: “…a sense of weakness is a gift from God. It is a painful mercy that drives us to the power of our Lord and away from our delusions of self-sufficiency. And the fact that you experience weakness is often the indicator that you are exactly where the Lord wants you, giving yourself wholly to the work He has called you to do.”
The apostle Paul says basically the same thing in 2 Corinthians when faced with a persistent weakness, perhaps even physical. He writes how he pleaded for God to remove this weakness, but God answered him and said, ““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 12:8-10) Really? Am I to be content with weakness and insult, with hardship and trouble?
Let’s look at an Old Testament example. Moses, that great man of God, had just died and his young assistant, Joshua, was appointed to take over. God talks to Joshua and tells him that he is now in charge of taking the people into the Promised Land. In nine short verses in Joshua 1, God repeats three times the words: “Be strong and courageous.”
What does this command to be strong and courageous imply? First of all, it implies that Joshua didn’t feel strong nor courageous. He most likely felt overwhelmed, under qualified, over his head and under the gun. It also implies that strength and courage were apparently not prerequisites to being called by God, but they were expected to become present once the person was called.
We also see that God commands Joshua to be strong and courageous. How can anyone command such qualities? You don’t just command strength and courage – those are things that are usually developed over a long period of time and effort in the gym and in facing challenging situations.
But God commanded Joshua to be strong and courageous. That implies that these qualities were somehow going to be made available to Joshua. That somehow, with the calling came the essential qualities to fulfill that calling. That implies that when God calls, He somehow also equips.
This is so counter to all that we hear and are taught today about leadership and service. First, you develop the needed resources like strength and courage, and then you work at convincing someone to hire you based on your experience and qualities.
But here, God calls the weak and inexperienced and appoints them to do a task that they are not qualified to do, nor have the strength or courage to do – and He somehow makes these qualities available to them. At least that is how God seems to be working here in Joshua.
And in the New Testament, Paul says that when God calls, He calls the weak, not the strong. He did not call the wise, but the foolish. He did not call the honored, but the lowly. So, God is being consistent in the Old Testament and the New Testament. And my guess is that God is still consistent here today. Do any of you consider yourselves to be significantly strong and courageous? And yet, God did not call someone else. He called you!
Human weakness is never a problem for God, only human strength. Joshua didn’t feel strong or courageous, and that is exactly what opened him up to be strong and courageous. Paul spoke of the weakness he experienced when people and circumstances often drove him to the limits of what he could take: emotionally and physically. His ministry efforts were literally killing him (2 Cor 4:8-12): “Death is at work in us…”
In fact, as Richard Bauckham says, “Anyone who throws himself into the work of Christian ministry of any kind with half the dedication of Paul will experience the weakness of which Paul speaks: the times when problems seem insoluble, the times of weariness from sheer overwork, the times of depression when there seem to be no results…in short, all the times when the Christian… worker knows he has stretched to the limits of his capacities for a task which is very nearly, but by God’s grace not quite, too much for him. Anyone who knows only his strength, not his weakness, has never given himself to a task, which demands all he can give. There is no avoiding this weakness, and we should learn to suspect those models of human life, which try to avoid it.”
Bauckham goes on to say that the people who can keep up the impression of strength can do so because they keep their life well within the limits of what they can easily cope with on their own. Such people are never weak because they are never committed beyond what is safe. But to be controlled by God’s call on our life and Christ’s love for us means that we will inevitably reach the limits of our abilities and experience weakness like Joshua and Paul and all the other heroes of the faith.
Examples of heroism are found in human weakness in the Bible, not in human strength. That’s because the true biblical hero is that person (man or woman) who finds strength and courage not in themselves, but in relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, how do we respond to this principle in Scripture that the Lord calls us in our weakness to find our strength and courage in Him; that He wants us to risk everything and throw ourselves with abandon at His feet and trust Him to do what we cannot do and were never expected to do?
Someone has said, “When you consider your future, don’t look at your past – it will only discourage and depress you, or falsely embolden you – look instead at God’s past (His faithfulness).” Yes, we need confident Christians, but we need to go from self-confidence to Christ-confidence.
As you look at Joshua, his strength and courage are to be found in the promises of God (see Josh 1:3) and the presence of God (see Josh 1:5). In verse 3, God promises: “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, just as I promised to Moses.” God’s promises are always kept. And in verse 5, God pledges His presence: “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.” This promise of His presence is not taken out of context, because Jesus says the same thing to those who are His disciples. God reminds Joshua that He hasn’t changed – He was faithful to Moses and He will be faithful to Joshua – and because He was faithful to Moses and Joshua, He will be faithful to us!
The strength and courage of Joshua were also founded in the obedience to and knowledge of God’s Word (Josh 1:7 & 8). “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
As we abide in the promises and presence of God, and grow in our knowledge of and obedience to God’s Word, we will experience what it means to be effective in leadership and ministry.
This year, my prayer is that we would see the Lord take our weakness and turn it into strength, both as individuals and also as a team. Let’s give ourselves wholly to God’s calling on our lives, working, committing, risking to the point that without God equipping us with strength and courage, we will fail. Then, in our weakness, we will know His strength and He will be glorified.”