Find strength in the most unexpected place.
Our most popular TV shows and movies idolize strength. Against our better judgment, we viewers find ourselves rooting for (fictional) bank robbers, drug lords, and murderers, because they are portrayed as people who were once vulnerable or exploited, but then rose up and overcame the odds. In The Hunger Games, Katniss is confused and helpless against the injustice of the Capitol, but it’s her stubborn strength and determination that carries the day.
This appeals to us. We want to be strong. When something makes us feel slighted, insulted, or inadequate, our natural response usually consists of trying harder, striking back, or making a plan to avoid such an unpleasant feeling in the future. We like to think that, if an emergency arose, we would rise higher–just like the characters in our favorite tales. After all, who wants to be a blubbering mess?
Meanwhile, the Bible tells us that the key to strength is weakness.
Paul told the believers in Corinth that the Lord told him; “my grace is sufficient for you; for my power is made perfect in your weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). These are not the words of some cloistered monk. Paul was the picture of zeal, passionately persecuting Christians until God knocked him off his high horse. Even after his conversion, Paul used very strong language in many of his letters as well as documented public speeches. God deliberately gave Paul a “thorn in the flesh” – a weakness – and refused to take it away, telling Paul instead, You need this. It’s the key to my power working through you and changing lives.
Another popular form of pursuing strength is making plans. Our culture is filled with pressure to have a plan. Plan your high-school path with college in mind; plan your college decisions with a career in mind; make your career decisions with retirement in mind. It gets absurd, and yet we can’t see a way around it. It feels irresponsible not to plan.
God’s message to His people is not “get your act together” or “plan your life.” James says abruptly to those who think they have it all together: “you don’t know what tomorrow will bring…you ought to say ‘if the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’…. You boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil” (James 4:14-16). Jesus points His followers to the lilies, which do not worry about their life or plan their path, but they are created and sustained perfectly, in a beauty unmatched by manmade things.
In the late 1800’s, Charles Spurgeon addressed a trap that the best of us may fall into: “Many servants of God are made to feel their weakness in another way, by an oppressive sense of responsibility…. We may feel our responsibility so deeply that we may become unable to sustain it; it may cripple our joy, and make slaves of us. Do not take an exaggerated view of what the Lord expects of you. He will not blame you for not doing that which is beyond your mental power or physical strength. You are required to be faithful, but you are not bound to be successful.”
What does “being weak” look like in everyday form? It looks a lot like humility. Humility is slippery and easily turns into something contrived; however, when you recognize your own weakness – or, like Paul, you have some form of weakness thrust upon you – a result is genuine humility.
Ann Voskamp, in her book One Thousand Gifts, quotes F.B. Meyer (another evangelist from the early 1900s): “I used to think that God’s gifts were on shelves one above the other, and that the taller we grew in Christian character the easier we should reach them. I find now that God’s gifts are on shelves one beneath the other, and that it is not a question of growing taller but of stooping lower, and that we have to go down, always down, to get His best gifts.” By God’s grace, He allows things into our lives that can keep us aware of our weakness, and thereby keep us humble. We can either fight against them – or we can pause and receive the gift of humility for another day.