The Word Has It
“Strengthen me according to Your word,” Psalm 119:28
MARBC Executive Director
This Issue’s Word: “Weakness”
I have to admit that as I anticipated writing regular columns for the “Baptist Testimony” under the byline, “The Word Has It,” I never imagined using the word “weakness” as a topic. Based upon the current climate that engulfs us it now seems like an appropriate word to use.
As we begin a new year we are facing several significant challenges in our state. It has not been easy to hear our state and its people being referred to by the media and even by our Congress as being “out of touch” and “behind the times.” Such broad generalizations ignore the committed and hard working people who have been and continue to be a significant part of the backbone of our nation. Now it seems that the rest of the country has now caught up with Michigan in terms of difficulties and hardships.
In our travels throughout Michigan, Sharon and I regularly observe the special issues that our churches are facing as a result of these challenges. Some areas of our state have been dealing with hardship now for several years. The churches in these areas bear evidence of the impact of these hardships. Many faithful members have lost jobs that they have held for years. As a result, they are unable to give to the Lord’s work as they have faithfully done in years past. Some church budgets have been significantly reduced. In some cases, churches have had to reduce staff salaries, reduce or suspend missions support, or even face the prospect of being unable to afford a full-time pastor. There is a greater sense of urgency and accountability at this season of the year when churches typically approve new budgets and hold annual business meetings.
One of the greatest temptations during days of difficulty and discouragement is to feel weary and helpless. It may seem as if the only alternative is to throw up our hands in resignation and ask, “Why bother trying?”
In his online devotional, “Thought-For-The-Day,” writer Adam Smith tells the story of a 10-year-old boy who decided to study judo with an old Japanese judo master despite the fact that he had lost his left arm in a devastating car accident. The boy was doing well, so he couldn’t understand why, after three months of training, the master had taught him only one move. “Sensei,” the boy finally said, “Shouldn’t I be learning more moves?” The sensei replied, “This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you’ll ever need to know.” Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy kept training.
Several months later, the sensei took the boy to his first tournament. Surprising himself, the boy easily won his first two matches. The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy deftly used his one move to win the match. Still amazed by his success, the boy was now in the finals. This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced. For a while, the boy appeared to be overmatched. Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time-out. He was about to stop the match when the sensei intervened. “No,” the sensei insisted, “Let him continue.”
Soon after the match resumed, his opponent made a critical mistake: he dropped his guard. Instantly, the boy used his move to pin him. The boy had won the match and the tournament. He was the champion.
While traveling home, the boy and the sensei reviewed every move in each and every match. The newly crowned champion asked, “Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move?” The sensei replied, “You won for two reasons. First, you’ve almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in all of judo. And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left arm.” Incredibly, the boy’s biggest weakness had become his biggest strength.
Those who trust in God should remember that the source of their greatest strength begins by recognizing their own personal weakness. This may be most practically illustrated in Scripture by the apostle Paul. In his very autobiographical letter we know as the New Testament book of Second Corinthians, Paul describes an agonizing personal affliction he calls a “thorn in the flesh” (12:7). He admits that he had begged fervently for God to remove this affliction during three separate seasons of intense prayer.
The particular issue that Paul prayed about has been speculated upon for years. God chose to leave the identity of the issue unknown to us as we read this account, which is no doubt best for us. If the identity of Paul’s personal challenge had been revealed, many of us would have isolated God’s answer to Paul’s prayer to this one particular malady. Instead, we are all allowed to relate to Paul’s prayer burden as well as to God’s answer to the prayer. Refusing to remove the thorn, God instead answers Paul by giving a strong declaration and encouraging consolation, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (12:9)
In a play on words in His response, God declares that His “strength” (the Greek word dunamis, from which we get the word “dynamite”) is made perfect in “weakness” (the compound Greek word neurastenosis, which means “nerve narrowing”). God is saying to His children that the very situations that would cause the normal person’s nerves to narrow with anxiety to the point of paralysis are the conduits through which His dynamic power will surge!
The greatest demonstrations of God’s power have come through men and women who have appeared to be very weak. The Bible regularly illustrates how God is able to work despite the weaknesses of men and women, showing forth his power. Consider, for example, the small in stature David against the mighty giant Goliath. Or what about Gideon, the man of no significant background who is cowering in a barn only to be called out by God as a “mighty man of valor” who leads a greatly outnumbered band of men to victory? And consider the greatest example of all, the Lord Jesus, who comes to redeem humanity by taking on the form of a helpless baby.
God is in control. He is not caught off guard by the events that expose our vulnerabilities. He does not wring His omnipotent hands in heaven over the seemingly random circumstances of our lives. He is eternally good and trustworthy and sovereignly orchestrates every area of our lives for His glory. God relates in Isaiah 45:5-7, “I am the LORD, and there is no other; there is no God besides Me. I will gird you, though you have not known Me, that they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things.”
Recently, in a board meeting of Christian leaders, my pastor friend Pat Nemmers made this statement about the uncertain times that confront us: “When I struggle with doubt in my walk of faith, I remember the statement from Psalms 29:10 – “The LORD sat enthroned at the Flood, and the LORD sits as King forever.” Pat’s testimony from Scripture hit home to all of us who were gathered there to deal with some very difficult issues that demanded wise and tough decisions. First of all, God is in charge at all times and has a perfect plan. Secondly, God will see us through the debilitating times of weakness. Like Paul, we will have to go through those debilitations if God so deems. And in doing so, we will not necessarily know how things will turn out. But we can confidently face them with the promise of God’s grace as our sustenance.
Paul’s response to God’s answer in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 should be ours as well: “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Even during these difficult days those who trust in God can rejoice in the strength of weakness.
You have His Word on it! (KEF)