With tears in his eyes and as much attitude that he could muster, my six-year-old son looked at me, flexed his right bicep, and yelled, “I’m as strong as a bear!” He took a pillow smash in the face from his older brother and it hurt. He just didn’t want anyone to know it. I tried to comfort him and intervene but he wasn’t interested. He just wanted everyone to know how strong he was.
He spent all night preparing a sermon he thought would mark a turning point in his church. He preached it with passion, then punctuated it with a well rehearsed song. When the appeal was made, no one responded. It was like God slept in that Sunday. What happened?
2nd Corinthians 12:9-10 says, “Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Our weakness is the condition that allows God to work! He works in us and through us when we are weak. Every time I read this passage I’m amazed. “My power works best in weakness.” He didn’t say, “My power works best when your strong.” or “My power works best when you keep your chin up.”
Paul didn’t say that the power of Christ worked through him because of his speaking ability, education, ministry budget, musical talent, new sound system, or Bible software either. I’m not against those things but it floors me how many ministers will spend five hours preparing their message and five minutes preparing their heart.
It’s our weakness that drives us to our knees. It’s our weakness that keeps us centered on Jesus. It’s our frailty that allows Him to comfort us, heal us, and give us wisdom when we’re hurting or afraid.
In ministry, it’s the awareness of how feeble we are that keeps us fully depending on God to move, instead of using our talents to manipulate people to respond to our message. When we realize how truly useless we are without Him and cry out to him for help, then He can move in and do what only He can do.
So be free to be weak. You really aren’t as strong as a bear. Your abilities, talents, and budget are needed and are good things, but they really won’t change the world. When we stop flexing our muscle, God will flex His. And when He flexes… it changes everything.
Ever feel like God is far away? You know, you pray but don’t feel his presence, ask for direction but don’t hear a thing, read and nothing jumps out at you. It feels like your life is a long walk down a desert road with no life on the horizon. I know, I know that sounds terribly depressing but we all go through it from time to time. I know I have! My prayer journal is filled with pages of complaints to God about his alleged silence.
One thing I’ve learned about these times is that they are always growth experiences. It’s difficult to say that because it feels so trite. “Growth experience” is such an overused expression and not every difficult circumstance is brought our way to help us grow. Sometime stuff just stinks. The thing is, I’ve never gone through a “dry time” and not been able to look back and see how God stretched me and caused me to mature.
I was reading in scripture today about a great king who experienced such a time. 2nd Chronicles 32:31 says, “However, when ambassadors arrived from Babylon to ask about the remarkable events that had taken place in the land, God withdrew from Hezekiah in order to test him and to see what was really in his heart.” It was a test. God was withdrawing from Hezekiah to see how he would testify about his circumstances when the feelings of God’s presence and blessing weren’t there. As my old friend used to say, “You can’t have a testimony without a test.”
One thing is for sure. Dry times, seemingly unfruitful times, even times of crisis will reveal what is truly in our hearts. Will we stay committed to pray when we don’t feel his presence? Will we continue to read His Word when we’re not getting revelation? Will we stay faithful to His calling when it seems like we’re not producing fruit? Will we obey and stay steady when we don’t know which direction He wants us to go? Will we praise Him and confess His goodness when He seems distant an indifferent? Will we humbly give Him the glory when we experience success?
The truth is God’s greatness, His love, and His goodness have absolutely nothing to do with how we feel. Whether we feel like he’s near or far, He has promised not to leave or forsake us. We can pass the test when we know beyond our emotions how truly, deeply in love He is with us. We can praise Him in good times and bad simply because He loves us and He is good, always, even when our perception of goodness clashes with His. When we hold that tightly, in the core of who we are, then we can say as Job did, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” (Job 13:15)
For a long time I’ve believed that the truly hard things in Life were the “big” things. You know, taking that missions trip, making that financial pledge, praying like crazy every day. Something really adventurous might be starting a ministry or learning a new skill. Lately I’ve come to realize that those things aren’t really that hard at all and that the things I once considered no brainers are actually quite soul-wrenching. Here are a few examples of what I mean…
Forgiving others. Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to truly forgive someone? We say the words but the pain is still there. Letting go of the bitterness, anger, and feelings of betrayal can feel exhausting at times. These things are like the neighborhood cat that won’t stay away from your house! You get rid of them, and you never hear them sneak back up on you.
Letting dreams go. Eventually, we have to just let some dreams die. The truth is, there is only so much room in our lives and, if we’re going to be faithful in the position God has placed us in, we have to let some things go. Let’s face it, can we really be a good father, husband, or whatever and still pursue all our “great ideas”. That’s not to say some dreams aren’t God given and He will give them back to us, but the right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing.
Trust. Do we really trust God with everything? We’ve sang about trusting, declared our dependence, and spoken confidently about giving everything to Him. The truth is, we don’t mean it. When the rubber hits the road and a real life choice is before us, we chicken out, rationalize, or make excuses. We hold on to relationships we don’t belong in, we stay in jobs that aren’t right for us, and we hold on to our money because we’ve financially overextended ourselves.
Be loved. Why is allowing ourselves to simply be loved so difficult? Here we are the very center of Abba’s affection and we won’t just let him lavish His love on us. How do we do this? I’ll tell you how…
By forgiving others, we allow God to heal the pain they’ve caused us. We release them from judgment and His love just seems to settle on us like a tailored coat.
Letting go of our dreams allows God to lead us in new directions. He longs to take us by the hand and walk with us to new places.
Trust is the truest sign of love. As we trust God with everything, I mean really truly, holding nothing back everything, we experience God’s love in a whole new way. Trusting God is like saying, “I receive your love. Let’s do life together!”
The great thing about receiving God’s love is that it makes it so much easier to love other people. It’s unselfish love because it doesn’t have to be returned or reciprocated. It doesn’t have to be returned because no love, that any person gives us, can be compared to The Father’s love.
So choose to do the hard stuff. Forgive, let go, trust, and receive His love. The rest will seem like cake!