His Strength Perfected
“My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV)
I have known this verse for many years and I know it is true, that God’s strength and power is proven and made perfect in weakness. It is a well-known and often quoted verse, possibly because at the core of each of us we are weak human beings, and we know that we need God. There is also a danger with well-used quotes from the Bible; they become more like a mantra, repeated often to affirm them in our minds or to help us get through a particular situation, instead of something that is firmly established in our hearts and real in our lives. I would say that this was the case for me as though I knew this verse well, I had not really understood what God meant when He said that His power is made perfect in weakness.
Paul the Apostle cried out to God on three occasions, asking Him to take away his thorn in the flesh – a painful reminder of his weakness – and the very thing that Paul believed stood in the way of him living totally for God and representing Jesus with his life. To Paul this wasn’t a minor issue, he described it as a “messenger from Satan” and he pleaded with God, asking Him to remove this from him. God did not do as Paul asked, but instead He focussed Paul away from his weakness and back onto Him: “My Grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness”. I suspect this was not what Paul was wanting to hear from God in his moment of weakness, but it was exactly what Paul needed to hear because it is the truth. What Paul was focussed on and believed was stopping him from living in relationship with God – his weakness – was the very thing that enabled and perfected God’s power and grace in his life.
As Paul experienced, when God speaks to us, it is not always what we are expecting, and possibly not even something we fully understand, but it is always exactly what we need. God’s words are to be believed, embraced and lived in. Paul had cried out to God on three occasions, but it wasn’t until he believed God’s words and responded to them that he could clearly see God’s perspective. To do that Paul had to drop his own perspective, embrace the truth of what God had said and let God’s words change him. This he did, in fact so much so that Paul could go on to claim that he boasted in his own weakness so that God’s power could be seen.
God tells us that weakness is not a problem, nor is it something to be conquered by us, but in our weakness we are to depend on Him
It takes faith to believe what God says, not because His words are difficult to believe, but because they often contradict how we think, how we feel or what others tell us. For example, the world presents weakness as something to be defeated, avoided or kept hidden and not something to delight in. We are told to conquer weakness by using our own will, strength and self-confidence. We grow up believing that weakness should be eradicated from our lives, not faced nor embraced. Or if you cannot overcome your weakness, then do your very best to keep it hidden in the hope that people do not see it. Yet God tells us that weakness is not a problem, nor is it something to be conquered by us, but in our weakness we are to depend on Him, because His strength is perfected in our weakness. It can feel too simple, but it is true that what God wants is relationship with us. He wants us to come and be with Him, just as we sing in one of our worship songs, God says: “In your weakness come and stand with Me”.
The challenge often lies in our perception of weakness which we can easily misinterpret as a sign of unfaithfulness. It is easy to believe that a godly person shouldn’t feel weak, but rather that they should be sure of themselves, feel confident and be strong. The simple truth is that most of us don’t like feeling our weaknesses and, like Paul, we would rather they were taken away.
Although our weaknesses can feel like our “real” nature, they are not. Our true nature is to love God and live in relationship with Him
The worlds solution to weakness is self… self confidence, self help, self belief, self acceptance. If you feel that you are too shy, then learn to be more outgoing. If you fear that you are lazy, learn how to motivate yourself. If you think that you cannot change or don’t want to, then work at being happy with yourself the way that you are. In many cases, weaknesses provide an excuse for avoiding the things that we know we should be doing. Although our weaknesses can feel like our “real” nature, they are not. Our true nature is to love God and live in relationship with Him, depending on Him and His love.
For me, I don’t like feeling insecure, and I never have. Growing up I learned that the best way to not feel insecure was to be confident. The feeling of security through self-confidence was something I could get for myself, and for the most part it appeared to work as I would feel less insecure when I focussed on being confident instead. Regardless of how I could make myself feel through my own efforts, the issue with things generated from self is that they are not real. Self-confidence is merely a substitute for faith and only results in a false sense of security rather than security in God. True security lies only in relationship with God.
It was through another well-known statement from Paul that God helped me to understand how He views our weakness and our humanity:
“For I know that good itself does not dwell in me.” (Romans 7:18 NIV)
In the past I have reminded myself of this when I felt like my humanity was “in the way” of God in my life. I thought it was important to remember that essentially I am not good, and I need to improve so that I can represent God and be pleasing to Him. While it is true, that like Paul, nothing good dwells in me, this is not meant to condemn me, or reinforce that I am not a good person. It is in fact quite the opposite. Knowing that there is nothing good in me simply means that there is nothing to defend, nothing to improve, and nothing to save, protect or justify. God did not create us with an inability to love Him or an insurmountable hurdle to get over before we can love Him. Instead He has freed us from the struggle to improve our flawed humanity by giving Himself in Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Knowing that there is nothing good in us does not burden us, it actually frees us to love God. He has taken the striving and effort out of living for Him because we no longer need to improve ourselves to be acceptable to God. We don’t need to make our humanity more godly; we simply need to abandon all dependence on our own abilities and efforts and instead depend on God completely, in the knowledge that through Jesus’ life and sacrifice He has already overcome all of our weaknesses.
Knowing that there is nothing good in us does not burden us, it actually frees us to love God
The point is that God does not want us focussing on our weakness at all, but on Him. In every situation and circumstance, no matter how we are feeling, we can always choose to focus on Him. When we are focussed on Him then He is free to be God in our lives.
Living for God is not about trying to make “good” choices or being a more “godly” person. The truth is that the only good in any of us is what God has placed inside of us. So there is no point in trying to improve what is essentially bad – our humanity. Instead we are to focus on the good in us, which is God Himself. Which explains how the Apostle Paul could go on to boast of his weakness, because he knew that by his choice to stand with God in his weakness, God’s power was revealed and He could be known and glorified in his life.
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV)