Paul was able to rejoice in his thorn in the flesh because he saw the power of God at work. His weakness was an opportunity for people to see that the power of God is real. He came to realize that his real strength was found in tapping into the eternal power of the Living God. The more Paul was able to step aside and let God work the stronger he became.
Our weakness is an opportunity for God’s power to show through. God has given us incredible abilities that allow us to face a variety of situations. At our best we can tackle complex problems with skill and confidence. I believe God is pleased by that, but God is not always honored by that. It is not that the individual believer is leaving God out of the picture. She may be actively giving the credit to God for her success. But from the outside, from the perspective of the unbeliever, it is only a case of a competent person using their talents well. Our strength can get in the way of people seeing God at work. But when we are weak a different story emerges.
Brian was a pastor in Nebraska. He had a successful ministry in a solid church. People were blessed by his preaching and teaching. Then his health began to deteriorate. He was diagnosed with cancer and began treatment. He became physically weak and was unable to do all the things that he normally did. Brian could have become discouraged and even bitter. I’m sure that he had more than one session of pleading with God. But Brian tapped into an inner strength that turned his situation into a demonstration of God’s power. Brian used very cancer treatment as an opportunity to declare the glory of God. While the doctors and nurses attended to his physical needs he would joyfully tell them of his relationship with Jesus and the hope he had for the future. Out of his weakness Brian demonstrated the power of God to overcome. Brian lost his battle with cancer but left behind a legacy of hope. He ran his race all the way to the end. At his funeral many of those doctors and nurses testified to the joy Brian radiated in a dark situation.
When Paul says that when I am weak then I am strong he wasn’t negating the gifts and talents God had given to him. He was acknowledging that he could accomplish only so much on his own. At the end of his abilities the power of God took over to do amazing things.
God wants us to us our gifts and our talents to their full potential. But he doesn’t want us to become enamored with them. Instead he wants us to surrender them to him so that he can use them in ways we never could. The cry of a true follower of Jesus is not look how great I am but look how great God is. The very breath I take is a gift from God. The more I embrace the reality that I am powerless on my own the stronger I become.
When the pain comes, as it inevitably will, the temptation is to stop running. At the end of the Living History Farms Race there is a long incline. It is a real killer after you have already run 6 miles. Half way up the hill I was laboring; struggling to keep moving forward. I was really tempted to stop. A young lady came running up from behind me. She could tell I was having a hard time. As she passed me she said, “You’re doing great. Keep it up. You’re going to make it.” I smiled back and kept on fighting for the top. Over the past 30 years I have faced many painful and discouraging times. I have been tempted to pull out of the race. It is at those times that Jesus runs next to me and assures me that we can do this together.
We can let the struggles of life defeat us or we can see the struggles of life as an opportunity to experience the power of God. God’s grace is sufficient for every situation we face. We can keep on running even when it hurts.
“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 weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”