I’m almost done going through 2 Corinthians, and last night I came across that oh-so-familiar passage of 2 Corinthians 12:7-11:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I thought I’d share some of the things that really spoke to me as I meditated on it:
- If God loves you, He will both bless and curse you. This is because dependence on Him is what we were made for and therefore we are more freely, humbly, and joyfully ourselves when we are dependent on Him than at any other time. So He will bless us (with revelations of Himself) to let us know Him and inflict us (with our various “thorns”) to keep us clinging to Him.
- I found it very interesting that God sent a messenger (Greek: aggelos) of Satan. How does a King send a messenger on behalf of His enemy? Only if that enemy is equally under the authority and rule of that King and therefore only derives as much authority as is allotted him. I’ve often said I’d rather have a God that will inflict me Himself, for my good, than a God who will sit there and watch a seemingly sovereign Satan afflict me and then try and figure out how to fix it.
- Paul prayed “three times” and then stopped. He stopped praying! We Christians idealize the idea of persistent prayer. But sometimes, it seems, we need to stop praying and just rest in His revealed promises and Word. For years I prayed that God would take certain things away and give other things, but in the end, He has not promised us this. Sometimes we need to stop and move on, trusting Him. Prayer is not so much about receiving as it is communing. Persistent prayer ceases to be holy when it becomes more about the gift than the Giver. Sometimes we need to stop asking God to give to us and just give of ourselves to Him.
- My grace is sufficient for you — How beautiful this is! We should not read this as “My grace is sufficient to make you no longer weak” or “My grace is sufficient to clean up your messes when your weakness gets in the way.” No, it’s “My grace is sufficient on behalf of you. It overlooks your weakness and relates to you on the basis of the strength of another.” As my last post quoted from Joe Weil: “God does not ’tolerate’ me. God loves me.”
- Paul says that he will boast in his weakness “so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” We usually read this text as saying that as we accept and “boast in our weaknesses”, God will bless that and be strong on our behalf and do great things while we remain in an existential state of constant weakness. This isn’t the case, it seems. Paul wants to boast in his weakness not simply so that God can use him but that God might rest upon him. When we live in our weaknesses, we actually experience strength and power. It’s in this boasting that we are not just used by Christ but are indwelt by Him.
- For when I am weak, then I am strong — This does not say “in spite of being weak, I am strong.” It doesn’t just overlook, circumvent, or overpower our weakness. No; it is “when I am weak. Because am weak. Then I am strong.” Our weaknesses are the very things that mediate God’s strength to us. How often do we strive to leave our weaknesses behind; to be the “strongest” preacher, the “strongest” writer, the “strongest” blogger, the “strongest” Christian? Where are the weak ones? I’m not advocating the loss of preparation, education, and honing of one’s craft and skill. But rather employing those skills and moving in those offices in the utter and conscious reliance of a higher transcendence. What would writing look like if done by men and women educated and trained among the best, but write as if they needn’t rely on those things? What if our living and moving understood and acknowledged our finitude? We needn’t become weak or try and muster weakness in order for these dreams to be reality. We need only to rest in and acknowledge the reality that is:
We are weak. We are fallen. We are finite and small. All that we need had to be accomplished for our sake by another. It is utter folly to be anything but a child in His arms. Let us rest and boast in our weaknesses, and worship. For when we are weak, then we are strong.