Last week, it finally happened: one of my sons beat me in a race. It was a proper race, on a local beach, with me running my fastest. My defeat came with that realisation that every middle-aged man gets: I’m getting older and weaker. Getting physically weaker is not a pleasant realisation. But the thing is, weakness is a spiritually beneficial realisation.
I’ve been thinking lately about 2 Corinthians 12 and Paul’s famous self-disclosure, “… in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from 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 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” (2 Cor 12:7-10).
Paul says something astounding: “I delight in weaknesses”. This is not my natural starting point. Our world tells us that we must be strong, professionally successful, physically attractive and healthy, and materially secure. My (and our) default position is to seek this position of strength and self-sufficiency.
Paul lived in a similar world of boasting in strength, yet he was quick to contrast himself to the standards of his world. He was quick to say to the Corinthians, “I don’t have your gifts, eloquence, achievements, or credentials”. He was content to seek lower status, to be regarded as unimpressive, even to be ridiculed by people.
So why did Paul gladly boast of his weakness? It’s because Paul knew that we are never more useful to the Lord than when we depend on him, and we never depend on the Lord more than when we are weak.
Notice that Paul needed to be taught this lesson. He says, “to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh”. We don’t know what that “thorn in the flesh” was, a health problem, a painful memory, or some crippling depression. But God’s purpose in giving it to him was to stop him from becoming too proud and self-sufficient, and to make Paul hold onto him more strongly.
Maybe God has given you a “thorn in the flesh”, a burden that you find hard to carry. Maybe it makes you feel ashamed, or insufficient, or a failure. It could be that God has given that to you so that you lean more on him. Maturity in the Christian life is needing Jesus more, not needing him less. When we know that we are weak, then we are strong.