Sorry about my long layoff. Illness and summer combined to do a number on me. Back on the horse!
In II Corinthians 12:6-10,Paul wrote of his ‘thorn in the flesh’ with a quiet passion that revealed the injury it caused him. He had asked the Lord to remove it from his spirit three times and the answer he received? My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Paul then proceeds to reveal how he will boast all the more in his weaknesses. It’s a beautiful passage, if painful, and for years it remained for me words on a page. Truth, yes, but a truth that for various reasons did not yet apply to me. I had never looked at the weaknesses in my life as anything more than obstacles that I would one day overcome, by Christ of course. Recently however, I have run into some new obstacles in my life and back into some old ones. And one day, out of a storm of turmoil in my heart came a voice, “This isn’t going to get better. I can’t remove it without taking away part of who you are. My grace is sufficient for you.”
Now, one of the reasons, as it turns out, that I never took this passage as seriously as I should was a lack of grace on my part. I thought, the few times I have heard it used outside of the context of a ‘physical’ thorn that it was something of a cop out. Yet here I was, trying to figure out how to get my inner life in order running into a very real dilemma. I had to apply God’s grace to my own life and self concept and still feel like I was worthy of His love. Furthermore, I had to walk into some areas of danger for me that I had previously ruled as off limits because of my weaknesses. I have taught for years that our areas of freedom were dictated by our strengths and weaknesses, and that when you had an area of weakness that you should avoid it at all costs, but here I am in a quandary: What do you do when God says, “Go into the wilderness of your weakness and do this thing I have commanded you to do.” What then? God’s commands aren’t subject to my weaknesses or strengths, they are only subject to His will and word, and only then by His choice and character. And if I’m reading the scripture correctly it almost seems He wants to use me in my areas of weakness so I have to rely on Him and can’t be tempted to take credit for myself.
I find myself a wretched man like Paul in Romans 7. I can’t shake the truth of who I have been and the old desires still dwell deeply within, yet I am called to be something new, a new creation, living out a call that God has given me that puts me directly in danger of catastrophic, spiritual failure. How do we live there? Grace.
The unmerited favor of God is the answer. His grace. Not just that my selfishness and sins are forgiven or that He has made available to me a path of reconciliation with Him and my fellow man, but that God’s account books hold the paid receipts for my future failures as well. Now that sounds dangerous, and it is, but the truly reborn heart isn’t looking for a loophole to sin through. Grace teaches our hearts to seek out the path of being right and at peace. And it gives us he ability to live within our weaknesses as well as our strengths. I can take the risk because I realize two things: One is that if I fall God will catch me, and the second is that I have to constantly rely on His presence and word if I want to succeed. Failure in the life of a Christ disciple, like suffering, is always upwards. It’s painful, but it’s not fatal. And the great joy is….
It’s not about me, it’s about Him. Strength, weakness, talent and intelligence are all trumped by the simple truth that we act within His grace.
Let me leave you with this great Jill Phillips song that touches on this subject.
And an old Cyndi Lauper tune that touches on grace.