Weakness. I strongly dislike it, and I’m guessing you do too.
Before I moved to start our church, a wise pastor told me, “You may think you know your strengths and weaknesses, but you will truly know them when you plant your church.”
He was right. Strengths and weaknesses are revealed in reality, not in reflection. We wish it were different, but it’s true—We want to focus on our hard-earned-strengths, identify our bastard-weaknesses and reform them before they embarrass us in public.
If it’s true that weakness is revealed in experience, then who in their right mind would walk into situations knowing those very situations will reveal their weakness?
At this point, the gospel of Jesus Christ will radically change us, or we will try to change it.
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong…” – 1 Corinthians 1:26-27
Pastors and planters, if you consciously or subconsciously expect your ministry to provide a platform to show off your strength, then you have chosen the wrong profession. The longer you do ministry the more clearly you will see your weaknesses.
Ministry reveals the-things-I’m-not-so-good-at weaknesses. I am not gifted at networking. Early on, I lamented this. I stood in awe of other pastor friends who were expert networkers, and I wished I had even a little of their pizazz. Yet the Lord provided in, and I didn’t lose much sleep.
This is where most of us stop thinking about weakness. We tip our hat to competence-weaknesses. We know these weaknesses hinder the organization, but we still feel strong as leaders—especially if we spot the weakness and raise up a leader to compensate for our weaknesses.
Essentially, we strengthen our strengths and delegate our weaknesses. Whew! Glad I don’t have to think about weakness anymore.
Yet our weaknesses go much deeper, and it pleases God to put those deeper weaknesses on display. Paul described these as the-thorn-in-my-side-oh-God-please-take-it-away weaknesses (2 Cor. 12:7-8).
These weaknesses peel off our veneer of strength—often slowly and painfully. They force us to our knees and refocus our dependence on Christ. They are brutal, but they are beautiful for our development into Christlikeness.
A New Category
As I talk with people about this, I’m shocked how often they treat it like sin. These folks talk about weakness as if they need to repent of it and as if Jesus will ultimately free them from it.
I think I get why we lump weakness into the sin-category. We don’t like our sin or our weakness. We feel like both are keeping us from the life God wants for us. And we view both as impediments to our ministry and competitors for our joy.
However, not recognizing the difference is problematic. If we make our weakness a synonym for our sin, then Paul boasted in and was content with his sin (2 Cor. 12:9-10). We know that’s not right (Rom. 6:1-2).
Now our weakness can lead us quickly to sin, but weakness is different from sin. Weakness is a lack of strength to overcome an obstacle. These personal limits are discovered in the midst of personal loss.
Paul’s description of his weakness largely came from experiences of personal loss (2 Cor. 11:16-33). And, his personal losses revealed his internal limits of depression and anxiety (2 Cor. 1:8-9; 11:28).
Weakness taints our whole person—intellect, emotions, sexuality, physicality and spirituality. Our intellect fumbles to keep up; we feel dumb. Our emotions run amok, and we hate it. Disordered sexual desires taunt and tempt us every waking hour. Our body aches and cries out in pain. And our doubts scream at us and demand an audience.
While we all have varying degrees of weakness in these areas, weaknesses attached to these parts of our inner life are the parts of ourselves we dislike the most, try to improve or simply ignore.
I have learned through ministry that I care way too much what other people think about me. I have a breathing-like inclination to process myself through the eyes of others. Ministry also provided me the opportunity to learn that I struggle with depression. I love my job, and I want to pastor the rest of my life. Yet a deep sadness that I never knew was there resides beneath the surface.
Personally, I don’t like these aspects of my personality. I view them as obstacles to ministry rather than opportunities for ministry. I have pleaded with the Lord to change these things about me, and yet they don’t change.
Weakness—Lord, have mercy on us!
What do we do as ministry reveals our weaknesses?
Paul did not like his weakness. He pleaded with God three times to take it away, just like Jesus begged God to take away suffering (Mt. 26:36-46). God said, “No. my grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9). Like Jesus, Paul surrendered to God’s will for his suffering.
While we all want grace, we limp away from our experiences of weakness, not wanting a sustaining-grace but a liberating-grace. And we wonder why a loving, all-powerful God would leave painful weakness in us?
First, God embeds weakness in us for us. Paul explained, “So to keep me from being too elated by 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 being too elated” (2 Cor. 12:7).
Our egos can’t handle being used by God without becoming prideful, and pride is an insatiable wildfire in the soul! God cares more about your humility than your comfort because He loves you too much to let you damn yourself in pride.
Second, God embeds weakness in us for others. Paul concludes, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9; see also 1 Cor. 1:29-31).
The paradox of power through weakness not only enabled Paul to accept the parts of his life that he didn’t like, but power through weakness also empowered Paul to embrace his weakness as a friendly helper.
Paul learned he could impact others for Jesus to a greater degree through his weakness than through his strength, which is why he concludes, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).
The weaknesses that cause us to beat our heads against the wall are the weakness that force us to cling to Jesus all the tighter. Saying “I can’t overcome this” is the prelude to saying “Jesus, do what only you can do!”
Maybe you’re reading this at a time when you feel terribly insecure, inept or inferior. Maybe weakness and failure dominate your week. Or maybe you wonder if you’re even called to ministry.
Be encouraged! You’re right where you need to be. Don’t avoid your weakness or start a fix-it campaign. Surrender to God’s will, embrace your weakness and let God use your weakness (more than your strength) to make an eternal impact for his Kingdom.
Remember that God is doing necessary things in you that He can only accomplish through weakness. He is preserving your soul. And He is using your inability to display His ability.
Remember that God is not asking you to do anything He hasn’t done first. During Christmas time, the old hymn resonates around us and—I pray—within us:
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our Friend!
He knows our need—to our weakness is no stranger.
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!
Pastors and planters, behold your King! He knows you, loves you, and is a friend to those who are weak.
Next time we’ll talk about the sticky subject of how to boast in our weakness.