A lot of people can quote the first half of 2 Corinthians 12:9, but I’m not sure how many actually understand the power and strength imparted in its fourteen words of divine promise. I didn’t, until I actually lived it for myself.
We probably all know the back story of this great promise. God had graciously chosen to allow the Apostle Paul to suffer some sort of chronic physical affliction, from which he desperately sought deliverance. Have you ever been there?
Have you ever been to that point of face-down heart-pleading before God to deliver you from some heavy, life-altering trial?
Maybe you don’t have a chronic illness, but possibly you have an ongoing trial at your job, or a long-term broken relationship with someone who was once very close to you, or infertility, or life-changing injury, or financial difficulty . . . or any sort of trial that weighs you down, day after day, never letting you up for air.
That’s where Paul was.
We don’t know exactly what his “thorn in the flesh” was (although some have speculated it could have been a problem with his eyes), but it slowed him down physically and weighed him down emotionally. It wore on him, day after day, feeling cramped and crippled by its limitations, as he strove to obey what God had called him to do — preach the gospel to every nation.
He cried out to God, over and over again, to relieve his suffering.
And God heard — and answered — but not in the way we would expect. After all, Paul was a great Christian, right? If any disciple of Christ could be put on a pedestal (a very dangerous place to be!), it would be Paul. He was a spiritual giant!
Surely, God would be merciful to Paul and grant his plea for deliverance. Surely God would not want Paul to suffer . . . surely He would want to grant him comfort and rest from his affliction. Right???
That’s certainly what we want to believe today! After all, if the spiritual “greats” did not receive the comfort and deliverance they sought — what hope do we have, wimpy 21st century Christians that we are?
God doesn’t usually work how we expect Him to.
He didn’t comfort Paul with thoughts of future glorification, although he — and we — certainly have that promise as redeemed ones. He didn’t tell Paul to just “deal with it.” And as we know, He didn’t provide immediate deliverance from Paul’s suffering.
Instead, He promised His perfect strength through Paul’s suffering:
“My grace is sufficient for you! For my power is made perfect in weakness.”
God basically told Paul: “Yes, you will have to go on living with this affliction. But don’t lose heart: I will carry you when it gets hardest to bear. I will guide you by the hand when you become blinded by pain. I will be your eyes, your feet, your strength. In Me you will find the power to walk through this trial. In Me you can find freedom and rest.”
And though Paul continued to suffer that affliction for the rest of his life, he discovered what I’ve learned through my own ongoing affliction — what thousands of suffering saints have learned through the centuries:
In our weakest moments, God’s strength is most manifest.
In our hardest suffering, His grace is most perfected.
In our most painful circumstances, His rest is most poignant.
In our frailest hours, His power is most glorified.
Paul didn’t experience a miraculous healing – but he did experience a miraculous God!
It is not of ourselves that we can make it through the long months of chronic illness, and ongoing relationship challenges, and caregiving, and the demands of work and ministry, and lack of sleep, and whatever else you want to throw into the mix. We can’t even get ourselves through Sunday morning services or getting up early to pray or staying up late to read God’s Word.
We are helpless creatures on our own.
But God . . .
God gives strength when we rest in Him.
Those seasons of busyness or stress that threaten to drown us . . . we can swim through the raging waves one stroke at a time as we lean on the arms of our everlasting Sustainer. We can make it through the rapids as we rest in our God’s divine strength.
It is not by our will-power or adrenaline that we can keep going: it is through God graciously bestowing His power, which we scarcely deserve, and allowing us to rest in His strength.
Rest, instead of stressing over everything.
Rest, instead of whining about how weak and tired we are.
Rest, instead of curling up in a ball and refusing to even try.
It sounds paradoxical, but we must rest even as we keep doing the work God has called us to do. Maybe that’s taking care of your family, even when you can barely get out of bed. Maybe it’s plodding away at a job that doesn’t thrill you, and wears you out, but is necessary to pay the bills. Maybe it’s simply showing up week after week for a friend, or a church family, even though your strength is small and your brain is light years beyond exhaustion.
Those are the moments when God’s strength is most perfected — when His grace literally carries us through, and He proves himself abundantly sufficient for all our needs.
God doesn’t promise us His strength while we sit and mope. He promises strength as we keep doing whatever He’s called us to do.
Those are the moments, as we faithfully obey despite our human frailty, that we truly come to understand Paul’s response to God’s promise:
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses
so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Have you learned to rest in your weaknesses? Have you learned to lean on Him in your frailest moments? Have you learned firsthand that “when I am weak, then I am strong”?
What truth carries you through your most challenging seasons?