Thursday, September 17
Each time, the Lord said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
(2 Corinthians 12: 9-10)
If I am honest with you (and with myself), Paul’s words – “when I am weak, I am strong” – sound completely counterintuitive, akin to saying “we have to go north to get south.” It also flies in the face of what society demands of us. Be strong. Stay strong. Live strong. Finish strong. Most of us are not good at saying “I can’t do it,” or “This is too much for me.” And I venture few of us would say “now I am glad to boast about my weakness,” as Paul suggests.
Let me clarify that this is not a humblebrag like you might hear in job interviews: “My greatest gift is how humble I am,” or “My one shortcoming is I work too hard and I am just too darn self-sufficient.” Nor am I talking about the deep darkness of clinical depression, where one is truly stripped of a will to get up, or carry on, or even to go on at all.
I am talking about typical feelings of discouragement and the times when we get so caught up in the belief that we must handle everything alone that we forget to be simply a child of God in the purest, weakest, most vulnerable sense. We forget that we don’t have to figure it all out by ourselves. We forget to ask for God’s help. At work, when I fret about things, sending an anxious email or expressing a doubt about how some project will unfold, a particular colleague of mine invariably replies, in brilliantly reassuring understatement, “we will rely on God. He is quite capable.”
Obviously we can’t all curl up into the fetal position and assume someone else is going to make everything right. But we can lean on our capable God through prayer, worship, service, scripture, and faith fellowship.
Today’s lections include Psalm 105, sometimes identified as David’s Psalm of Thanksgiving. It begins with praise and thanksgiving for God, but immediately pivots to an injunction that I, for one, need to take better heed of:
Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually.
As with the verse I quoted from Corinthians, we find here this strange juxtaposition of rejoicing and needing help, of “taking pleasure” in weakness. We also find here the rather persistent command: “seek the Lord… seek the Lord… seek his presence.’ In his commentary on this Psalm, 19th century scholar and preacher, Charles Spurgeon wrote:
Seek, seek, seek, we have the word three times, and though the words differ in the Hebrew, the sense is the same. It must be a blessed thing to seek, or we should not be thus stirred up to do so.
As counterintuitive as it sounds, it is a blessed thing to need and seek the strength of God, and seeking is cause to rejoice. Recognizing we are weak makes us better Christians because the strength we receive from God is full of grace, and it equips us to respond appropriately to the slings and arrows of the world. Irving Layton captures this so beautifully in the poem “The Sign of the Cross,” in which he rejects the cross as a symbol of impotence or defeat, and calls upon it as “a spiritual power, forever beyond the reach of nails or bullets, tanks or bombers.” Look more closely at Paul’s words too: “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. Knowing we are weak, we can be strong, like Christ, for Christ.
As a community, we have experienced some difficult times in the past several months. Last Sunday we took a step forward in the way we connect, while at the same time looking over our shoulders for that dreaded second wave of infection. Even now as I write, new provincial gathering limits seem imminent. Some of us may be feeling strong, as churches, offices and schools re-open. Others of us may be finding it difficult to rejoice or relax. Wherever you are on this continuum, I hope you find it possible and useful to be honest about the fragile spaces within ourselves and in our lives. In doing so, we make room for other people and God to come to us in acts of love and compassion.
Thank you, Lord, for all the glorious things you do. In my times of trouble, I will remember to search for you and for your strength, knowing that it will be there for me! May I recognize and rejoice in my weakness. May I profess and proclaim to all who will hear that you are my strength and salvation. Amen.