More About Weakness

“I would have liked to have heard more about weakness.” Rose Marie Miller said these words at the end of a conference with the theme of “Faith, Power, and Weakness.” Miller recalls enjoying parts of the conference, while also not feeling well, and missing her late husband. “At one point I wanted to get up and shout, ‘Is no one here weak?’” she writes.

I can relate. One of the best conferences I’ve ever attended took place two years ago when I was feeling particularly weak. The theme of that conference was Sifted. Instead of speaking about their successes, speakers shared about their struggles and their weaknesses. You would think a conference like this would be depressing. Instead, I found it hopeful. As a weak person, I can relate.

“I would have liked to have heard more about weakness.” I wonder how often these words could be said at the end of a Sunday worship service? I’ve attended a lot of services. I’ve been weak at all of them. I’ve felt weak at some of them — the ones in which I’ve been accurate in my self-assessment. I have a feeling that a lot of people come to church weary, beat up, and weak, and are asking the same question Miller did: “Is no one here weak?”

The great thing about our weakness is that it is a great match for God’s strength. In their profound book Beloved Dust, Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel write, “Our great mistake is to see our brokenness, our finitude, and our sin as things that keep us from God rather than as opportunities to throw ourselves at the foot of the cross and grasp his grace.” Also:

Our fragility should lead us to trust in the One who is infinite. Our brokenness and weakness should lead us to glory in the fact that God listens to his dust and calls us beloved. Our weakness should lead us to proclaim God’s praise. It should harness reverence and delight in our hearts rather than frustration and discouragement.

We are weak, but we are beloved in our weakness. We were made to be weak from the start, and we’re even weaker as a result of sin. But God meets us in our weakness, and he calls us his own.

We’ve tried strong churches and strong pastors speaking at strong conferences. Maybe we need to try weak pastors preaching at weak churches about God’s grace that meets us not in the middle of our strength, but in our weakness. And how that grace really is better than any strength we could ever muster, and is readily available to any weak person who needs it.

Making Sense of Weakness

My latest column at ChristianWeek:

I spend so much time trying to be strong that I have a hard time making sense of what the Bible says about weakness.

"I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling," the apostle Paul writes. Later he says, "For when I am weak, then I am strong." What kind of Kingdom math is this? And if it's true, why do we try so hard to be strong?

Rose Marie Miller, in her book Nothing Is Impossible with God, helps me make sense of this. There are three kinds of weakness, she writes.

The first kind of weakness is presumptive weakness. It's what we usually think of as strength. "Presumptive weakness is when I am strong in myself. I think, 'I have the ability, the gifts, the understanding, the wisdom to get the job done or get on with life.'" It turns out that our strengths, until surrendered, are liabilities, because "it is impossible to fully trust in God while you still cling to something in yourself."

The second type of weakness is despairing weakness. This is usually what we think of as weakness, but it's not what we should aim for. When we despair, we look at our own resources and discover they're not enough, and we begin to lose hope.

I find that I tend to alternate between these first two types of weakness. I try to make it on my own strength, or give up. There's a third way, though.

The third type of weakness is what Paul talks about, and it's what we should aim for: true weakness, "born out of a deep sense of inadequacy and need, which drives us to Christ and unleashes all the redeeming energy of God's grace in our lives."

Charles Spurgeon put it this way in his sermon "Paradox": "We are strong when, under a sense of absolute inability, we depend wholly upon God...When we are weak we are strong, again, because then we are driven away from self to God."

What about our abilities and talents? Oswald Chambers writes, "God can achieve his purpose either through absence of human power and resources, or abandonment of reliance on them...He chose and used nobodies only when they renounced dependence on their natural abilities and resources."

The exciting part about true weakness is that it's freeing. We don't have to pretend to be more than we are, or that we have it all together. I spoke to a man last week who with genuine joy said to me, "There's nothing you could tell me about yourself that would surprise me, because there's no way that you're a worse sinner than me." He had encountered God's grace and strength in his weakness, and it set him free.

I'm a weak pastor in a land of weak churches. That may just be my greatest strength. I'm slowly learning to turn away from my own resources and despair, to find that God's strength really is enough and more.