Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When I'm weak, then I'm strong? Why?

Power Board
Power Board (Photo credit: yum9me)

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. 
For when I am weak, then I am strong. 
(2 Co. 12:10)

I memorized this verse when I was a teenager.  (Let's not talk about how long ago that was, please!)  And I thought I knew what it meant.

Somehow, when I'm weak, then Christ comes and bolsters me up to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish by His strength instead of mine.  

In other words, His strength looks and acts just like mine, except on steroids.

Is that what it means?  I wonder.  In fact, I doubt.

Is Christ just the proper power cord for my goals?  Does "plugging in to Jesus" feel like a power rush, ready to mow down the world?  Or have we got this "power vs weakness" thing wrong?

I read this helpful article a little while ago, and it got me thinking.  Here's an excerpt from a comment I wrote there:
     Slowly, slowly, I'm learning that godly parenting isn't about wielding human power but extending grace in wise ways.  And whenever I forget that, whenever I start trying to be powerful again, I get ugly again.

     The beautiful power of humble grace doesn't feel like power at all, but it does more good than all of my prideful/terrified power-grabbing could ever do.
Does this sound like a "Jesus is my power cord" theology?  Not to me it doesn't, and I'm glad.  But until I wrote it down today, I didn't realize just how radical it was, or how much I still default to wrong-headed "power cord" thinking.

Why, in Christ, am I strong only when I'm weak?  Perhaps we can't understand that until we define our terms.  What, in God's eyes, is strength?  What is weakness?

"Strength," as the Bible promises and commends it, is the power to accomplish God's will, not my own.  Such strength was displayed most clearly in two places that I can think of.  First, during Jesus' wilderness temptations, when he was starving, but refused to use His power to relieve His hunger without authorization from the Father.  And second, at Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed, "Not my will, but thine be done."

"Strength" - the kind which is promised and commended - is the power to do things which have eternal Kingdom significance, as opposed to things which will burn up on the Day of Judgment (1 Co. 3:13-15).  Such strength most often shows itself in Christ's life in acts of humility and sacrifice.  There were "Temple cleansing moments," but those were very much in the minority (and were still done in godliness, but that's a different subject).

By contrast, my strength, human strength, is an ugly, grasping thing when it doesn't have what it wants.  It gets violent, in words if not in deeds.  Human strength has done much good (at least temporarily), and it has done much evil.  It has gone as far as genocide many times in our history.  And yet, in God's eyes, it's puny.  Laughable.  It will come to nothing.  (Ps 2.)  In fact, it's weak.

Human strength is weak.

But what is "weakness?"  Specifically, what is the weakness which is commended, which is sought, which is boasted in (2 Co 12:9)?  Surely God doesn't commend the weak, futile rage of the earthly strength in Ps. 2.  So what weakness does He commend?

Could it be that He loves the weakness which not only lacks human power, but disdains it?

When I have felt powerless as a parent, yet have yearned for power, and have felt angry and hopeless because I didn't have it, was that the weakness that God commends?  Or was it the weakness that makes me ugly, grasping, enraged and snarling like a trapped tiger?  Isn't yearning for human power just as weakening as having it?  Doesn't it leave me just as powerless to do eternal good?

Do I just need to "plug in" to Jesus to regain the power my flesh craves?

Or do I need to recognize that human power always gets it wrong in the end?  Do I need to turn my back on it and go the way of God's power...the way of humble grace, of love and service, of meekness...and discover the hidden, gentle power there?

If you truly believe in the meekly Crucified One who lives...who died in weakness and is mighty to save, and who is exalted above every other name...then you don't need me to answer that question for you.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matt 5:5).

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