Today’s culture idolizes strength. In blogs and podcasts, on social media tag lines and consumer ads we hear slogans like “be a boss,” “crush’n” it,’ and ‘kill’n it.’ We are encouraged to be on top of our game, to be self-assertive, to be “top dog,” and for us women, to display “girl power.” Kids are convinced from school-age that they have the power to be whatever they wish. Sports icons, film stars, and fashion celebrities put themselves forward as examples of what is possible for everyone.
However, despite this unrelenting optimism and the creation of catchy clichés, the statistics on suicide and mental health issues are skyrocketing—especially among our youth.
This way of thinking is unrealistic, it is not helpful, and it is not biblical.
I’ve been thinking a lot about weakness lately. Weakness comes in many forms—in poverty and need, in difficult situations, in damaged relationships, or in family circumstances, or in broken health. In returning from Kenya to Northern Ireland I have met several families who have been called to a life with chronic illness, disease, and disability. I’ve been reminded of weakness, of vulnerability and dependence, and of God’s daily provision—His table in the wilderness.
A life with chronic illness is certainly one of weakness. Not just in the illness itself, for those who suffer, but the burdens and the limitations associated with it for the caregivers. On top of that, there is the emotional and spiritual wear and tear over a long period of time—and there is no end in sight.
We don’t always see weakness in a positive light. But as Christians, we can, and we must if we are to be like Christ. In his book, Gentle and Lowly, Dane Ortlund, brings out how Jesus deals gently with his beloved because He himself was “beset with weakness” (ESV). He was born in poverty in a nation occupied by a foreign power; he avoided the pharisaical elite of the day; he gravitated to children, sinners, and defiled women; he himself was made sin for us, and in the end, died on a cross as a common criminal.
So where is the victory in the life of Jesus, or in the life of the Christian “beset with weakness?”
First, weakness forces us to search the Scriptures. Desperate to find answers, to re-examine our understanding of God’s sovereignty, or the reality of His love, we are forced to the only source of truth—the Word of God.
Second, we rely more on the Holy Spirit for our joy, as daily life becomes tedious, burdensome, frightening, or lonely. We are helpless to change the circumstance, we are not in control, and we realize that our joy must be in the Lord in the presence of His Holy Spirit.
Third, we are forced to “look for the life to come” and realize that our truest reality is not what we can see. So much more awaits the Christian! “For this light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Corinthians 17-18).
Fourth, God is saving us from our own self-dependence and false security. One of my favorite pictures of this is found in C.S. Lewis’ book The Horse and His Boy. The Prince, who has yet to learn he’s a prince, hears the growls of a lion behind him and he is forced to run and escape. Later he discovers that had he run the other way he would have been destroyed by the enemy. He then is humbled to realize it was the strong, ferocious Aslan who had chased him into safety.
Fifth, we realize that suffering is a spiritual exercise. It might be in hindsight, but we will come to see that in these experiences the spiritual exercise has worked!
The Christian can own weakness as a gift and embraced it as a tender push into the love and strength of the living God. When we are weak, we realize that we are not in charge and we are not strong, but we are strong in Christ and through Christ—this is spiritual maturity.
“I labor on, in weakness and rejoicing
For in my need, His power is displayed.”
—Yet not I but Through Christ in Me