Over the last several years, God has developed in me an appreciation for the liturgical calendar and some of the more “high church” traditions of the body of Christ, two of those traditions being Ash Wednesday and Lent.
This is the first year that I’ve decided to celebrate Lent and so I thought I would give up carbonated beverages since I usually have one of those with me at all times. It was hard for the few days, but it got easier – especially when I learned that the Sundays don’t actually count in Lent, but then it got harder again when I started having caffeine withdrawals. So, I became weak and I broke my commitment. As we speak, I’m sipping on a berry flavored Rip It that I bought at a local convenience store before work. Now that I’ve failed, where do I go from here? Do I just give up and try again next year? Someone might do that, but not me. After I finish this tall can of faux sugar, carbon water, and caffeine, I’m going to get back on the wagon and ride again, and with God’s help, I’ll ride it all the way to Easter this time. This experience was not for naught though. I’ve learned (or been reminded rather) of two very important truths.
1. I’m weak
“Never be rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be quick to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you upon earth; therefore let your words be few… When you make a vow to God, do not delay fulfilling it; for he has no pleasure in fools. Fulfill what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not fulfill it.”
– Ecclesiastes 5:2, 4-5, NRSV
I get so mad at myself when I try to do something for God and fail. I tell God that I’m going to do something productive or important for Him and then I end up falling on my face. Sometimes I get so frustrated I just hang my head and ask, “Why am I such a screw up?” And then after I’ve had my pity party and bemoaned my existence for a while, I realize that God often uses our weaknesses to keep us humble.
If there was anyone who had any right to brag, it was the Apostle Paul. He was educated at the feet of Gamaliel, who was a high-ranking and extremely official for the Sanhedrin. He was personally selected by Jesus to carry the message of the Gospel. He planted several churches, survived beatings and shipwrecks, preached before kings and other dignitaries, debated with the most intellectual of pagans on Mars Hill, and he wrote 2/3 of the New Testament. Yet, out of everything, he still had a “thorn in the flesh.” He had a weakness of some kind that kept him humble.
“ If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.”
– 2 Corinthians 12:6-7, NLT
Whenever we fail at keeping our commitments to God, He isn’t surprised or taken aback at us, but rather He looks on us with compassion because His only begotten son, Jesus Christ, took on weak and frail flesh to show us that He identifies with our weakness, and in our weakness, God is shown to be strong.
“For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength… God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”
– 1 Corinthians 1:25, 28-29, NRSV
In 1st Corinthians 1, Paul addresses the congregation at Corinth and reminds them that they look weak to the world, and their Gospel message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ seemed foolish, but God uses what seems foolish and weak to show His wisdom and His power. His wisdom is Christ Himself, and His power is the message that Jesus came to save sinners. In our weakness, God is glorified because it reminds us that we must always depend on Him and not our own effort.
2. God’s grace is sufficient.
“Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he 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 12:8-10, NLT
We should learn to be friends with the fact that we’re weak. Notice that I didn’t say that we should make friends with our weaknesses. Paul prayed for his “thorn in the flesh” to be taken away and so I think we should pray for ours to be taken away too, but if it doesn’t get taken away we should remember why it’s there in the first place.
God shows us His grace and His strength in the places in our lives where see weakness and frailty. We are insufficient to fulfill all the vows that we make to Him, but He is more than sufficient with a supply of grace to equip us for the tasks to which He has called us. To Him be glory, power, and dominion. Forever and ever. Amen.