2 Corinthians 4:16-18 & 12:7b-10
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
August 25, 2019
Everyone likes being strong in body, mind and heart. But what if we can’t grow strong enough to be and do what is most important for us to be and do? What if we’re just too weak in self-control, a capacity to understand, independence from the influence of others, and an ability to please God as He deserves?
The Bible says God is greatly pleased if only we trust Him. Faith, however, doesn’t kick in until we’re aware we are too weak to make happen what we should make happen. Our faith begins where our power ends, because to have faith is to have hope in God that His strength will, if we are seeking to serve His purposes, come upon us, make up for our weakness, and enable us to be and do what we never could on our own.
When Handel wrote “The Messiah”, the sublime piece of music that includes the “Hallelujah Chorus”, he was financially broke and physically broken. Handel had run out of money, and feared jail time for debts he couldn’t pay. He struggled against extreme fatigue and was experiencing paralysis on his right side. He felt so weak and defeated he was tempted to give up on life. Yet, by faith he remained open to the inspiration and strengthening of the Spirit. It was at that low point that Handel, turning to God in desperation, was moved by God’s Spirit to compose, in record time, maybe the most magnificent music of all time.
With God we can be more powerful, more productive, more profoundly joyful than we ever could relying on ourselves.
That’s why – though worn down by hard labors, countless beatings and constant criticism – Paul could still declare, “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” That’s also why – though burdened by some persistently painful problem he only describes as a “thorn in the flesh” – he could still exclaim about how divine power is made perfect in human weakness and rejoice that, “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
Joni Eareckson Tada is at first glimpse a weak person. Paralyzed from the shoulders down, she’s confined to a wheelchair and unable to do for herself normal things such as bathe or get dressed. She is often exhausted from the unrelenting pain she endures and the uncertainty of depending on others who are not always dependable. Yet, one insightful man called her the healthiest person he’s ever met. For Joni overcomes all kinds of difficulties and radiates faith, hope, joy and a strength that is supernatural.
Joni drives a specially equipped van she controls when her hand is secured to a big joystick by which she can steer, accelerate and brake. Yet, because her hands don’t work, doing as simple a thing as going through a fast food drive-through poses a major challenge.
In her book, Holiness in Hidden Places, Joni describes how it went one day when she went out for some burgers and Cokes. As she moved down the drive-through lane, she prayed for the guys at the pick-up window, saying, “Lord, give them patience, and give me a big smile.” When she reached the intercom and placed her order, she said she wanted “no cheese” and “extra mustard” and then announced she was disabled. A long pause followed. Finally a young, tentative voice said, “OK, no problem.”
She pulled up to the window and smiled. Lifting her arm at the shoulder, she asked the cashier to take the $10 bill folded into her arm splint. As the boy made her change, she asked him to place it in the bag along with the burgers. At that point, the server glanced over to another server with an expression that said, “Do you get what she’s talking about?” Joni smiled brightly and bravely, and spelled out the process.
They got it – and even wrapped her change in a napkin before they dropped it into the bag. Then they held it out for her to take. She had to ask, “Could you please lean out your window and wedge the bag between me and the van door?” The two boys glanced at each other again. With a twinkle in her eye, she said, “I can’t reach for the bag. Remember?”
“Oh, yeah,” they laughed. Then they stretched halfway out of the pick-up window to lodge the package between her wheelchair and the door. “Are you set? Are you okay?” they asked in all sincerity.
“Great job!” she assured them. “God bless you, guys!” They slapped the side of her van as she drove off; and, when she looked in her rearview mirror, they were waving good-bye. Joni prayed, “Thanks, God, for answering prayer. That could have been awkward, but it turned out to be fun!”
Did you catch what Joni accomplished in the strength of the Lord? She gave a witness to the reality and grace of God, and two boys a chance to get in touch with their better sides and to feel really good about themselves.
When we accept the reality of our own weakness and dare to believe in God’s willingness to share His power with those who will use it for His purposes, we will experience how God’s strength compensates for our weakness and enables us to bless others.
Often it is our very weaknesses that inject our serving others with God’s power. Bethany Hamilton, a Christian who surfs competitively, lost her left arm to a shark off the coast of Kauai. Yet, she thanks God for that tragedy because, she says, “I have been able to embrace more people with one arm than I ever could with two.”
Of course, sometimes we can’t see how some bad thing serves any good purpose, and we just have to believe that God’s allowing us to be weakened by it is a means by which God strengthens us to do His will.
We are frequently in the position that John Olerud’s daughter, born with a genetic disease, was in. During a medical procedure, John had to hold his baby girl still, while doctors kept poking her with a needle to insert an IV into her little arm. She looked at her Daddy with shocked, tear-filled eyes as if to say, “I thought you loved me and would protect me. Why are you holding me down so these strangers can hurt me? How can you let them do this to me?” Knowing he had no explanation she could grasp, John could only say, “Honey, you’ve just got to trust me in this.”
Often we can’t understand what God is doing in permitting some bad thing. We can’t imagine how it could be bringing about some good. We then just have to trust God, in the faith that down the road, after we’ve matured in a variety of ways, we will see what God was up to and thank him for it…like Michael J. Fox, an award-winning actor, who contracted Parkinson’s disease and ended up weakened by it.
While he says it has been awful to endure, he also says all that misery was worth all the good it did him: It knocked the self-centeredness out of him, it centered him in what really mattered, and it ignited in him a resolute determination to be the kind of person he could respect.
Out of their weakness, God builds His strength in those who trust Him. Let us believe and, whatever we’re going through, embrace hope in our empowering God!