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Strength Through Weakness
By David A. DePra
Have you ever surrendered something to the Lord, only to see it get WORSE? Have you ever come to what you thought was a great spiritual breakthrough, only to see it all fizzle down into nothing? Have you ever prayed at length over a decision, made that decision firmly convinced it was Godís will, only to see it all turn into a disaster? Welcome to life in Christ! What you have experienced is NORMAL. Furthermore, in the end, if you will continue to believe, what you have experienced will turn to GOOD.
But WHY do things have to work this way? It is not because God is unfaithful, or because God is playing games. Sometimes, to our understanding, it may seem as if God is baiting us, or teasing us. But this is impossible. The reason things often must happen in the way described above is because God is actually answering our prayer, and the cry of our heart.
Really? How can that be? Well, ask: When you surrendered to God a certain thing, did you mean it? Did you say, "I surrender this into your hands, Lord, that You might do Your will, and bring to pass what You want?" Well, if you did, then why are you surprised if God really does take it out of your hands, and if the thing dies a death? You surrendered it, didnít you? Maybe God is answering your prayer by letting it seem to die.
It is right here that our true motives for surrender are often exposed. I think that we often surrender something to God because we know He wants us to surrender it. It is almost as if our surrender is merely a religious exercise Ė almost as if we think that if we surrender the thing that our surrender will satisfy God, and then He will do what we want Him to do. Our surrender in such a case is not really trust. Not yet. It may really be just another way we use to try to get God to respond to us the way we want Him to respond.
Thus, if the whole business dies, and collapses, and ends up in a disaster, how will we respond? Will we object? If so, then ask: Was our unconditional surrender really unconditional? See what I mean?
Of course, none of us have really pure motives to begin with in these matters. But this is exactly why God works the way He does. For you see, when we surrender something to God, it is not the THING He is after anyways. It is US He is after. God doesnít so much want us to surrender the THING to Him, as much as He wants the THING to lead us to surrender OURSELVES.
The fact is, our surrender may be real Ė based on where we are in Christ at the time. But then once God takes our surrender, and begins to work through it, we have to live it out. We have to get to the place where we become detached from the thing we have surrendered Ė detached because we believe that it is in Godís hands. Then, you see, there will have come a change Ė IN US. We will no longer be governed by the THING, or by whether God does what we want. We will be governed by faith.
God does care about the details of our life, and about those things that are important to us. But if He is to give those things to us, He must be sure that they will not damage or hinder His eternal relationship with us. Thus, in order to receive something on Godís terms, we must often first lose it.
The Biblical Pattern
It can be quite difficult to believe that if we trust God with our lives, that the result could be trouble. In fact, many who teach today on TV will tell you the opposite Ė that trusting in the Lord will spare you from trouble. This is error. The Truth is that, yes, trusting in the Lord will spare you UNNECESSARY trouble. But it will GUARANTEE you other trouble Ė necessary trouble.
What necessary trouble? Well, trouble that is necessary to achieve Godís goal in your life of knowing Christ, and growing in Him. THAT trouble is necessary and GUARANTEED for someone who wants to see the Truth.
This necessary trouble is not merely outward circumstances. It is also the inward reactions to those circumstances, which is really where the battle is won or lost. Sure. God isnít doing a work on our circumstances, although He is using them. God is doing a work IN US. God is seeking to set us free from things that we have no concept of Ė things which are so normal to us, and so usual to us Ė not things that are out here, in circumstances, but things that are part of our makeup as a human being born in Adam. This creature that we are in Adam has no Truth in him, and no frame of reference for the things of God. Thus, when God begins to do a work in us, it will seem like everything is wrong Ė our understanding will say God is wrong, and our reactions will seem to testify to the fact that God cannot be faithful. But all of this is nothing more than evidence that a DEATH is taking place Ė the death of what makes us tick in Adam. It isnít fun, wonít be fun, and at times, will bring us to our wits end. But according to scripture, it is what it takes to experience the reality of Christ in us.
Letís read a few descriptions by the apostle Paul as to what he went through in order to see the life of Christ made manifest in and through him:
For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raises the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us. (2 Cor 1:8-10)
Paul is describing a CONDITION. It is a condition of being, "pressed out of measure" Ė in other words, he was pressed by trouble beyond what he could handle using anything in himself. And remember, Paul was a spiritual Christian. Thus, we can be sure that when he says that he was pressed beyond measure, that he also meant that he found himself unable to meet the need by calling upon anything he had even in Christ. Paul is describing something that was beyond what he had experienced before Ė that required something beyond even what he had known in Christ.
This is good to know, because it tells us that such a condition is not impossible if we are in Godís will. Rather, such a condition may BE Godís will. God may get us to the place where it seems that nothing we have Ė even in Christ Ė can meet the situation. It is hopeless from every standpoint that we know. Yet this is GODíS WILL that it be so. Why? Because it is precisely at this point that we will Ė in a brand new dimension Ė trust in Christ and experience His power through OUR weakness.
Now, I do realize that many Christians never seem to experience such trials. But there are reasons for this that are in Godís hands. Perhaps the best thing to say about this is that many of us would do well to heed the words of Paul when he states, "Wherefore let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." (1 Cor. 10:12) When the blessings are flowing, and there is no apparent trouble, it is so easy to think it is because we are being rewarded for walking in Godís ways. Or perhaps we may think that we are so spiritually strong that nothing could cause us to fall. It is exactly this attitude that Paul cautions against. Why? Because all it would take to collapse this illusion is a big enough trial Ė and it could all happen in a day. Do we really think that if God turned up the juice, let the Devil at us, or allowed what we fear the most to come upon us, that we would be as self-assured as we are right now? No. We would find ourselves pressed beyond measure. And we would begin to realize how weak we really are.
Strength is, after all, nothing but an illusion. Strength is an illusion that persists as long as there is nothing to expose the real condition of weakness. So many Christians seem to have it all together, not because they do, but because nothing has come to challenge the illusion. We have our doctrines, and our Bible principles, and our reasonably comfortable lives. And again, it is so easy to assume that this is because of our merits before God, and that we are strong. But if God would open the door to an experience such as Jobís, or Paulís, or Davidís, would be really stand?
Well, it is probably true that God will not test many of us severely because He already knows we wonít stand. It would be too much for our real faith. But if God does open the door to such a severe testing in our lives, one thing is for sure: We would NOT stand on the basis we have been standing Ė our own strength. We wonít be able to Ė and it is GOOD that we wonít be able to. For THAT is the very thing Ė our own strength Ė that God wants to topple. It is the only way that we will ever know what it means to stand in Christ, and to have His power upon us.
It is good to recognize the Truth in all of this. But agreeing that I need to be made weak isnít the same as BEING made weak. And agreeing that I need to trust Christ isnít the same as trusting Him. Actually going through the experience, and carrying the cross God puts in front of me is the only way to come into the reality of the Truth.
The normal Christian life is supposed to include many wonderful blessings, both material and spiritual. But all of it is supposed to be unto the glory of God, and the growth of Christ in us. And that will mean conflict, warfare, and trouble. This was normal for Paul. And if we would realize that it is NORMAL it should encourage us. We will not think that trouble is a sign that we are our of Godís will. No. It may be a sign we are IN Godís will.
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. (1 Pet 4:12-13)
Natural man doesnít like passages like this one from Peter. We want the blessings without the need for suffering. But we donít understand. It isnít that God sat down one day and decided that He would play a game, and refuse to bless unless we first suffered. No. Often we must suffer because there are dimensions of the natural life in us that will make it impossible for God to bless us Ė there is no room in us for what God wants. So God must first deal with the flesh and the natural. While He does, it will seem as if God has betrayed us. But He has not. He is answering our prayer.
Of course, if I think that Godís blessings are limited to money or health, then I suppose it would be natural for me to disdain any suffering as necessary. But there is more to the blessings of God than those things. God wants to bless us with Christ Ė with spiritual blessings NOW. Yet there is nothing in us that is fit for Christ. Thus, the need for adjustment, upheaval, and suffering.
To be, "a partaker of Christís sufferings," means that you are suffering as the result of CHRIST IN YOU. You are suffering as He suffers Ė because of the great conflict in humankind against Him. The good news is that in the end, Christ wins.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death works in us, but life in you. (2 Cor 4:7-12)
Can a Christian Ė who is IN the will of God Ė ever be PERPLEXED? According to Paul, yes. How about troubled or cast down? Well, these are on the list, too. And all of these conditions are unto a great purpose: That we might share in the fellowship of Christís sufferings, in order that the life of Christ might be made manifest.
Now, obviously, suffering as a THING unto itself wonít produce this. Unbelievers suffer. It is how we respond to the suffering that matters. That is why Paul is able to say that he was, "perplexed, but not in despair." He was able to step outside of that perplexity and rest all of his weakness upon Christ.
You see, we think we must storm the throne of God with great spiritual strength, and pull God into our situation by our great faith. But as long as we continue to think there is strength in ourselves that can move God Ė even if we call it, "spiritual strength" -- we are in error. No. It is when we come to the place where we recognize that there is NOTHING in us Ė not a thing we can do to help ourselves Ė it is when we come to THAT place that we are able to truly dependent upon Christ. And the power of Christ can be upon us because we are emptied of our own efforts.
Real power isnít a THING God hands to us. Real power is in a PERSON. And it is only to the extent that the Person of Christ has free reign in us, that His power can work through us.
This is rarely taught. Today, power in Christ is considered to be a gift, or an anointing, that God gives to people, to use to do things for Him. But despite the fact that God can give, for certain purposes and occasions, power to do this or that, fundamentally, power is not a THING. Power is a PERSON. And until Christ is made manifest in the body of Christ, power wonít be made manifest. Not Godís power.
The Power of Christ
Paul didnít enjoy his troubles Ė they wouldnít be troubles if he did. He said that he was totally helpless before them. But he also rejoiced because it was this that made it possible for the power of Christ to work in him.
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Cor 12:9-10)
Paul spoke of conditions in which he could not function with his own ability. He says he was, "pressed beyond measure" Ė beyond the measure of his own resources. But he says that this is exactly what was needed so that the power of Christ would rest upon him.
I wonder if we have grasp the significance of that statement, "For Christís strength is made perfect in weakness?" Do we think that this is simply a matter of a generic confession that we are sinners? Or a matter of simply agreeing that we are weak? No. Neither is Paul talking about how to deal with people who persecute him. Rather, Paul is talking about a condition here Ė a condition of utter weakness before every one of the troubles he lists. He says that he is powerless before distress and powerless before everything that would come against his life in Christ. But something happens IF Ė and this is a big IF Ė something happens IF, while in this condition, Paul, in all of his weakness, nevertheless continues to trust in Christ. The power of Christ rests upon him.
Have you ever felt as if the life of Christ in you was being attacked from every side? If you know what I mean, this has only an incidental relationship to the outward. The real battle is within you. There are attitudes, fears, angers, perplexities, distresses, and all manner of emotions in you, that are beyond your ability to cope with. All of these rise up and seem to overwhelm your life in Christ, and if you allow them, can even seem to make it feel as if your life in Christ was a dream. You donít seem to have the faith necessary, or the understanding that can get you through. No prayer seems to solve the problem. Well, rejoice and be glad. Because it is precisely at this point that the power of Christ can rest upon you.
But how? How does this actually happen? It happens when you come to the realization that there is something Ė SOMEONE Ė outside of yourself, that is the solution. It happens when, despite what seems to be total defeat, despair, and hopelessness, you nevertheless says, "I donít care what I think, what I feel, or what seems to be. Christ has the victory. Though He slay me I will trust Him."
Paul had great suffering Ė which he called, "a thorn in the flesh." This was most certainly a demonic influence that God had allowed into Paulís life. It was for Paulís good. This terrible spirit was used by God to reduce and deplete Paul, so that he could be strong in Christ.
Paul has no secret formula to offer Ė no clever answer. There is no hidden Truth to discover that solved his problem. Paul simply says that he had to come to complete weakness. He is saying that if you want the power of Christ to rest upon you, indeed, be IN YOU, then you have to come to the place where there is absolutely NOTHING you can do to help yourself. This is a despair over oneself Ė but a good despair. Because at that point, you are able to shift the entire burden over onto Jesus Christ.
According to the apostle Paul, we are strong in Christ only to the extent that we are weak in ourselves. Spiritual strength is in direct proportion to our dependence upon Christ. But again -- this isnít a matter of lip service. It isnít a matter of us saying, "Yes, I believe that I need to be dependent upon Christ," and then doing it, and bingo, we are strong in Jesus! No. Paul is talking about a spiritual condition based on relationship. You have to be MADE weak Ė not just agree that you need to be made weak. You have to BE pressed beyond measure Ė not just agree with that need. Only if you come into these conditions will the power of Christ rest upon you.
This isnít a game. The fact that we must be made weak in order to be spiritual strong ought to give us a clue as to how much WE get in the way with our own strength Ė yes, sincere, religious strength Ė which often WANTS Godís will! God says, "Iím glad that you want My will. But first, you must be made fit for it. That means you must be made weak." In short, if we want the will of God we must BECOME His will.
But you see, this is THE pivot point so many times in our lives. It is so easy, when we find ourselves in a situation where we have NO chance of helping ourselves, to say, "Lord, I believed and trusted you. But you have lied to me. You have forsaken me, and brought me into this terrible situation. I have no hope of being delivered." We say that, because to our understanding, there is no other answer. We see no other possibility. And yet God would say to us, "You are right about several things. There is NO chance for deliverance. And you are right about the fact that I have brought you to this place Ė all the while you WERE trusting me. But you are wrong about WHY. You arenít in this place because I have forsaken you. Rather, you are in this place because you said you wanted ME, and wanted the Truth. I have brought you to the place where you must come if you truly want the power of Christ to rest upon you. Now, despite all of this, believe, and keep believing."
This is a Truth all through the Bible. Remember when God delivered Israel from Egypt? He did this through great miracles in the sight of Israel. But immediately thereafter, God purposely got Israel into trouble from which they could not deliver themselves. What was Israelís reaction?
Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness. (Ex. 14:11-12)
Have you ever felt this way before the Lord? You trusted Him, and followed Him, and perhaps made important decisions based on our faith in Him. And now THIS. It is then that we are tempted to say to Him, "Did you bait me? Why did you lead me into this when I believed you? I was better off back where I started."
Godís answer?And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will show to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace. And the LORD said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward: (Exo 14:13-15)
This episode in Godís dealings with Israel shows us that God will deliberately lead us into a place of trouble out of which there is no escape through our own strength. But all of it is geared to building in us the strength of Jesus Christ. God delivered them in a way that turned out BETTER than any way they could have imagined.
We ask God for strength, and He makes us weak, that the power of Christ might rest upon us. We ask God for understanding, and He gives us perplexity, because we must unlearn before we can learn. We ask God for His kingdom and will, but He must begin by dashing to pieces our kingdom and our will. All of this is answered prayer Ė but we had no clue what we were really asking for, did we? We asked for Christ, and God is answering. But this will mean death to everything in us that doesnít belong to Christ.
Make no question, it is possible for you and I to coast through life, as a Christian, never having any idea about what God REALLY wants to do. And we will go to heaven. Perhaps you think that the purpose for the Christian is wealth, success, or some political agenda. Perhaps you think that big churches, movements, or signs and wonders, are the purpose. But none of these things are the purpose. CHRIST is the purpose. But if you want to truly know Jesus, and become a living witness, and come to manifest His life in you, then you must face these difficulties, go through them, and emerge. That is death and resurrection. It is a fellowship with Him in HIS sufferings. It is a bearing in our body of HIS death, that the life of Christ might be made manifest. It is the key to all spiritual ministry, and it is exactly the POWER of Christ which emerges from this that turned the world upside down in the first century. And it is supposed to be NORMAL for a Christian. NORMAL for the body of Christ.
Now, of course, there is the tremendous upside to all of these possible sufferings. There are untold riches in Christ, and all of the blessings that God sees appropriate to His purpose in our lives. That is why James is able to say, "Rejoice over trials." No one could do that unless the purpose of the trial was known and being experienced, and was good. But make no question, LIFE is entered into Ė in all of itís dimensions Ė only through death. We must be MADE weak, if Christ is to be made strong through us. This is not maybe. It is the Truth.
The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Rom 8:16-18)
But how does this Truth we have seen compare with many of the self-esteem, word faith, "purpose-driven" gospels of today? These gospels rarely mention the need for suffering, the need to be made weak, or the need to carry our cross. Most of the time, these gospels focus on how to become strong and affirmed in ourselves! For the most part, these messages are actually COUNTER to the Truth.
I submit that if we must be MADE weak so that the power of Christ can rest upon us, that any message that teaches otherwise cannot be operating in the power of Christ. How could it be operating in the power of Christ if it denies or neglects the very means of His power in and through us? It cannot be. Rather, such ministries and messages are operating in the power of religious flesh.
These Truths given to the apostle Paul are foundational and normal Ė they ought to describe the normal Christian life, and characterize the body of Christ. God wants to make us weak in ourselves -- completely helpless. But this is good news. The illusion is that we were ever strong to begin with. Once we realize this, and surrender to Christ, His power can then live in and through us.
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