God has been teaching me so many things over the last four years about how He really works. So many people – from everyday church members to pastors – believe the line that “God helps those who help themselves.”
Church leaders struggle for the next great method of church growth, the perfect model upon which to build their church. They say things like, “People who say numbers don’t matter don’t have numbers.” They are always working to create the next big event, and unless more people show up for this than for the last, the event is a failure. In difficult times, they believe they must hide their weaknesses at all costs. In a building campaign and the money isn’t flowing in as expected? They absolutely CANNOT let their people know they’re concerned about it. Smile, proclaim God’s blessing, and talk it up.
And many believers live their lives the same way.
But the Bible teaches exactly the opposite. I believe the Bible teaches that we are to embrace our weaknesses! Let me give you three examples.
Jacob and Esau
Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, pregnant with twin boys, feels them jostling one another in the womb. She begs God to tell her why. (It’s unclear whether she believes them to be fighting or they are just causing her uncommon discomfort – as if the plain old discomfort of pregnancy weren’t enough!)
The LORD said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23
Though they were twins, Esau was born before Jacob. That made Esau the oldest and, therefore, Isaac’s rightful heir. Jacob was destined to always be second to his older brother. But here God promises Rebekah that, somehow, Jacob would become the more powerful of the twins. We know that, through lack of faith and deceit, Rebekah helps her younger son secure Esau’s birthright, making Jacob Isaac’s heir instead. I can’t help but believe that God would have worked it out without their help!
In every way, Esau was just expected to be the greater of the twins. He was Isaac’s firstborn. He was a manly man – a hairy-armed, carnivorous hunter. Jacob – by all appearances – was a mama’s boy. But God turned expectation on its ear. He was going to make the weak brother strong.
So Esau fathered the Edomites, and Jacob – whose name God later changed to Israel – gave birth to God’s chosen people and, eventually, the Messiah.
For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you. – 2 Corinthians 13:4
Jesus taught with words, but He taught even deeper lessons by His example. He stepped into the dirty sandals of a desert-dwelling Jew, a manual laborer, a Roman subject with no rights to speak of. He is the Prince of the Universe, and He gave it all up. Not to lead a political revolution. Not to win people with beautiful words. Not even to teach us what was right (though He did).
He possessed all power, all authority in heaven and on earth, and He gave it up to die. For us. He never fought back. He willingly stepped into the arms of death for us. The ultimate act of submission. He completely relinquished His strength, and “He was crucified in weakness.”
That is how Jesus loves people. “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)
In the ultimate act of weakness, Jesus made salvation available to all the world. What does that tell you about how God works?
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
I saved Paul for last because he has the most to say on the subject. Plus, I love this passage. Part of my calling is to share with the church what God teaches through Paul’s words here.
We can accomplish big things all on our own. Bet you didn’t know that! But we can’t accomplish exactly what God wants to accomplish.
We are all weak and broken. Paul is telling us that God wants us to know this, admit it, and let Him do His thing! Embrace your weakness because when you realize you can’t do anything and God works through you, all the glory is His. And that’s what He wants. That’s why He made you.
Think about it.
In order to be saved, the first thing we have to do is realize we’re sinners, right? (I’m not trying to start an argument about the validity of the so-called “Sinner’s Prayer.” In fact, I’m not even talking about that.) Before we can accept the gift of salvation, we have to know we need it. The evidence that we need it is our sin. So, we have to recognize that we sin in order to accept this gift.
We have to admit weakness right off the bat!
So, why do we stop admitting weakness? Why do we pretend we have it all together when we go to church on Sunday? Are we afraid that everyone else will judge us? Maybe they will, but they don’t have it all together either. We have to start admitting weakness again so we can become the church again.
Think about this: despite the rise of megachurches, no county in the United States that we know of has a larger church population than it did 10 years ago. (Thanks to John Piper.) That means that despite all our attempts to bring people in, we’ve just been swapping folks between churches for the last decade! And in fact, people in their twenties are leaving the church in droves. They’re looking for something real.
So let’s start being real. Admit our weaknesses. Admit to real life. Become the real church again.
I believe this is the key to seeing God move in a way we haven’t in years. If we start being real – admitting our weaknesses – then God’s power will be made perfect in our churches. He will do absolutely mind-blowing things. He will revive us, and Americans will be won to the Kingdom again.
When we are strong, we get whatever we get. But when we are weak, then He is strong.