First Presbyterian Church

Power Made Perfect in Weakness

In his retirement, Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia. Because Jefferson trusted that students would take their studies seriously, the code of discipline was lax. Unfortunately, his trust proved misplaced when the misbehavior of students led to a riot in which professors who tried to restore order were attacked. The following day a meeting was held between the university’s board, of which Jefferson was a member, and defiant students. Jefferson began by saying, “This is one of the most painful events of my life,” was overcome by emotion, and burst into tears. Another board member asked the rioters to come forward and give their names. Nearly every- one did. Later, one of them said, “It was not Mr. Jefferson’s words, but his tears.”

Two of my favorite authors provide quotations that focus on this paradox of the strength that comes from great sacrifice, tragedy, and pain. The first is from Maya Angelou: “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived but, if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” The other comes from Ernest Hemingway: “Life breaks all of us, but some of us are strong in the broken places.” Hopefully we can find a bit of encouragement for all of us who have been visited by anxiety and loss, pain, and dread in recent weeks and months.

Life breaks all of us, yet many of us are strong in the broken places.
1. BROKENNESS IS NOT A PLEASANT WORD FOR US, BECAUSE THE IMAGES ARE SO STRONG.. How many are weak in some way?
Do you think weakness is beneficial? Admirable?

2. FOR MANY WEAKNESS MEANS TO BE DAMAGED, AS IN, A CAR IS BROKEN, IT IS NO GOOD, IT IS DAMAGED, IT IS WORTHLESS, YOU DON’T VALUE WEAK (BROKEN) TOYS OR CARS. YOU WANT SOMETHING THAT WORKS, BUT God HEALS THE BROKEN HEARTED.

3. FOR MANY, WEAK (BROKEN) MEANS TO BE DEFEATED! WOUNDED. WITHOUT CONFIDENCE.
Some pretty famous people had some rather derogative things to say about weakness.
“Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.” Albert Einstein
“It is weakness rather than wickedness which renders men unfit to be
trusted with unlimited power.” John Adams
“You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.” Abraham
Lincoln

Strategies toward dealing with our weakness.
Admit it:
– When you admit, you name the power that weakness has over/within you.
Paul indicated that he had a “thorn in his side.” No one ever knew what that was. It could have been related to his earlier period of blindness from his Damascus road experience. It could have been marital difficulties. No one knew. In fact it was rare that Paul would even talk about himself. Toward the end of this writing to the Corinthians he mentions a revelation that he had 14 years earlier about how he was taken up to heaven. Vs. 7 through 10 contains one of the few references to Paul talking about a personal problem. Notice that Paul does now make reference to himself very often. This is the first time he has mentioned his problem, 14 years later. Certainly not something he talked about endlessly. Paul prayed earnestly for the removal of this sore. But he learned there was strength (power, healing) in admitting his weakness.

Admitting your weakness leads you to deal with your weakness.

1. But to clarify. There is a difference between dealing with it, and not dwelling on it. A person who calls himself frank and candid can very easily find himself becoming tactless and cruel. A person who prides himself on being tactful can find eventually that he has become evasive and deceitful. A person with firm convictions can become pigheaded. A person who is inclined to be temperate and judicious can sometimes turn into someone with weak convictions and banked fires of resolution…Loyalty can lead to fanaticism. Caution can become timidity. Freedom can become license. Confidence can become arrogance. Humility can become servility. All these are ways in which strength can become weakness.
There is great danger is our strength becoming our weakness; rather, than our weakness becoming our strength!
– Deal with it means accept it – Don’t “perseverate” on it. – Don’t dwell on it.
I have lived with pain since November. But last weekend a person that I dearly love invited me to stop focusing on my pain, stop talking about every doctor’s visit, every part of this ordeal. I became angry. I told “this person” that she had never lived in pain. She invited me to focus elsewhere. Not always on my pain. Not always to tell EVERYONE everything that is going on. She reminded me that the power of my focus belonged to me and if I chose to focus on something else, someone else..then I could stop perseverating/focusing only on one thing endlessly to the detriment of others. I took her invitation and began to focus elsewhere and do you know what, “the pain got better” and “I got easier to live with and to be around.” Whether we have weaknesses or not is not up to us. How we deal with our weaknesses is within our ability because, remember we have the ability and the power to rely upon the strength and power of God
When we have
Weakness—Physical go to the doctor or to physical therapy.
With emotional pain, we go to therapy
When we have financial difficulties, we go to attorney, bank, financial planner. But when we are weak in all areas – deal with it means – Take it to God.

When we keep focusing and talking about our problems endlessly, we show that our attention is not focused on our God. When you deal with it by taking it to God, surprising things happen… God accepts us, as we are. We are “AS IS” People.
God never said, “clean up your act. Get a job, a car, a house, a college degree, and when you attain all of that, come and follow me.

Actually Jesus said the exact opposite. He said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened (ALL THOSE WHO ARE ADDICTED TO DRUGS AND ALCOHOL, ALL THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN REJECTED BY THEIR FAMILY, FRIENDS, AND SOCIETY) and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

God accepts us as we are. We are “As Is” People.
Notice it does not say, Paul in your strengths I will make you stronger. God says, it is in the very thing that you are not good at, it is in the mistakes that you make, it is in your problems with sin that I can give you the power and the grace to be strong. Paul learned a great lesson that day. God showed Him that if he was going to be a leader.
Just as we are all going to be leaders in some form or fashion, leaders of our families, churches, ministries, jobs, where ever you find yourself, you will be able to use leader’s skills to some degree. God wanted Paul to know that to lead in His kingdom it all starts with your dependence on Him and the ability to expose your weaknesses to me.

One of the hardest things to do in life is tell somebody your weaknesses. We think we have to walk around, always on point, we think we have to be on top of the world at all times when we are in front of people. Living life like that is a formula for destruction.
Paul learned that if he were to expose his weaknesses that Jesus’ power would work in him.

Deal with it – Give it to God over/over.

2. Accept God’s Power & Not Your Own
Verse 9 reads, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” God works His best, when we are a mess.

When God sees weaknesses as He did in Paul’s life, He sees potential strengths.
If God can use Paul, He can surely use anyone of us to do His work. The world looks at weaknesses different then God. If you have a weakness, then you are unqualified to do whatever the task is, but with God it is the opposite.

It is about God and what God can do.
As Paul says in Philippians 4:13…“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It is not what I cannot do. It is what Christ can do through me!

As Jack Zuflet writes…
“If goal setting, positive thinking, daily affirmations, self talk, dream building, visualization, chanting, fire walking and every other technique that self help guru’s preach actually worked…then why are they failing you miserably? Why are you failing?”

Why? Because for years they have had the wrong answer. It is not about them. It is not about what they can do or even what they think they can do. They are letting their own efforts slowly chip away at God’s work within them.

As Paul says in Philippians 4:13…
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” “It is not what I can do. It is what Christ can do through me.” “My power is strongest when you are weak.” God’s power is strongest when we are weak.

Accept God’s Power…(?)
If you were a teacher/parent, you’ve seen it over and over again…
My favorite children’s story was “The Little Engine that Could” attributed to Mabel C. Bragg, a teacher in Boston, Massachusetts.

The gist of the story is that a long train must be pulled over a high mountain. Larger and more powerful engines are asked to pull the train but for various reasons they refuse. At last in desperation the train asks the little switch engine to take it up the mountain and down on the other side. “I think I can,” puffed the little locomotive, as it attaches itself to the front of the great heavy train. The other engines mock the little engine for trying, but that did not stop the little engine.

As it went on the little engine kept bravely puffing faster and faster, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”. Then as it near the top of the mountain, that had so discouraged the larger engines, it went more slowly, but still kept saying, “I—think—I—can, I—think—I—can, I—think—I—can.” It reached the top of the mountain through its brave, persistent effort. Then going down the other side, the little engine congratulated itself saying, I thought I could, I thought I could.” By chugging on with his motto I-think-I-can, the engine succeeded in pulling the train over the mountain.

Without realizing it, children seem to adopt one of two operating philosophies of life from this story. Some of them look at life and just like the larger and more powerful engines they make all sorts of excuses because in the back of their minds they are thinking “I don’t think I can. I don’t think I can.” It does not matter what opportunities come their way, they still believe “I don’t think I can.” This attitude prevents them from taking risks and holds them back from stepping out in faith to attempt great things for God. They let their fear of failure slowly chip away at God’s work within them.

Other children become the little engine that could: “I think I can, I think I can.” It does not matter what obstacles come their way, they still believe “I think I can, I think I can.”

What are you going to do with your weakness?
Admit it
Deal with it, or dwell on it
Deal with it by taking it to God again and again
Accept God’s power to become His strength in your weakness