Originally published Wednesday, 08 April 2015.
During my last summer of college, I bent down to pick up a box at my job and did something to my back. Sharp pains stabbed me like a knife and I could barely move. My soon-to-be mother-in-law took me to her chiropractor. I had never been to one before and found it all overwhelming and a bit disconcerting. He pointed to the image of my spine on the X-rays and informed me that I have an extra bone in my spine that shouldn't be there. The one thing he said that I never forgot was, "Because of that extra bone, one day when you get pregnant, you will have excruciating back pain."
He was right.
And all these years later, I continue to battle chronic back pain. After my second child was born, I injured my back again through that constant motion of bending down and putting him in his car seat. There was a time when we thought I'd need back surgery. Even as I write this, I was just at my doctor's this morning. Lying there, facedown on the table, with my back aching and sore, I realized that this will be my routine for life.
Having this chronic pain is humbling. It ages me and keeps me from doing things I would like to do. (One family raft ride at the water park sent me straight to the first aid station!). It is a weakness and I hate weakness. I don't like to always have to be cautious or have to restrict my life or even rely on regular visits to a doctor. I don't like that my problem is permanent and will only get worse as I age.
This physical weakness is a very real reminder of my broken condition in general. So many things in life are reminders of the fall. Everywhere we turn we see the effects of Adam's original sin. From our sinful thoughts and actions to our physical health; from the conflicts in our relationships to our struggles in our work; from the natural disasters that devastate entire communities to the wars between nations; everything is broken and marred by sin. Paul says that even the earth groans and longs to be set free from its captivity, "For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now" (Romans 8:22).
Weakness not only reminds us of the fall, but also of our desperate need for grace.
The Apostle Paul had his own weakness, what he called a thorn in the flesh. It was some kind of physical ailment that ached and throbbed until he begged God to remove it. In his case, it was given to him to humble him (2 Corinthians 12). But Paul knew what we all need to know, that Christ is our strength in weakness.
"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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (1 Corinthians 12: 9-10).
We all need thorns in our life, weaknesses to remind us who we are. We need things in our life that open our eyes to the reality of sin and of our need for redemption. We need things that strip us of the delusion that we are our own saviors. We need to be emptied and impoverished so that we might see how much we need Jesus.
Whatever our individual weaknesses are, they are given to us by God so that we can rest in his grace and rely on his strength. Like Gideon's army of 300, we face each day ill equipped on our own to fulfill God's calling on our lives. But that's when God's glory is put on display, when he works in and through our weaknesses, revealing his limitless power and transforming grace.
This is most profoundly seen in God's provision of a Savior through his Son, Jesus Christ. Our greatest weakness is our sin and our sin nature we inherited from Adam. Our greatest need is to be restored into right relationship with our Maker. We cannot love God and obey him perfectly so he provided a way to save us through the perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection of his Son. As Paul says in Romans, "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (8:32). If God met our greatest need at the cross, how can we not trust him to meet our lesser needs? How can we not trust that he will enable us to live the life he has called us to? How could we think that our weaknesses are an obstacle for him, rather than a conduit of his grace?
Our weaknesses remind us of the fall and that things are not as they should be. But they also remind us that we need Jesus. We need his grace. And as he gives us grace upon grace, we can boast alongside Paul in whatever our weaknesses are, knowing that God will work through us and be our strength in weakness.
"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us" (2 Corinthians 4:7).
Do you know weakness in your own life? How have you seen God's grace in your weaknesses?