II Corinthians 12:2-10
Many times in Scripture it seems that we read things that are just the opposite of what we might think. For instance, several times we read where Jesus says, “The last shall be first, and the first last.” We are told that the meek – not the powerful – but the meek shall inherit the earth.
Then in today’s reading from 2 Corinthians, we find that the apostle Paul says something that doesn’t make a lot of sense. He says, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
I want to talk to you today about discovering God’s power. The power of God that, quite frankly, is made perfect in our weaknesses.
So let me start by sharing with you a story. It’s a story told by a Pastor Jim Moore in his book “Yes, Lord, I Have Sinned”, describes a time when he took a course in pastoral care as part of his pastoral training. One day he was asked to visit a woman in the hospital who had lost her will to live. She had no cards. No flowers. She sat all day in a darkened room.
Jim was terrified, and with good reason. I know from my own pastoral care training at ECMC that it’s tough to speak to people in desperate situations. Pastor Jim felt that he was too inexperienced, and that he wouldn’t know what to do. His fear and nervousness affected his visit.
First, he pushed the door open too hard and it slammed against the wall. Next, he walked over and accidentally kicked the bed. He stammered, stuttered and said all the wrong things in between long periods of embarrassed silence. Finally, he tried to say a prayer, but even that didn’t come out right. He left that woman’s room that day with tears in his eyes, ready to quit the ministry. He felt ashamed that his patient had needed him, and he felt he had failed her.
But, a few days later, Pastor Jim mustered up enough courage to return to this woman’s room. What he discovered was that this same woman who had once lost the will to live, was now sitting up in bed writing letters. Flowers and cards were everywhere. She recognized him at once, and began thanking him over and over for this visit he had paid her.
Imagine Jim’s shock and surprise! He was also confused because he knew he had botched that earlier visit, and confessed that fact to her.
“But that’s just it,” she replied. “I felt so sorry for you! It was the first time I had felt anything but pity for myself in months. And that little spark of compassion for you gave me the will to live!”
How many of you have you have ever thought of your weaknesses and your failures and your stumblings and your blunders and your clumsiness as just possibly being blessings in disguise? Huh? Have you ever thought of that? In our success oriented society, we don’t like to talk about our failures. We don’t like to talk about our weaknesses. And yet, they can often be blessings in disguise.
Paul shares with us in our second reading that “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
Now, does that sound strange to anyone? How can being weak for Christ’s sake be a source of strength? How can weaknesses be blessings in disguise? Why does Paul boast of his weaknesses?
We often think of Paul as a superstar. A superstar Christian – certainly one of the greatest missionaries the church has ever known. And certainly we owe a great deal to Paul for his writings and his missionary work in places like Palestine, and Turkey and Greece. He was a great man. And yes, we do think of him as a superstar. But you know – Paul would have none of that. He wrote to the church at Corinth and said,
“In order to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh....Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you – for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Paul realized that his weakness – his thorn in the flesh – and we have no idea what it was, but whatever it was – it was for him a source of strength. And what that thorn in the flesh did for him was to teach him or cause him to learn to depend upon the Lord. To learn to depend upon God in his weakness – in his pain. And this helped him to grow in his faith. When you rely on the Lord instead of yourself, it helps you to grow in your faith. AND – according to Paul – his thorn in the flesh was actually used by God to reach others.
You know what this tells me? It tells me that you don’t have to be perfect – you don’t have to be a superstar – in order to be used by God. No matter what your gifts or talents are – and every follower of Jesus Christ has at least one gift or talent that is to be used in the work of the Kingdom – no matter what your weaknesses or your situation in life might be – God can use you in the work of the Kingdom.
Let me suggest that what Paul discovered was true for him is true for us as well. God’s power is made perfect in weakness.
Let me share with you another story, this one told by Tony Campolo. Tony was once asked to be a counselor in a junior high camp. He says everybody ought to be a counselor at a junior high camp. A junior high kid’s idea of having a good time, Tony says, is picking on other people. “And in this particular case, at this particular camp, there was a little boy who was suffering from cerebral palsy. His name was Billy. And they picked on him.”
As Billy walked across the camp, the other kids would line up and imitate his awkward movements. Tony watched him one day as he was asking for directions. Not only was walking difficult, but so was talking. “Which...way...is...the...craft...shop?” he stammered. And the boys mimicked him in that same awful stammer. “It’s...over...there...Billy.” And then they laughed. Tony was furious.
His furor reached a fever pitch on Thursday morning. It was Billy’s turn to give devotions. Tony wondered what would happen, because his cabin group had appointed Billy to be the speaker. Tony knew what their real agenda was. They just wanted to get Billy up there to make fun of him.
As Billy dragged his way to the front, you could hear the giggles rolling over the crowd. It took him almost five minutes to say seven words. These were the words:
When Billy finished, there was dead silence. Tony looked over his shoulder and saw junior high boys bawling – crying their eyes out – all over the place. Literally, a revival broke out in that camp after hearing Billy share his love for Jesus.
Tony says that as he travels in many places – all over the world – he finds
missionaries and preachers who ask him, “Remember me? I was converted at that junior high camp.”
The counselors had tried everything to try to get those kids interested in Jesus. They even brought in baseball stars whose batting averages had gone up since they had started praying. But God chose not to use the superstars. God chose a kid with cerebral palsy.
Folks, you don’t have to be perfect or a superstar. What does God say? “My grace – my grace – is sufficient for you.” God’s grace is all we need.
Let me share with you one last story. In the 1800’s, the missionary David Livingstone penetrated so deeply into the African bush that no one knew where he was. Henry Stanley was sent from England to search for Livingstone. Stanley was able to make the trip thanks to a wealthy sponsor.
Before Stanley sailed for Africa, his benefactor met with him and said, “Go to the bank today and draw a thousand pounds in my name and buy your equipment. When that money is gone, draw another thousand. If need be, draw another. I will not run out of money. Draw as much as you need to do this work.”
Folks, that’s the way God deals with us. When you think that you have run out of resources. When your strength is all dried up. When a weakness or a failure has dragged you down, there is a source to whom we can turn. God’s well of grace is an endless supply.
And God offers it to you and to me for free. For free! The key to discovering God’s power in your life is to recognize your weakness – to admit your need for God. Admit that you are a sinner. Admit that you are in need of forgiveness. Simply admit to God your need for God. To turn to the Lord for grace – in other words – God’s undeserved love and favor. That is where you will find God’s power in your life – through God’s undeserved love and favor. God’s grace.
Folks – I don’t care what your weaknesses or your failures are. I don’t care. Don’t care! But I want you to know that God’s power is made perfect in weakness.
God’s grace is all you need.
God’s grace is sufficient for you.