When the going gets tough, the tough give up. You didn’t expect that, did you? That’s not what the world says. However, we surely hear our Savior say something very akin to these words over and over. Jesus spends many of His sermons emphasizing the fact that we are helpless in our pursuit of the Father apart from His pursuit of us. When the going gets tough, He gets going!
For years I have been drawn to the verse in 2nd Corinthians 12, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” (vs. 10) Paul’s words and the contradiction they offer to the world around us have been like a magnet to me. I’ve heard these words come up in my speech often. They’ve sloshed around in my head like Jell-O for years, hopefully finding more and more of a mold. I read and re-read their context, not quite sure if I want to pass down the road Paul traveled to arrive at these God-spoken words. Nonetheless, they draw me.
What is so enticing here? Maybe it’s the prospect of finding real strength. Maybe it’s the idea of being vocal, really open about my weaknesses. Maybe it’s just unabashed honesty! Whatever the case, I’m here. I hope you are, too.
Can we explore these words a little today? Paul utters these words about strength and weakness after having explained his bout with a thorn, and that after having visited “the third Heaven” and needing something to keep his feet earth bound for a little while longer. This passage is almost too foreign for us to even explore it, but explore we must!
Paul is in a place with His Father that only comes after many hours of suffering and waiting. He has borne his cross and tasted its glory. His vision no one can explain. He could barely even make mention of it! But the effects of it on him are evident. He ‘came down’ from that surreal place with God and his head was still in the clouds. The temptation was to feel superior to those around him; those who hadn’t yet experienced this kind of nearness to God.
To keep Paul’s humility intact, God allowed “a messenger of Satan” to attach itself to him. This “thorn” was not debilitating. We have no idea what it was, but we know Paul continued his ministry as before, only now with a limp. Some part of this thorn kept him from life as usual and constantly reminded him of his inability to be holy by himself.
Before we move on to the weakness as strength part let me just say, most of us can identify with Paul here, if only in part. Most of us probably would not say we have been “caught up to the third heaven.” But I would wager that most of us have had experiences we would say were ‘heavenly.’ Most of us can remember transcendent times when the glory of Heaven and the blah of earth mixed with a reality we had probably never witnessed up to that point. Maybe it was in worship or in prayer. Maybe it followed an extended period of intensely seeking the Lord. Maybe it was in answer to a time of fasting. Whatever the case, most of us would agree the Lord still calls us up to the place where He is. The third heaven is a place I have not yet visited. But I am willing!
I know God still transcends time and invites us to do the same. I also know when we come down from these times we have a tendency to see the rest of the ‘lesser world’ as inferior. There is nothing holy in this! Paul understood that. That’s why after pleading for its removal, he submitted to the Lord in the placement of the “thorn.” This is key, dear believer! If we cannot submit to our faithful Father’s all sufficient knowledge and care for us in the placement of a point of suffering, we will never understand the strength that comes from weakness. As long as we resist the thorns He allows, we will resist the revelation of our weaknesses.
Are you drawn in yet? Can you feel the pull towards weakness I feel? I believe there is a secret life here that most of us have not yet grasped. I’m not saying it’s a spooky, I-can’t-wait-to-see-what’s-behind-that-door kind of secret. I’m saying it’s a banquet table set for us we have absolutely no idea exists until we begin to submit to suffering.
Whether your thorn comes from a Heavenly visit or some other encounter, pray for God to remove it. When He refuses, you know it is from Him. As soon as you identify your thorn as God’s design, submit to it. Resist it no longer! When you get to that place of submission, you will discover your weaknesses have been hiding some great strengths.
I pray for you today! Not that I have already obtained this great strength, or have already made it my own. But I press on to make it my own! I press on because my Lord has pressed on for me! I praise God He has not yet given up on me! Nor has He given up on you! Let us stand together, praising God for our weaknesses that illuminate His profound strength in us. I praise Him for being strong enough and patient enough to press through our weakness. I praise God for His wisdom in making us weak! I praise God for I’ve come to know when the going gets tough, He gets going.