As I write this, in mid June of 2016, my family is coming off of a fairly difficult week, health and otherwise…and I am struggling with quite a bit of frustration over it. Things seemed to start just about ten days ago when I decided to take a quick break from working on some writing projects. Hearing a bit of rain outside, I ventured out to sit on the front porch for a bit, and relax while listening and watching the steady rain that was falling. Within about twenty seconds of sinking into one of our front porch chairs, I was involuntarily springing out of it in terror, as lightning struck a tree just a few feet away from our front yard. It was a singular experience; I have honestly never heard a sound quite so loud and startling, and the blinding flash of light was actually quite stunning. It sounded more like a bomb going off than anything else, and it caused my left ear (which was angled in that direction) to ache and ring for several hours. While that ear eventually recovered, our TVs, PlayStation 4, and various other electronic devices did not – they were completely fried by the storm.
A couple of days after that incident, various ones of our kids began to come down with some sort of fairly potent illness. My kids, thanks to my faulty genes, all have asthma, and when they get sick with anything in the upper respiratory realm, it almost always tends to linger long, and hit them hard. This particular illness has been one of the worst the kids have ever had – lasting over a week, and causing numerous doctor visits. As I write this, an hour after finishing the prep for Sunday’s message at Agape Baptist, the kids are still sick, and my wife and I are kind of worn out from taking care of them. We have a big church day ahead of us, and a fairly busy and complicated week after that. As I survey the situation, it is quite evident that we don’t have enough fuel in the tank (or energy in the body…) for a long Sunday followed by an arduous week. And that, my friends, is frustrating and a little bit unnerving. It is also an excellent position to be in from a spiritual perspective, even if my mind and body completely disagree. Why is that? Because, absurdly, the Bible declares that there is an incredible power in weakness that far surpasses the strength of any human!
2 Cor 12: 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 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. 10 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.
In a moment of deep frustration and probably sinful sardonicism, I told my wife recently that I thought Paul was an idiot about the whole power in weakness thing. I despise weakness, especially in myself, which may be the chief reason that I do not walk more consistently in the power of God. And yet, I believe in the Word of God with all of my heart, and I know that it is undeniably true that God’s power can and should be perfected in my weakness. This week has reminded me quite sharply of a months long health trial that our family went through in 2013 related to an undiscovered mold problem in our house and Whooping cough (yes, 1800s style whooping cough!) attacking our kids. During that period, I wrote the following somewhat raw meditation on weakness:
April, 2013: My Kids have essentially been sick since the day after Christmas, over four months ago. The good news there is that it is less than 8 months to Christmas, 2014. The bad news is that we have had less than seven days – literally – in our household where we were all well. I myself have been sick less than three of those days – maybe even zero. Janet and the kids have been sick a ton. This is my chief weakness and vulnerability. It is my thermal exhaust port, and somebody keeps shooting torpedo after torpedo into me. I have no defense for it. The last two weeks in particular have been nightmarish. My son John Caedmon was sent to the hospital once, and almost went two other times. Our youngest daughter Phoebe went to the hospital twice, once in an ambulance, and almost two other times as well. Everybody else has also been sick with some crazy illness. Even our dog Maple is sick. Me and the cat have been fine, other than my hair falling out over this whole thing. Literally. (editor’s note: We did not know about the mold problem at our house OR the fact that all of the kids had Whooping cough at the time I wrote this)
This week, I am scheduled to preach on overcoming anxiety, which is patently ridiculous. Me teaching on overcoming anxiety is about like Otis Campbell teaching about overcoming drunkenness, Yet. It is the wisdom of God to use weak vessels to display His power. For whatever reason, God actually delights to store and display His power in fragile and weak jars of clay. (2 Corinthians 4:7)
Ironically, A lady from the college that I teach at posted this on my Facebook wall last night: “BRO.CHASE HAPPIEST BIRTHDAY WISHES EVER and also a great BIG THANKU because since u prayed with me for deliverance from the SEVERE allergies i was having,I HAVE NOT HAD ANY ALLERGY PROBLEMS since nor have i had to take any more medicines. MAY GOD BLESS YOU BIG!”
WHAT?? God alone knows how many times I have prayed this year for healing for my kids. Probably about a billion. Yet, there has been seemingly no answer to THOSE prayers. On the other hand, I have prayed for many other people to be healed…and have actually seen quite a bit of God’s miraculous power displayed. WHAT GIVES? This week has been one of the most frustrating I have ever experienced. I literally sat and fantasized over and over about stabbing a screwdriver into my ears so that I couldn’t hear the kids coughing any more. I agonize with them over seemingly every cough, sometimes responding with a flinch or tic. I’ve even thought about how peaceful death must be. My wife thinks I am losing it a bit. Maybe she’s right!
At the height of despair Friday night, with Janet sleeping in the back bedroom, I decided I needed to go outside for a few minutes and get away from the sound of constant coughing, wheezing, and high pitched breath intakes. I grabbed the garbage to walk it down to the parsonage dumpster, and pressed the button on my wireless earphones to get away from the noise. I do that all the time, and rarely will something unexpected just play automatically. In this case, my phone decided to do something interesting. Despite the fact that I had listened to music most recently, and about fifteen different podcasts prior to that, my phone began playing 2 Corinthians 1. I’m not claiming a miracle here, but it is true that I hadn’t listened to my audio Bible in over a week, and there is no technical reason that the clicking of the button should have brought up 2nd Corinthians. Instead of cancelling out and playing some music or a podcast, I just walked around outside and let the Word of God drown out my thoughts. Very quickly, 2 Corinthians 1, vs 9 played, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.
That was a striking passage – God put Paul’s apostle team through deathly trials, at least in part, so that they would not rely on themselves, but on the God who has power over the grave. The Word was beginning to do a powerful work of encouragement and peace in me by the time the British narrator got to chapter 12:
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 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. 10 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.
I have read 2nd Corinthians before – probably several times….but I was straight up offended by chapter 12 vs 10. I rewound and listened to it again, and again – growing madder with each play. That night, I actually shook my fist at the Heavens and shouted to up to God with tears in my eyes: I AM NOT CONTENT WITH THESE DAMNABLE WEAKNESSES!!!!!!!! I do believe that this was probably the first time in my life that I shouted, out loud, something to God in frustration and anger. That was a scary moment, and an activity that I do not recommend that you engage in.
An answer didn’t come, and neither did lightning, so maybe that’s a pretty good result. What did come, however, was a small trickle of peace from God. Eventually that trickle turned into a stream, which turned into a river, and I felt the presence and peace of God wash over me as I continued in the Word that night. I was especially blessed by 2 Corinthians 13:4, “ For to be sure, Jesus 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 in our dealing with you.”
That is a good word…and it is a great truth. Ponder that; believe it or not, the power of God actually comes through our weakness and not our strength. I am still a greenhorn, but after over twenty years in ministry, I have seen the limits of my strength to usher in the kingdom of God, to do the work of the ministry, to heal the sick, or to bring the lost to salvation. The bottom line is that my strength is pitifully inadequate for all of those tasks and every other ministerial task I am called to. I am unable. I am not good enough. I am not smart enough. I don’t know that it matters whether people like me or not, but I do know that I am incapable of anything apart from the presence and power of Jesus (John 15:5)
A good place to end this topic, for now, is this gospel centered quote on weakness by John Piper, “The ultimate purpose of God in our weakness is to glorify the kind of power that moved Christ to the cross and kept him there until the work of love was done. Paul said that Christ crucified was foolishness to the Greeks, a stumbling block to the Jews, but to those who are called it is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:23).
Let that sink in, and let the deeper truth of 2 Corinthians 12:9 penetrate your thinking deeply – The power of God is made perfect in weakness, and the power of Christ rests on us in our weakness. That is infuriatingly good news. 😉