Paul’s life was a constant reminder that his own strength could accomplish very little. That dang thorn in his flesh never gave him much wiggle room. I imagine Paul trying to take a few steps in his own power, in some self-reliant deviance, only to fall face-down, back into dependence on his Maker.
Paul, I feel you, brother. I keep forgetting this God-dependence thing, and I keep trying to walk in this soul-amnesia. I foolishly think that I can stand on my own two feet and white-knuckle through this life in my own feeble strength. As soon as I start to act a little cocky, wobbling along in my own power, I receive a sucker-punch to the gut, and find myself trembling on my face, totally helpless in the presence of my own thorns in the flesh.
And there you are, saying, “I will boast in my weaknesses, for when I am weak, then I am strong.” And here I am, asking, “what in the world is this upside-down kingdom about, where we praise God for our weaknesses, and glory when we reach the end of ourselves?”
What counter-intuitive calculations lead us to the conclusion that the meek shall inherit the earth; that those who weep will rise in joy; that when I am weak, then I am strong; that the poor inherit the kingdom of heaven; that the King of the universe came into the world in a cattle stall?
And yet, here-in lies our hope: Paul asked three times for healing, and God said, “MY grace is sufficient for you, MY strength is perfected in your weakness.” So Paul, head bowed and hands raised in submission, said, ” I surrender.”
So here I am, flat on my back, at the end of myself, reminded for the 134,582nd time that I am, indeed, weak. And, Paul, you say this:
Most gladly, therefore, I will boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. I am well content in weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)
I will celebrate in my weaknesses for this reason: They create space in my life for the power of the Almighty God. And I will be content in my suffering for this reason: it opens me up to deep communion with my suffering Savior.
And yes, Paul, we can laugh together along with rest of beat-up, face-to-the-floor humanity, because in Christ, all of this mess is simply grace.