In the succession of Paul’s list from 1 Corinthians 16:13, “being strong” follows the admonition to “be men of courage.” I believe Paul was very intentional with his order. My personal experience is, if I am dis-couraged (my courage has been shut down), I do not have the strength to take any kind of action.
Strength is considered a virtue in our culture, so it is really hard to admit when we are not strong. After all, who wants a president or corporate head who feels incapable of the job? Many of us were taught from an early age to be self-sufficient and pull ourselves up by the boot-straps when things got difficult. We never understood there was a type of strength through Jesus at our disposal that went beyond what we possessed in the moment. Most of us would testify there were times we did fairly well, and other times that we failed miserably. The successes invariably reinforced our personal strength beliefs, which unfortunately made the failures even worse. It was an easy slide for me to believe that made me a failure. So, the fear of being a failure, combined with pride in my successes, kept me from admitting (even to myself) I needed help. Unfortunately, that position stiff-arms Jesus, Who wants to be our Source in all things. To the degree we are determined to operate in our own strength, God will absolutely allow us to do so.
But, the Lord was gracious enough to give me a personal lesson that changed my reality through a horrifying experience when our boys were ages 4, 2, and 3 months. The older two were playing outside for a few minutes while I fixed their lunches, when the 4-year old walked in carrying his right arm in his left hand. It was bent at a grotesque angle several inches above his wrist, but he wasn’t crying – yet. My reflex reaction was to scream AND cry, but the Presence of God in the moment only had me inwardly crying out, “Jesus, help!” I scarcely remember how I immobilized the arm, got all three buckled into car seats, and sped toward the hospital with bagged lunch shoved into a diaper bag. It must have been God’s governor on the van engine that kept me from driving 90 mi/hr while trying to comfort the injured son, now crying in pain. I didn’t have time to think through what I was going to do when I arrived at the Emergency Room. But, the Lord went ahead of me. I had no sooner gotten the 4-year old out, when a couple of nurses with a gurney burst through the doors to collect him, another nurse took the hand of the 2-year old, the doorman took my car keys to park the van, and I was able to grab the baby and diaper bag. The long afternoon that followed included my husband arriving to take the youngest ones home, so I could stay with the oldest while he was being treated. I will never forget the twig-snapping sound as the doctor set the bones back into place (good thing I hadn’t eaten lunch). By the time we were finally able to come home, it was bedtime for all the boys. After they were asleep, I collapsed into a sobbing pile of mush. How could one who had been so strong for hours now come completely unglued?
Through this trial, I learned a truth that the Lord has reinforced many times since then. He gave me the same words He gave Paul when he was facing a crisis. “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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Cor 12:9) God met me with His grace in that first cry for help. Everything that followed was His strength. When the crisis was over, and I no longer needed supernatural power, I reverted to my normal state of overwhelmed weakness and ineptitude. Seeing the two versions of me side-by-side was at once eye-opening, alarming, and freeing.
It has taken years for me to un-learn relying on my strength in every situation, especially crises. Anything we have practiced from childhood is deeply embedded in our subconscious minds like reflex reactions, in operation without intentionality. But God is very patient, and He has given me a lot of practice in facing situations where I’m out of options, feeling helpless, hopeless, incapable, and completely overwhelmed. While those are scary places for a “strong” person to find herself, and the struggle in that place can be gut-wrenching, the freedom that has come from allowing God to be in charge – doing what He does best – is mind-boggling. It is like the pressure valve on an overheated pressure cooker being released.
While my mode of operation has not changed as completely as I would like, I am now better able to recognize the signs that I am about to take charge. I pause to consider how good it is that I feel incapable of whatever needs to be done. Now, I can not only admit my weakness to the Lord, but praise Him for it, as He has allowed it to give me the best possible outcome — much better than I could ever hope to achieve on my own. It is His strength at work in my place of weakness. This is the amazing secret of being “strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.” Ephesians 6:10
Consider this question: is it worth the pain of admitting our failures and weaknesses, worth the trepidation of the unknown in abandoning our action plans, in order to receive the supernatural power of God at work on our behalf?