Monday, March 9, 2015

Strength Made Perfect

We are coming up on the time of year when, at least in my area, the weather is beautiful. The trees begin to bud, the grass becomes green again, and the sun shines at last, warming up our dark, cold winter world. When spring comes, it means that winter has passed. We have survived the long months of cold and snow, and are now to be rewarded with warmth, sunshine and flowers. 
As I wrote a few weeks ago, this time of year is especially difficult for me, and maybe for you too, if you suffer with chronic pain. In that recent article, I wrote about the importance of preparing for these seasons of difficulty. But, no matter how prepared we are, we are still made of flesh, and feelings of sadness can still overtake us. This is where I found myself today.
After spending a few days away from home at a conference, I was very tired. All the regular pains were flared up, along with a few other aches and issues from sleeping in a different bed, diet changes, and all the other things that go along with being away from home. All this made me somewhat weak in fighting the feelings that came upon me Monday morning as my friend shared about her weekend. “We got lots of yard work done. It felt great to have the yard looking so good.” The right response to that would go something like this: “Good for you! That is a great feeling to be all caught up, isn't it?” My heart response: “Yeah, my yard is a mess, but I can’t do anything about it. I am jealous of your physical strength and health, and I don’t understand why I have to be in this condition while you carry on doing everything without physical pain, and you’re older than I am!”
Another friend couldn't wait to tell me about all the fun she had with her grand kids, walking the trails and playing at the playground. The right response? To be happy for her, of course, and glad that she is making such wonderful memories, both for herself and for them. I mustered up an appropriate response, but in my heart, I felt jealousy and bitterness. I don’t have grandchildren yet, but one of my greatest fears is that, by the time they come, I will not be able to play with them in the ways my friend described. In my mind, I have already been cheated out of that experience, and my own children are not even married yet!
What has happened here? This is not my typical thinking any more, and hasn’t been for a long time. I have worked hard at training my thoughts to feed biblical fuel to my emotions. I am usually very quick to snatch those thoughts that are circling the drain, out of the whirlpool before it’s too late. But today, I was too slow. I allowed those old thinking patterns to have the rule over my mind, instead of what I know are the right, biblical, God-honoring thoughts. Why did I do this? Do I enjoy feeling sad, or do I long for despair? Did I just need a good cry to “vent out” all my feelings? How did I get here?
As I pondered these questions, 2 Corinthians 12:9 came to my mind:
“Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness...’”

That last word echoed in my mind and heart. Weakness. Vulnerability. I recognized myself in that moment. I had become so tired, both physically and emotionally, that I’d let my guard down. Now I was thinking I shouldn’t be a counselor, and maybe I’m not even really a Christian. How can I ever counsel anyone when I am so quick to give in to despair and hopelessness? How can I be a Christian if all it takes is one weekend away from home to make me forget the goodness and love of God?

In that moment, I realized that it is just that—the goodness and love of God—that was making me aware of the nature of my thoughts. Had the Spirit of God not intervened, I would have continued to spiral downward in my thinking, and I certainly wouldn't be writing this post right now. This is why and how His grace is sufficient: It is sufficient to sustain my faith through any kind or amount of pain, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. It is sufficient to keep me serving Him in whatever He calls me to do. And it is sufficient to bring my thinking back into line with His.
    
So what does His strength being made perfect look like, from a practical standpoint? Does it mean that I will never give in to feelings of sadness or despair? Does it mean He will enable me to fake a loving response to my friends when they tell of how they are enjoying their health? No, I don’t think so. I think it looks like the goodness and love of God coming to me at just the right time: When I’m tired, when I’m weak, when pain levels are up; when I cannot depend on myself and my own strength to bail me out of the deep waters of sadness; when I can’t snatch my own thoughts out of the circling vortex of despair, He Himself will swoop down in His strength and catch them and me.  

I often depend on the Amplified bible to clarify the application of Scripture, and once again, it does not disappoint with this verse. Here’s how it goes:

“But He said to me, My grace (My favor and loving-kindness and mercy) is enough for you [sufficient against any danger and enables you to bear the trouble manfully]; for My strength and power are made perfect (fulfilled and completed) and show themselves most effective in [your] weakness. Therefore, I will all the more gladly glory in my weaknesses and infirmities, that the strength and power of Christ (the Messiah) may rest (yes, may pitch a tent over and dwell) upon me!”
I want to draw your attention especially to that last line. In my weakness, the strength and power of Christ will pitch a tent over me and dwell upon me! What a glorious picture of our Lord’s grace! Though we are weak, exposed, and vulnerable, the Lord brings down his protective “tent” and dwells with us in it, strengthening us and bringing us into His rest. Here, He reminds us through His Word that we are not alone in our pain and weariness.
My dear friend, are you tired today? Weary of pain and weakness? Don't fret about it, and don't let it cause you to doubt whether you are useful the Lord. Remember this passage. Crawl into your “tent” with the Lord and His Word, and let Him show you the sufficiency of His grace in your weakness. Stay there until you are strengthened. And when you are once again full of His grace, love and power, go find a tired sister and invite her to your campground. You will see that you are able to do all that He calls you to do; that His grace is indeed sufficient; and that your weakness has a purpose: To make His strength perfect, and to show His love and goodness to others, not in spite of your weakness, but because of it. Hallelujah! What a Rescue! What a Savior!