Why Does God Let Me Stay So Weak?

Weak

I hate weakness. I don’t like being weak. And I have so many weaknesses as a husband, father, and pastor. I want to have it all together. I want to be a strong leader, a loving husband, a wise father. But I’m so weak. I fail so often. Why?

Why does God let us stay so weak at times? Why is it so hard to put sin to death? Why do we struggle and fail so much? Why are we so often weak in our faith?

The apostle Paul knew about weakness. And he didn’t like weakness in himself – at least not initially. Paul had some kind of “thorn given him in the flesh, a messenger of Satan” that harassed him. Some believe the “thorn” was Jewish persecution; many believe it was a physical ailment or disease that affected his eyesight. They believe this since he dictated his letters, and he said it was because of a “bodily ailment” he had originally preached the gospel to the Galatians (GA 4.13). He also said the Galatians would have plucked out their eyes and given them to him (4:15). Also when he was rebuked for calling the high priest a “white-washed wall” Paul said he didn’t know he was the high priest. Yet Paul was a Pharisee who would certainly have recognized the high priest if he could see him.

Whatever his affliction, Paul struggled with it. He didn’t like being weak. He sought the Lord on three occasions about it and finally God gave him some insight into why he didn’t remove Paul’s weakness.

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. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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. 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. 2 CO 12:7-10

As Paul sought the Lord about his “thorn” God showed him some things.

First, it was to keep Paul from conceit and pride, having received great revelations from God. Knowledge puffs up. When we have strong gifts or incredible talent it’s easy to become proud. When we have some serious success it’s easy to forget that all our gifts and success is from God. How many gifted teachers of God’s word have succumbed to pride and fallen into sin. How easy it is for us to judge others out of our strengths. How easy it is for parents whose children are doing well to look down on those whose children are struggling or rebelling. So weakness humbles us. Failure keeps us from becoming conceited. And since pride comes before a fall, weakness can keep us from stumbling.

The second reason God let Paul stay weak was to make Paul rely on Christ’s grace – “My grace is sufficient for you.” Pride leads us to rely on ourselves; weakness drives us to our knees to seek God’s grace. Strength can lead to self-sufficiency. Weakness makes us depend on Christ. Weakness sends us to the throne of grace for mercy and grace in time of need.

The third reason God kept Paul weak was to reveal Christ’s power through him – “my power is made perfect in weakness.” The more we realize our weakness, then when anything good happens through us, we know it is the power of Christ, not us. When we have tried again and again to conquer a sin, become aware of our own weakness in the battle, then finally conquer it, we know it was by Jesus’ grace and power. Then Jesus receives the glory. We won’t think we did it by our own willpower but by Jesus’ grace.

Paul got to the place where he was content with weakness! He could be content with insults, hardships and persecutions. And even with calamities! Because he knew that all these things would reveal how weak he was, and the power of Christ would shine through him.

To be content with weakness doesn’t mean we give up trying to put sin to death. It doesn’t mean we quit trying to bear fruit for God. But it means that when we fail, when we realize how weak we are, we won’t despair but turn to Christ and ask him to give us HIS power. HIS strength. HIS wisdom. HIS grace.

Do you feel weak? Confess your weakness to Jesus. (He won’t be surprised). Confess your sins. Confess your failures as mom or dad. Tell him how much you need his grace not to get angry. Tell him you need his grace to love that brother who it’s so hard to love. Ask him to give you the grace to rejoice in your pain and be content in your trial.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 PE 5:6-7

Grace: Give Where You Are Lacking

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We are perpetually in need of grace. All the time and in every way. Our need isn’t just extensive, it’s pervasive. We have need in every area of life because every area is marked by sin. Most Christians acknowledge this, ascent to it. But somehow, some way we still think we’re good. Or at least we think we’re good in certain parts of life. If not “good” we are perfectly willing to think of ourselves as better than others.

In a certain ironic twist, one of the greatest indications of our need of grace is our perpetual self-justification. Our own claim to not need it in certain areas shows how much we do. We put ourselves up and others down. We are willing to dole out some grace here and there, but really only in areas we have knowingly received it in. That’s about the only way we ever show grace – the way we perceive ourselves to have received it.

But most of the time our perception of grace is segmented to a single area of life where God has done a noticeable work. In that area we are generous with grace. In all the other areas we are put ourselves above others.

I am lustful; you are mean. I judge you for being a jerk.

I am cynical; you are arrogant. I judge you for being a snob.

I am dishonest; you play favorites. I judge you for being cliquish.

I am lazy; you are a workaholic. I judge you for being absent from your family

When we give grace to those who struggle with what we have overcome, we are giving from an abundance. We have received much and are passing it along.

When we refuse to give grace to those who struggle in areas we cannot relate to we fail to recognize the real abundance. We look at them and say “I would never . . .” or “How could they . . .” and miss the fact that it is only grace that kept us from being the exact same as they. The call to do unto others as you would have them do unto you is a call to show them the grace you show yourself.

You over look your own sins and weaknesses, knowing you need grace. Do they not need the same? You think of yourself as good in so many areas and look for weaknesses in others. But where are their strengths, those areas in which they think of themselves as good? Can you see those in spite of, or instead of, their failures?

To whom much has been given, much will be expected. You and I, we have received much grace. More even than we recognize. And we can not be stingy with our sharing of it.

Jesus Is Not Only Sympathetic; He Can Change Things

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Jesus is not only sympathetic; he can do something about it.

Before he saved me, I didn’t picture Jesus as having much empathy toward me. I thought of him as distant or indifferent.  After all, he had a universe to run. I didn’t know he cared about me personally, much less loved me. But after he opened my blind eyes, one day I found out he was deeply sympathetic to my struggles.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (HEB 4:15)

When someone’s been through the same thing we have, it’s much more meaningful when they give us their sympathy than someone who’s never experienced it. My wife has endured depression and anxiety in varying degrees, sometimes extreme, for many years, so she’s deeply sympathetic to those who suffer in the same ways. I’ve never suffered that particular way. I believe people are suffering terribly, and I seek to empathize, but I can’t comfort them the way Kristi can. The Bible says we are to put on compassion, so I try to imagine their pain, I try to weep with those who weep, but I have to say at times, “I can’t even imagine how horrible this must be for you.” But Kristi can say, “I know what it’s like. I’ve been there.”

Jesus can sympathize with us completely because no matter what we’re experiencing, he’s been there. First, he is able to sympathize with our WEAKNESSES, for he was weak in his human nature. He got hungry, tired and thirsty. He needed sleep and rest. He knew loneliness. He suffered unbelievable physical pain.

Jesus can also sympathize with us when we are TEMPTED – he is “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” He was tempted in EVERY RESPECT by Satan himself, who threw his worst at him. None of us have probably ever known Satan’s worst temptations.  Jesus was tempted to pride, envy, lust, to love the world, to fear man. He was tempted to anger, to laziness, to be impatient with people – you name it. He was tempted to feel sorry for himself when he was lonely. He was tempted to unbelief. He was tempted to give up. Can you imagine how Jesus was tempted when he told his disciples he was going to be betrayed, tortured, mocked, and crucified and they started arguing about who was the greatest?

Jesus not only sympathizes, but he can do something about our situation.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (16)

So often somebody tells me about a hard time they are going through and I may be sympathetic but often I can’t do anything about it. I can pray for them, but I can’t change their situation. I can’t lift their burden or heal them or take their sadness or provide all they need. I might be able to help a little, but I can’t change their whole situation. If I found someone under a massive tree that had fallen in the forest, I’d feel horrible for them, but couldn’t lift it off.  This is why Jesus is a GREAT high priest. He’s not only sympathetic, but he can DO SOMETHING about our situation – he can save, heal, provide and strengthen.

First, look where Jesus is. He is on “the throne of grace.” Charles Spurgeon says:

“It is a throne set up on purpose for the dispensation of grace; a throne from which every utterance is an utterance of grace; the scepter that is stretched out from it is the scepter of grace; the decrees proclaimed from it our purposes of grace; the gifts that are scattered down it’s golden steps are gifts of grace; and he that sits upon the throne is grace itself.”

Jesus, our great high priest, is waiting and longing to help us.

Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you…(Isaiah 30:18 NASB)

What do we receive at his throne? MERCY and GRACE TO HELP in time of need.

Mercy is NOT GETTING what we DO deserve. We should be punished for our sins but at the throne of grace we find mercy. And grace is GETTING what we DON’T deserve – Blessings, strength, power, help, joy. We can be confident Jesus will give us “grace to help in time of need.”

24 hours a day, we can draw run to our great high priest, knowing he’s infinitely sympathetic and infinitely able to do something about our struggles. Jesus has mercy for our failures and grace for our weaknesses and temptations. And he never tires of our requests. We can’t ask too much or too often. So run to your great high priest today. He longs to be gracious to you.

New Spoken Word Piece: Jesus Is For Losers

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Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the wonderful reality that Jesus isn’t for people who have it all together. He’s for the weak, weary, worn out, burned out, frustrated, and dejected. I’ve been reminded of the wonderful words Jesus spoke in Matthew 9:12 –

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.

As a response to this truth, I wrote the following spoken word piece, called “Jesus Is For Losers”. I hope you enjoy it.

You Know You’re Starting To Understand Grace When…

surprise

Most of the time, I don’t get grace. I mean, I understand it in an intellectual, theological way. I could probably give you a well-nuanced, theologically accurate, biblical description of God’s grace. I can sing about “amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.” I can direct you to the grace chapter in Grudem’s Systematic Theology. But I’m learning that there’s a long way between my head and heart. There’s a massive difference between knowing about grace and being transformed by grace.

How do I know when I’m starting to truly, fully grasp grace? Here’s how…

I’M STARTING TO TRULY UNDERSTAND GRACE WHEN GRACE SURPRISES ME

The grace of God runs counter to every impulse in me. The desire to earn, merit, and purchase God’s grace is woven into my DNA. I instinctively try to push my way into God’s presence by law-keeping. Yeah, I’m saved by grace, but after being saved, I go into salvation-maintenance mode, which, according to my thinking, hinges on my good works.

This is why God’s grace is so befuddling to me. God doesn’t give me grace because I’ve earned it; he gives me grace because he is gracious. Here is the brain-busting reality: God’s grace has absolutely ZERO correlation with earning. I know, I know, this kind of talk seems reckless, even a little dangerous. If this is really true, I might take advantage of God’s grace. I might start backsliding. I might go all apostate on God. Surely a little bit of earning is good, right? WRONG!

If I don’t get pound this fact into my head, I’ll never truly understand grace.

Jesus makes this crystal clear in his parable about the workers in the vineyard. Those who worked from the beginning of the day assumed they would receive higher pay than those who worked only one hour at the end of the day. They assumed that the master operated according to principles of “fairness”. They had worked harder than those who only worked one hour, therefore the “fair” thing to do would be for the master to pay them more.

But the master paid everyone the same amount, which caused a fair amount of grumbling among the workers. The master then said:

Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. (Matthew 20:15-16)

Everyone was surprised by the master’s pay scale. Those who had worked all day were surprised that they had only received one denarius. Those who had only worked one hour were surprised that they had received one denarius.

Grace is wonderfully, surprisingly, delightfully not fair! Fairness has nothing to do with God’s grace! Today, God will give me a lavish, ridiculous, completely unfair, completely surprising amount of grace. Today, God will give me a surprising, unexpected, wonderful amount of grace. Today God will give me way more grace than I’ve “earned” (as if I could ever earn God’s grace). Today, God will surprise me with grace.

If I’m not suprised by grace, there’s a good chance I don’t understand it.

Why We Should Keep Waiting For God

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Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.
(Isaiah 30:18)

The ESV Study Bible comments on this passage:

“Note the amazing logic of grace: God’s people forsake him for a false salvation (vv. 1–17); therefore, he is gracious to them (v. 18). But he waits, for the Lord is a God of justice, i.e., he knows the perfect way to achieve his purpose, the perfect time to go into action, and the perfect disciplinary process that will awaken Judah.”

Judah had taken refuge from her enemies by turning to Egypt for protection – “a false salvation”, rather than turning to God. But God wasn’t finished yet. He was waiting for the perfect time to be gracious to them, the perfect time to “awaken” them, the perfect time to pour out his mercy. And when he did be gracious to them, he would “exalt himself” – he would display his glory.

Are you waiting on God for something? Praying and praying yet the answer seems to not be coming? God has a perfect timing. He is waiting until the perfect time to be gracious to you. The time that will be best for you and bring the most glory to him. He is a God of justice – he won’t fail to answer prayer. He won’t fail to treat you justly. He won’t fail to be true to his promises. He would be unjust if he told us to trust him and wait for him, then fail to be gracious. But blessed are all those who wait for him.

Why should we keep waiting for God?  Because he is waiting for the perfect time to bless us. He has bags and bags of grace stored up for us. He’s just waiting for the absolute best time to heap them upon us. So keep watching for the One who plans to be gracious to you. Keep asking, seeking and knocking. Keep trusting him. Keep your mind stayed on him. Don’t go running to Egypt for salvation. Don’t go running to the world for relief.  “Blessed are all those who wait for him.”  When God does pour out his grace you’ll appreciate it more than ever. Who knows?  Today might be the day he answers your prayers.

I Would Say This Verse Pretty Much Covers All Your Bases

It’s so easy to take the Bible for granted. I mean, I’ve got like twelve different physical Bibles around my house, including two children’s Bibles. The illustrator for one of those children’s Bibles must have been fascinated by eyes because all the characters have ginormous eyes with no eyelids. Jonah and John the Baptist and Martha all look like they’ve taken mega doses of amphetamines and haven’t slept for weeks. Kinda weird.

On top of all the physical Bibles I own, I also have many different digital Bibles. I’ve got the Bible on my phone, computer, and iPad. I’ve got friends sharing Bible verses on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. I am awash in God’s word. Maybe that’s what makes it so easy to take it for granted. I forget just how sacred God’s promises are. I forget that in Christ, God, “…has granted to us his precious and very great promises…” (2 Peter 1:4)

And then I read verses like 2 Corinthians 9:8, which says:

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

When I read this verse this morning it slapped me out of my Bible sluggitude. The depth and breadth and preciousness of this promise are unbelievable.

If this promise is real (and it is!) it means I have access to the absolute depths of God’s astounding grace.

God is able to make all of his grace abound to me. Not some of his grace. Not crumbles and pieces of his grace. God will make all of his grace abound  to me. This means God’s grace will fill every nook and cranny of my life. Both the mundane and the monstrous will be splashing over with God’s grace. The heavenly and the hellish. Just think how much grace is contained in that word “all”.

Because I have all of God’s abundant grace at all times I will also have all sufficiency for all things at all times. God himself will give me empowering grace to obey him, love him, trust him, and thank him at all times. This covers everything! Cankersores and cancer, back aches and bronchitis, child birth and child death, retirement and bankruptcy. God’s grace is deeper than the deepest pit and higher than highest mountain. All thing and all times really does mean all things and all times. I don’t have to worry about coming to the end of God’s grace. He will always have more than enough for me. I can’t predict the future but I can predict that all of God’s grace will be there to meet me in the future.

Because I have all of God’s grace which is sufficient for all things and all times I WILL abound in every good work. This is a beautiful divine daisy chain. Grace leads to grace leads to grace. God will empower me to be generous when I’m poor and when I’m rich. He will strengthen me to give thanks when I healthy and when I’m sick. He will motivate me to serve when I’m strong and when I’m weak. I won’t run out of good works because God won’t run out of grace.

There’s a reason my grandpa is still abounding in good works at age 94. God’s grace has abounded to him every day. It enabled him to care for my grandmother as she disintegrated with Alzheimer’s. It enables him to take a poor man shopping for groceries on a regular basis. It enables him to paint hundreds of birthday cards every year. All of God’s grace for all things at all times for all good works.

God will give me more than enough grace for all things I encounter today. When I get to tomorrow I’ll encounter the same abundant grace. Then the day after that and after that and after that. I’d say this verse just about covers everything.

+original photo by Kevin Dooley

A Song For This Morning’s Post

This morning I posted how the story of David’s kindness to Mephibosheth is a wonderful picture of God’s grace to us in Christ.  My friend West Breedlove, a worship leader in Knoxville, TN, wrote a song a while back on that very story.  He sent me a quick recording he did of it years ago.  I think you’ll like the song – not to mention he’s a great finger-picker (for you pickers, West capoed his guitar on the 9th fret).  Listen to it here.  Enjoy!

Mephibosheth by West Breedlove

I am the son of Jonathan
My only claim to fame
For I’ve been bound for so long now
Inside this broken frame
Legs that don’t know how to walk
What hopelessness this brings
Till the invitation came to dine
Forever with the king

What can he see
In a useless thing like me
His table is my own
Like I’m in his family
The kindness he has shown
Is not required from his throne
And I wonder, can he see
That I’m crippled in my bones?

I should have been his enemy
A rival he should kill
But for the sake of jonathan
A vow he has fulfilled
A promise for salvation
For all in jonathan’s line
But more than just saving me
He’s brought me here to dine

The status of my family
He now has given back to me
The land which we once lived in
Is now in my hands again
This king who we tried to kill
Brings me to his every meal
And what am I to say to him,
This king who now calls me his friend?

Copyright by West Breedlove

 

Calling All Dead Dogs

And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David. And the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “I am your servant.” And the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” The king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.  And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.”  And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.”  And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”

Then the king called Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson.  And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master’s grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master’s grandson shall always eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.  Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do.”  So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons. And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba’s house became Mephibosheth’s servants. So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table. Now he was lame in both his feet. 2 Samuel 9:1-13

What a wonderful picture of God’s grace.

Mephibosheth was useless to David – he had nothing he could offer the mighty king of Israel.  He’d been lame in both his feet, since childhood when his nurse dropped him (2 Samuel 4:4) and crippled him for life.  Mephibosheth had done nothing to deserve David’s kindness.  He was astounded that David would heap such amazing blessings on his head.  “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”

But David didn’t pour out his kindness on Mephibosheth because he had anything to offer David. He did it for the sake of his father,  Jonathan, David’s friend (1,7).  And what an astounding blessing David poured out – not only did he give him a boatload of servants to till his land and bring him the produce, he gave Mephibosheth a permanent place of honor at his own table (7).  For the rest of his days, Mephibosheth would eat the king’s delicacies and enjoy fellowship with David himself.

Like Mephibosheth, we were spiritually ruined, having been born in sin (Psalm 51). We had nothing to offer God, deserving only judgment and condemnation.  Each of us could well have asked God: “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”  Yet as David blessed Mephibosheth for Jonathan’s sake, so our Heavenly Father heaps blessings on us for Jesus’ sake.  He accepts, loves, and delights in us because of Christ.

God has seated us dead dogs at his own table.  But not because we deserve it.  He fulfills his promises, gives us gifts and fills our hearts with joy because of  Jesus.

Do you think Mephibosheth was grateful? I’d guess he gushed with thanks every time he took a heaping bite of royal beef or a sip of David’s choice wine. For all the grace God’s heaped on us in Christ let’s heap our thanks and praise back on him.

Is Grace The Opposite of Law?

[This post was written by my fellow pastor Bob Mundorff]

Why do so many Christians think grace is the opposite of law? (That sounds kind of proud, so I’ll admit that I thought that too). Or even that grace is “relaxed law”? (Yep. Thought that too).

However, Jesus said that he didn’t come to abolish the law and that none of it will pass until the heavens and earth pass away. Then he actually said that anyone who “relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven”. [see Matt. 5:17-48]

“Whaaahh? But… didn’t Paul say in Romans, that we are not under law, but under grace?” That’s right. And then Paul went on to say that doesn’t mean we can live however we want, but that we would be obedient from the heart (rather than from an external code – law). Like a weary wife living under the impossible standards of a perfectionist husband, Paul explained in Romans chapter 7 that before we were saved, we were that wife married to the law. This husband (law) demanded and expected intricate perfection in every task. But he never helped her. She wished he would die, so she could be free from this awful marriage. But God said the law is actually good and must remain [Romans 7, 1 Tim. 1:8, Matt. 5:18].

How then, can she (we) get out from under this burdensome marriage to this taskmaster named Law? There is a way… We can die. And that’s exactly what happened when you trusted Jesus. You died to the law! And now you are married to a perfect husband who actually helps you complete every task with joy. Romans 7:4 says, “…you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” Then verse 6 explains, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”

Praise God, we are no longer under law! But that doesn’t mean we should just let ourselves go. He calls us to strive for perfection [1 Peter 1:15]. Jesus doesn’t want to be married to someone who’s life looks like a guest on the Jerry Springer show. No way! The bar has actually been raised. But here’s the glorious difference – God works in us to fulfill his higher standard! Because of the Holy Spirit, we are able to do far more abundantly than all we can ask or think…[Eph. 3:20].

Here it is summed up in my favorite little poem.

Run, John, run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands,
Far better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings

Grace not only brings us salvation, but enables and empowers you to live it out! [Titus 2:11-12]