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“This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Many were grumbling in the crowd. They spoke the very question on my mind.

Indeed, what he taught was very hard to accept. It drew a line between my life as a Jew and one following this new teaching. There was no middle ground. To choose one meant leaving the other. Apparently others felt the same.

There was an awkward silence among us casual followers of Jesus. I waited for his response. So often his words pierced me like a sword, to my very soul. He touched me deeply in a way I could not explain. There was something different about him. Yet I wrestled with what following him meant to my life. Already my family and friends were making comments about how much time I was spending with Jesus.

“Does this offend you?” Jesus said. “Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.”

How did he know? Once again he cut to the heart of the matter. I questioned myself if I really believed he is the Messiah. Could he be the Son of God like he claimed to be? I could feel his words penetrate me. “They are full of the Spirit and life,” I whispered to myself. Somehow he knew who was struggling with fully committing to him.

“This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” I could feel something stirring in me to commit to follow Jesus, yet what would my family and friends say? I feared they would abandon me.

I watched as several of his followers turned and walked away. His teaching is hard. There is no middle ground. It caused people to choose — a new life with Jesus, or a life without him. I watched a couple of my friends start to leave. They stopped and motioned to me to follow them. I sighed and started to walk with them.

From behind me I could hear Jesus say to the few remaining followers, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Then I heard one of them reply, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” A surge of regret filled me inside, yet I continued walking with my friends.

#WednesdayWalk Through the Bible — an exploration of what unknown people might have seen or felt when they witnessed the events in the Bible. This post is from the perspective of a casual follower of Jesus who hears Jesus’ challenge in John 6:60-69 (NIV).

© 2019 CGThelen

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published May 6, 2016.

I am a self-made man. I relish my achievements because they endorse how great I am. From job promotions, to bank accounts, to awards, to the accomplished lives of my children, I constantly seek endorsements that I am better than those around me. This arrogance is what elevates me above God. This is not an attitude that brings me closer to God.

It is in the hard times that I am brought closer to God and his purposes for my life. We do not welcome the struggles in life. As Paul writes in 2 Cor. 12:6-10, we plead for God to take them away, to remove the thorn in our flesh that continues to torment us. It is difficult for us to see that the challenges we face in life are there to help prevent us from becoming conceited.

It is so very hard to think that God places a thorn in our sides to prevent us from becoming arrogant. For months, even years I have prayed for a young soul to return to Christ. I have helplessly watched as this person’s life spiraled out of control. I desperately try to help, but it seems all my efforts are in vain. I feel weak and humbled. Paul’s words in verse 9 resonate, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It is not in my own abilities that I find the strength to manage hardship, it is in humble reverence to God that I find strength through Jesus Christ. When I am beaten down and worn out, that is when I am most open to the power of Christ within me. It is what Paul writes, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Jesus sacrificed himself to demonstrate the power of God to the world. On the cross He looked weak and defeated to the world. But through his death and resurrection, God’s power was made evident. Our ability to make Christ evident rests in our ability to die to self; to remain humble and not conceited. Paul’s words in verse 10 should encourage us: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” It is our acknowledgement of how truly weak we are to control this life that we find our true strength in Christ.

© 2016 CGThelen

This is the time of year when some of us get Christmas letters talking about all the great things accomplished during the year. But there is one letter I read recently that boasted about weaknesses and hardships — Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, specifically 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. I doubt I would ever use language in a Christmas letter to my friends and family using language like Paul used in verse 10, telling people how “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (NIV).”

At the core of living a life for Christ there seems to be a constant battle between self and selflessness; between a life in the Spirit of God and the flesh. Paul wrote about this struggle in 2 Cor. 12, reminding the Corinthian church to not boast about themselves, but to boast about Christ; to boast about their weaknesses. This is something that seems counterintuitive in our world. Afterall, who goes around bragging about how weak they are or their failures in a resume?

Yet humble people are often praised in this world and the arrogant often despised by others as being filled with self. When we empty ourselves of self we make room for the Spirit of God to work within us. We learn to rely on strength in Christ Jesus. As verse 9 reminds us, the Lord’s “grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It seems simple enough that we are strongest in Christ when our selfish motives are weakest. But to put It into practice is a daily struggle. Can I honestly delight in weakness as Paul writes in verse 10? It seems my first response to insults and persecution is to defend myself; my response to hardship and difficulties is to become envious of those who seem to have the perfect life. I am more inclined to boast about myself at the expense of Christ.

In the church when we admit our failures, our weaknesses, we humble ourselves before each other. This helps to open us up to allowing Christ to not only strengthen us, but the body of believers as well. Maybe it’s not a letter bragging about all your weaknesses, but rather sharing one of your struggles with some close friends “so that Christ’s power may rest on” you (verse 9).

© 2018 CGThelen

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