There are many adjectives that you could rightly use to describe the Christian life. Joyful, satisfying, hopeful are a few of them. Then there are those that are equally true, and yet a little more difficult to accept. Words like arduous, disciplined, and troubled fit here. And in that long list of adjectives sits one more that perhaps you haven’t considered recently:
When a situation is ironic, it means that what it appears to be on the surface is actually far different – and maybe even the opposite – deep down. Irony is a kind of contradiction of what is visible and what is real. While that description doesn’t really fit around things like “rain on your wedding day” or “a free ride when you’ve already paid,” it does fit alongside the Christian experience. Because for the Christian…
The mourners are comforted.
The empty are filled.
The least are the greatest.
These things are all true about the kingdom of God for that kingdom is, in many ways, an upside down kind of kingdom because what is actually true is not what appears to be true. There is one particular irony of the Christian life that we would do well to remember today, though, and that is the fact that for the Christian, weakness is actually strength. JI Packer, in his classic work Knowing God, describes that dynamic like this:
“God uses chronic pain and weakness, along with other afflictions, as his chisel for sculpting our lives. Felt weakness deepens dependence on Christ for strength each day. The weaker we feel, the harder we lean. And the harder we lean, the stronger we grow spiritually, even while our bodies waste away. To live with your ‘thorn’ uncomplainingly—that is, sweet, patient, and free in heart to love and help others, even though every day you feel weak—is true sanctification. It is true healing for the spirit. It is a supreme victory of grace.”
Packer is referencing here the experience of Paul the apostle who had some kind of “thorn” in his flesh – some kind of persistent ailment that, though he prayed the Lord take it away, nevertheless remained. And for Paul, this reminder of his weakness became the catalyst for his own growth and strength in Christ:
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:8-10).
Here is true irony. That the greater our awareness of our own weakness, the greater opportunity we have to lean on Christ. And through that leaning, the stronger we become. In Christ, those that freely acknowledge and deeply feel their own weakness are the ones who are spiritually mighty in Him.
What an incredible contrast to the definition of strength we find in the world. For in the world, strength is measured by our ability to do things on our own. By ourselves. By our own intelligence or ingenuity or physical presence. Those are the truly strong people in the world. But here again we find another irony, because even those considered, in the eyes of the world, to be most self-sufficient and therefore strong are just as weak as all the rest of us.
They, too, are only upheld by the grace of God.
They, too, only have breath because God sees fit for it to be so.
They, too, are only held together through the common grace of God.
These strong people are weak. They just aren’t aware of it.
But for us Christians? Weakness is something to be rejoiced in. Our physical ailments? Our shifting emotions? Our penchant toward anxiety? These are all opportunities for us to rejoice. We don’t rejoice because we are this way; we rejoice because every one of those weaknesses is a chance for us to consciously lean harder and harder on the strength of Jesus.
If, then, you’re feeling weak today – take heart. Your weakness is an opportunity. Lean hard on Jesus and know that when you are weak, then you are strong.