One of the signs of a healthy church is counterintuitive: the people who belong to it often feel weak.
This feeling of personal inadequacy was something the Apostle Paul learned to embrace. In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 he writes about his infamous “thorn in the flesh”. Not surprisingly rivers of ink have been spilled by Bible commentators as they’ve tried to identify it! Whatever it was, it’s clear Paul would have loved it to disappear. Three times he pleaded with the Lord to take it away (v 8). Yet it was during this excruciating experience, that Paul was given a wonderful reassurance from the Lord, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v 9).
Part of the reason Paul shared his story was that the church in Corinth needed to learn this lesson too. They loved the idea of looking impressive in the eyes of the world and often tried to compete and out-do one another. But in his first letter Paul reminded them of their humble beginnings, “Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (1 Cor. 1:26). Instead of boasting in themselves, they were to boast in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:31). What was true then is true now.
There are lots of ways we can feel weak as God’s people:
- We can feel weak as we pray. Often you and I just don’t know what to pray for.
- We can feel weak as we try to share our faith. It can be hard to put into words all that Jesus means to us when speaking to family or friends.
- We can feel weak as we battle sin. Often we don’t feel we’re making much progress.
- We can feel weak as we age or face pressures at work or in our family life. Sometimes we’re just relieved to get to the end of a day, week or month.
Throughout the Bible and church history God seems to take a special delight in working through weak people.
But we should never think any of this means we would be more effective Christians or churches if our lives were trouble-free. Throughout the Bible and church history, God seems to take a special delight in working through weak people.
In his sermon, The Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way, Francis Schaeffer captures it well:
“The more the Holy Spirit works, the more Christians will be used in battle, and the more they are used, the more there will be personal cost and tiredness. It is quite the opposite of what we might first think. People often cry out for the work of the Holy Spirit and yet forget that when the Holy Spirit works, there is always tremendous cost to the people of God—weariness and tears and battles.’*
So often, it is the struggles we have that God seems to use to point people to a suffering Saviour. It is in lives and churches that are cracked, that the light of Jesus shines most brightly. Apart from him we can do nothing, and, as Paul learned, it is then, when we are weak, that we are strong.
*This can be found in a collected volume called No Little People
The vision of the Free Church of Scotland is to see a “Healthy Gospel Church for Every Community in Scotland.”
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