In the next year, I encourage you to identify and exploit your weaknesses for the glory of Christ. I would like to give you an illustration from my own life, but first let me clarify what I mean.
Since 2007, millions of people have read books and taken inventories designed to find our strengths. These are useful for positioning people in places of maximum effectiveness.
God’s Work in Our Weaknesses
But I am calling you to give attention and effort in finding your weaknesses and maximizing their God-given purpose. The Bible tells us what that purpose is in 2 Corinthians 12:7–10. Paul had been given a thorn in the flesh” which was one instance of a “weakness.” Why?
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.
Paul mentions four purposes for his weaknesses.
“To keep me from becoming conceited” (verse 7).
“[Christ’s] power is made perfect in weakness” (verse 9).
“So that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (verse 9).
“When I am weak, then I am strong” (verse 10).
Paul’s Humility and Christ’s Power
“Look for ways to turn your weaknesses into a Christ-exalting experience.”
Even though this weakness of the thorn is called “a messenger of Satan,” the purposes are clearly not Satan’s. Satan does not want Christ’s power to be made perfect! God does. So God is overruling Satan’s design with his own. In other words, wherever the Christian’s weaknesses come from, they have a God-given purpose. They are not fortuitous.
We can sum up the purpose of Paul’s weakness like this: securing Paul’s humility and showing Christ’s power. That’s why God made sure Paul had weaknesses: to keep him “from becoming conceited” and to give him a more obvious experience of the power of Christ resting on him.
One Goal for 2014
What is your goal for the next year? I hope it is to be humble and to magnify the power of Christ. If it is, then one key strategy is to identify and exploit your weaknesses.
What does this mean? Negatively, it means that we stop complaining (to God and to people) about the things we are constitutionally not good at. And, positively, it means that we look for ways to turn our weaknesses into a Christ-exalting experience.
When I say “constitutionally not good at,” I mean that we have done our best to overcome the weakness, but we can’t. God has ordained that, through genetics or life-experience, we are limited, broken, weak. Paul asked that God would take his weakness away (verse 8), but God said no. Which means that sooner or later, we should stop praying against the weakness and accept it as God’s design for our humility and the glory of Christ.
What This Meant for Me
I’ll use myself as a simple example. I read slowly — about as fast as I speak. Many people read five or ten times faster than I do. I tried for years to overcome this weakness, with special classes and books and techniques. After about two decades of bemoaning this weakness (from age 17 to 37 or so), I saw there would be no change. This is one reason I left college teaching and the academic life. I knew I could never be what scholars ought to be: widely read.
“Don’t focus too much on finding your strengths. Give attention to identifying and exploiting your weaknesses.”
What did it mean for me to identify and exploit this weakness? It meant first that I accept this as God’s design for my life. I will never read fast. It meant I stop complaining about it. It meant that I take my love for reading and do with it what I can for the glory of Christ. If I can only read slowly, I will do all I can to read deeply. I will exploit slowness. I will ask Jesus to show me more in reading little than many see in reading much. I will ask Jesus to magnify his power in making my slowness more fruitful than speed.
In realizing I cannot read many books, I will pour my limited scope into reading one book better than any other: the Bible. If I must read fewer of many books, then I will read more carefully the greatest book.
Exploit Your Weaknesses
Now after all these years, I say with Paul, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (verse 9). Christ has been faithful to fulfill his purpose. He has magnified himself in this weakness.
If I had angrily resented God all these years that he did not let me be a comprehensively well-read scholar, I would not have exploited this weakness. I would have wasted it.
So this year, don’t focus too much on finding your strengths. Give attention to identifying and exploiting your weaknesses. God has not given them to you in vain. Identify them. Accept them. Exploit them. Magnify the power of Christ with them. Don’t waste your weaknesses.