Don’t Focus on Your Strengths

The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation (Exodus 15:2).

For the past decade or so, discovering our strengths has been the buzz in North America, particularly in leadership and management circles. Lots of books have been published and numerous tests developed to help us identify our strengths.

The closest biblical parallels are texts like Ephesians 4:11, 1 Corinthians 12:28, Romans 12:6–8, and others where we are given lists of gifts “that differ according to the grace given to us” by God. And we are urged to use them for the benefit of the church.

But note that even here the Bible tends to refer to “gifts” rather than “strengths.” The difference in focus, I think, is important for us. We tend to think of our strengths as inherently part of our identity. Strengths are our value-add; our competitive edge. But gifts connote grace. A gift does not originate with us. It’s something we receive from God and steward for his sake. Therefore our gifts are not so much our identity as our offering. And since God has given us these gifts, he’s not obliged to always put us in places where we can use them fully.

In fact, God frequently places us in positions where we struggle and feel weak for the very reason that he receives particular glory by showing his strength through our weaknesses.

This motif is woven through redemptive history: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27). Why? “So that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:29). God shames human strength to humble humans.

The Apostle Paul, who had extraordinary strengths, came to understand this so profoundly that he said, “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 Corinthians 12:9–10).

So this is Paul’s strength-finders theory: our weaknesses are when Christ’s power — our true strength — is most clearly on display. Therefore we ought to boast in and be content with weaknesses.

What God really wants is for us to be “strong in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:10). And becoming strong in the Lord almost always requires that God weaken us. For it’s when our weakness forces us to depend on his strength that we grow in our understanding of the gospel and learn to walk by faith. And usually our deepest, most precious encounters with God occur in the context of our weaknesses, not our strengths.

There are helpful things to glean and apply from the world’s strength-finders resources. But don’t focus too long on them. Focus on the Bible. It’s the best strengths-finders manual out there. Becaus it’s not our strengths that it helps us to find. It helps us find God’s strength.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:26).

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Previous posts from Jon Bloom —

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) is the author of Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith and serves as the President of Desiring God, which he and John Piper launched together in 1994. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Pam, their five children, and one naughty dog.