Weak, low, despised and unlikely are essential qualities God looks for in his servants, and he chooses these qualities with great intentionality (1 Corinthians 1:27–29).
Don’t believe me? Look at the odd list of qualifications God gave for incredibly important positions in history:
The Father (and Mother) of God’s Covenant People: married couple; must be infertile and elderly (Genesis 17:6, 8, 15–16);
Israel’s Greatest King: must be a teenage shepherd when identified (1 Samuel 16:11–13); must be a musician and poet; must live as a fugitive under constant threat of assassination for a period of years (1 Samuel 20:3);
The Messiah: must have background in carpentry (Mark 6:3); must be raised in an insignificant, despised town (John 1:46); must have no formal theological education (John 7:15);
Lead Apostle: must have background in fishing industry; must have no formal theological education (Matthew 4:18; Acts 4:13);
The Apostles’ Chief Theologian, Apologist, and Missiologist: must be the most zealous persecutor of Christians (Acts 8:3).
“God never calls us to any kingdom responsibility we are capable of pulling off on our own.”
We might know, abstractly, that God loves to use weakness and brokenness. We might find it encouraging in a Bible story or missionary biography. We might even teach or preach to others about it. But when it comes to our own qualifications, it’s almost always an unpleasant and perplexing surprise that God wants to highlight our weaknesses. Which is why we, like Moses, sometimes wish God would just choose someone else for the assignment.
But God has a very strategic purpose for this design. One that, if we will embrace it, will make our weaknesses become a source of joy, not shame.
Lord, Send Someone Else
Moses was another one of God’s odd picks. What was on God’s list of qualifications for Israel’s Exodus Leader and Greatest Old-Covenant Prophet? Must be a Jewish member of Egyptian royalty (Exodus 2:10), must commit capital murder (Exodus 2:12, 15), must live in obscurity as a fugitive shepherd for forty years (Exodus 2:15; 7:7) — oh, and must be a poor public speaker (Exodus 4:10).
Moses’s story is inspiring, but we really need to put ourselves in Moses’s place, right in front of that burning bush. Would you have felt qualified to confront Pharaoh and demand the release of his total slave labor force? Moses certainly didn’t. He had a long list of objections to God’s choice (Exodus 3:13–4:12). And when God wouldn’t budge, Moses finally came right out and said it: “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else” (Exodus 4:13).
Please send someone else. This is the fearful response of a person who not only feels but knows he is too weak to do what God is assigning him to do. Yes, the response lacks faith, but it is an accurate assessment: in his own strength, Moses will not be able to fulfill the assignment. Trembling is altogether appropriate.
Have you ever felt like that? I certainly have. In fact, I have a tendency to feel it more now in middle age than I did when I was younger, because I’m much more in touch with my weaknesses and limitations. I now have ministry and family leadership failures on my resumé, largely through my misplaced confidence in my own wisdom and capacities. I recognize this tendency as a lack of faith, but I can relate to Moses’s preference to wander with his flocks through the quiet hills of Horeb rather than take up God’s assignment.
Lord, I’m sure there are more qualified people than I am to [blank]. I’d really prefer to lay low in the safety of obscurity.
This response, however humanly understandable, misses the point. God never calls us to any kingdom responsibility we are capable of pulling off on our own. It doesn’t matter whether one is called to confront Pharaoh or to love his neighbor enough to share the gospel with him, no one can do what only God can do: harden or soften the human heart (Romans 9:18). All power belongs to God (Psalm 62:11). And unless it’s God working in us “both to will and to work for his good pleasure,” all our working will come to naught (Philippians 2:13).
“If we don’t feel a keen sense of inadequacy for whatever assignment God gives us, we’re not in touch with reality.”
If we do not feel a keen sense of our inadequacy for whatever assignment God gives us, we’re not in touch with reality. For when it comes to doing anything that is intended to display God’s glory, advance God’s kingdom, proclaim his word to a resistant world, win and save lost people, shepherd souls, battle demonic powers, and mortify our persistent indwelling sin, “Who [in the world] is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16).
Weaknesses are necessary qualifications for God’s servants for just that reason: to make explicit, both to us and the watching world, that we are not sufficient. God puts his “treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Our weaknesses — those very things we’re embarrassed about and wish we didn’t have to struggle with, those things we want to hide from each other and the world, those things that make us want to ask God to send someone else — those weaknesses are a critical part of the mission. They are part of God’s strategy to reveal himself to the world. It’s through our weaknesses, more than our strengths, that God demonstrates that he exists and rewards those who trust and seek him (Hebrews 11:6).
Glad Boasting in Weaknesses
Paul, who we all know had many admirable strengths, understood this profound truth and got to the place where he could say,
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)
Don’t hear this as if it were from someone so immensely gifted that he’s out of touch with sorts of humbling weaknesses we mere mortals deal with. We likely barely grasp how much Paul’s various weaknesses were exposed and how many seemingly impossible deprivations, heartbreaks, and failed attempts he actually experienced. What we do know is that Jesus said right after his conversion, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16).
“It’s through our weaknesses, more than our strengths, that God demonstrates that he exists.”
Paul’s suffering and weakness-exposures weren’t punitive because he had previously persecuted Christians. Jesus had paid for that. Rather, they were a significant way in which God’s strength was revealed to the world — so much so, that Paul became a glad boaster in what made him look weak. Because in his weaknesses, people saw that the only strength he had came from God.
Why You Are Weak
That’s why we have our weaknesses. They are, perhaps more than our strengths, what qualify us to serve where God places us in his kingdom. And nothing teaches us prayerful dependence like the desperation that comes from being assigned to do what you can’t do without God.
Humans are impressed by the whole range of human strengths. But God is only impressed by one human strength: strong faith. Because faith is a dependence on God’s strength. Which is why, when God calls us into our various and diverse roles in his kingdom, he makes sure that our callings offer plenty of opportunities to expose our weaknesses. The more we understand why, the more these opportunities become occasions for joy instead of shame.