Written by Victor Stanley Jr.
Weakness is a thing we scorn, a thing we fear, a thing we are often not strong enough to deal with. We despise weakness because it makes us feel inadequate and helpless. We fear it because it strips us of our independence and self-confidence. We have difficulty accepting that we are weak because it means admitting that we cannot take on life on our own.
I have never been physically strong compared to most of the men with whom I’ve been friends. I have never cared too much about being muscular or being able to lift a bunch of weight or what have you. My friends over the years have been athletes, body builders, martial artists, and blue-collar guys that are just strong. I’ve always found myself fitting the description found in the lyrics of a favorite rapper of mine:
“I was a frail [guy] I couldn’t much work with my hands, but my mind was strong…”
I have always found my strength in my intellect, resourcefulness, and ambition. I may be weaker than the next guy, but I’ll outsmart him. I may not be able to swing and ax, but I’ll befriend a lumberjack. And where I lack the talent to accomplish something, I’m ambitious enough to move heaven, earth, and every obstacle in the cosmos to get it done. I refuse to allow ignorance to be a hindrance, a lack of resources to be a deterrent, or the absence of air to stop my aspirations.
One of the practices I have been engaging in during this Lenten season has left me without energy and caused my mind to be weary and foggy. It has made it difficult to push myself beyond my limits and operate with the clarity of thought I value so much in myself. It has brought me to just short of standing still and ceasing all of my pursuits. Knowing the particular practice is not really important. The practice itself is very common among Christians and has been since the beginning. Presently, what is significant in it for me is that it has brought me to my knees and forced me to stare weakness in the face, and it is a multi-faceted weakness. I see not only my physical weakness, but also emotional, mental, and spiritual weakness. Why would I want to be in such a position? Why is this something I should value? What kind of man am I if I’m not strong? The answers to these questions are not hard to come by, the Scriptures so clearly lay out the answers to these questions that you’d have to skip entire books of the Bible to avoid finding them. The difficulty is in accepting the answers and embracing the life into which they call us.
Often, we look to God for help, we want Him to fix our problems or bring healing to our ailments or relationships. We seek God’s power in our lives to help us accomplish our goals or carry us through difficult seasons in work or school or family. We desire God’s wisdom to help us figure out the answers to perplexing situations we face or to assist in critical decisions we must make. All of this is good, and we should pursue God in this, but I am learning that this lack of strength has begotten a starvation in me, it has formed an appetency for something much more elemental. Jesus responds to Lucifer’s temptation in Matthew 4:3-4 saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
The hunger I am experiencing is a hunger for the words of God, and by this I do not simply mean the Bible. No, it is a hungering to hear God speak, to hear Him expose my weaknesses to me, to make them ever more evident and to reveal more of them to me. This is not a degrading or debilitating thing, rather it is a relief because I do not have to work to keep up the strength to hide my weaknesses, to pretend that I am stronger than I really am. It is comforting to hear God tell me all about my weaknesses because it means He truly sees me in all that I am. Yet, God does not leave me there to sit in my weaknesses, instead He continues to speak to me about strength and courage, endurance and resilience, boldness and perseverance. He takes me to the place where these things are found, where He will give them to me. It is a desolate place, a wilderness of testing, humility, and obedience. Jesus’ words to Satan are a direct quote from Moses as he spoke to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 8:2-3:
“And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your father know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
This desolate wilderness of testing, humility, and obedience is the life of Christ that collides with death at the cross and comes alive from the grave. It is the sojourning through this wilderness as we live life in Christ where we find a strength that can do much more than lift heavy objects or persevere through tough situations. It is a strength that lifts dead men and women weighed down by condemnation out of their graves. It is a strength by which Jesus conquered death after His body was crushed. It is a strength that can only be obtained by becoming utterly weak and helpless.
My intellect, resourcefulness, and ambition are only as strong as I am, and it turns out I’m actually pretty weak. And to be clear, when I say that I’m weak I am not parroting the pseudo-spiritual rhetoric that so often spills forth from the mouths of many prominent Christian leaders and pastors today. I mean that I am actually weak, that I lack the physical energy to get up in the morning; that because of the practice I’m engaged in my mind is not able to operate at its top ability; that the physical and mental weakness have made it that much harder to fight against sin and temptation; all of this has made it more difficult to maintain and manage my emotions. There are cracks in my fortitude and my will is eroding. It is a holistic weakness that has depleted the strength from every part of my being. Yet, the Apostle Paul says that in God we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). And again, Paul says that though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16). Where my own being is weak Christ is strong. Where my intellect, resourcefulness, and ambition waste away I am being built up in Christ.
When we step back and really take in life and all of its oddities and paradoxes, we will have to come to admit that it has always been the weakest among us who exhibit the most strength. However, I must admit that the weakness I am experiencing does not feel good, and it does not feel like strength, it just feels like inability, frustration, and tiredness. But it keeps pushing me into that place of starving for God’s voice to again tell me of His strength that will carry me along because It is not bread that will ultimately sustain me, only His words can do that. If Christ upholds the universe by the power of His word (Hebrews 1:3), then how much more can He hold up a weak man such as I?