I’m told that men want to be known as strong, and women want to be known as beautiful. I don’t know; maybe I’m greedy, but I always wanted both. In my games as a child, I didn’t identify with passive princesses. I was Robin Hood. I was a pirate. I was a sword fighter, a spy, a dragon-slayer. In every game, I was someone brave.
Although God does not call us to act tough, He does call us to be strong.
As I grew older, games faded into actual goals. I was determined to become strong in every sense of the word: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. If I was hurt—oh baby. If I was hurt, I’d grind my teeth and set my jaw— but I could never cry. Voicing pain was for weaklings. Tears were for wimps.
But pretending to be a hero is foolish when you can’t even get out of bed in the morning. My tough girl attitude softened up in my teens, as I lost my physical strength through chronic illness. I began to permit myself to cry, and I began to learn vulnerability.
Good Weak vs. Bad Weak
Christian articles and posts about being “real” are a dime a dozen these days. We’re the generation of authenticity. Away with masks! We are imperfect; we are people who weep, and we are people who fail. We are weak and our weakness is okay—these days, this is the collective shout of the Internet.
When we own both our weaknesses and the power of Christ, someone does get glory: Christ.
And I approve. The drop-away of our tough girl act reveals a humble, healthy honesty. It is good to be vulnerable. It is essential to express our neediness. In one sense, it is good to admit weakness.
But there is another side to this coin. There is a bad kind of weakness. Bad weakness is what settles in when we allow our frailty to define us. Although God does not call us to act tough, He does call us to be strong.
Strength Training 101
And this is where things get confusing.
What does it mean to be “strong” in a biblical sense? If strength doesn’t mean keeping a “stiff upper lip,” what does it look like?
Psalm 27:14 presents us with a strategic sandwich as a clue:
“Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.”
Strength as the world defines it starts and ends with you.
Are you tough enough? Do you have what it takes? Can you grit your teeth and muscle your way through?
Strength as God defines it starts and ends with Him.
“Wait for the Lord.” To make his point unmistakably clear, the Psalmist repeats himself. “Yes, wait for the Lord.” This is what it means to be strong and courageous. Strength is the exercise of confidence in God’s power. Our strength is in Him.
Because of this, Paul can say what he says in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “But he [God] 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.”
Strength Is Not a Christian Elective
We are not called to simply acknowledge our weakness, fold our hands in our laps demurely, and comfort each other with the shared acknowledgement that we are pitifully frail. We are called to own the strength of God and live in light of the power of Christ.
Take note of Paul’s final sentence in verse 9—he says he will talk openly and freely about his own weaknesses, and so far, this is familiar territory on the blogosphere. We’re a mess, our houses are a mess, our lives are mess. We’re just being real.
Let’s keep up the honesty, but Paul doesn’t stop at airing his weaknesses in public. He goes on.
The primary reason why he starts off by telling people all about his issues? So that the POWER of Christ may rest on him. So that when people look at his life, they have to say, “Whoa. Paul couldn’t do that alone; I know that guy. But God’s power—wow, God’s power in Paul is jaw-dropping.”
What does this look like, practically, in your life and mine?
It looks like the exercise of confidence in God’s strength:
- Owning the weakness of a quick tongue . . . then owning the superior power of God to forgive you and to tame your tongue.
- Owning the weakness of physical pain and exhaustion . . . then owning the superior strength of God to empower you in and through that trial.
- Owning the weakness of our faith . . . then owning the superior power of God to give us grace and fill us with fresh faith.
If Paul simply put his weaknesses on display, no one would get any glory. Who would be interested in following a Savior who can’t change anyone?
But when we own both our weaknesses and the power of Christ, someone does get glory: Christ.
Let’s talk about this.
- How would you define true strength?
- Have you ever felt the need to be “strong”? How did you go about seeking strength?
- What does Paul seem to be saying about weakness and strength?
- Who is one of the strongest women you know? Why do you think of her as strong?