This morning I spent a bit of time contemplating the nature of "weakness" in the Christian life, and I decided that I don't take Paul's discussion of weakness seriously enough ... though I couldn't pinpoint what was wrong or how to fix it (I'm talking about 2 Corinthians 10-12).
To start off simply, I dislike being weak. So I don't embrace and boast about my weaknesses like Paul does in 2 Corinthians. But my gut instinct is that God doesn't want us to walk around saying, "I'm stupid," and "I suck," and to stop at that. If I were to do this, Christ's strength would be no more perfected in me than if I ignored my faults altogether.
The whole point of that passage is to have Christ's strength perfected in us. "All the more gladly," Paul says as he boasts about his weaknesses. "I'll accept it because I can't get around it," I say, "But surely God delights more in the fact that I do well in school, that I make dinner for other people, and that I really want to try to be a better person than in the fact that I'm selfish and undisciplined, that I'm fearful of other people, and that I think an awful lot of mean thoughts about the people around me."
I was writing these thoughts in my journal, the pages of which are filled with entries that reflect my weaknesses. They are not the source of my pride; they are what I secretly confess to God and I hope will go away (by God's grace) so I don't have to struggle with them anymore.
But wait! Perhaps it's that last thought that is actually the key to what Paul is teaching us. "Celebrating" our weaknesses is not wallowing in our misery; it's knowing that this is a gracious way that God is pointing us back to himself. It's how God empties us of our selfish delusions and points us to his plans for our life. Like the quote that I posted about suffering last week, if we didn't have these weaknesses, we would quickly become conceited and forget that we are eternal beings.
Actually, all of these things I do - whether helping people or hating people - are equally worthless before God in and of themselves. But God teaches us that the negatives can be especially instrumental in showing me how to trust and obey him.
Boasting about my weaknesses is not true boasting unless my words point to Christ. Even Paul didn't say, "I'm glad about this thorn in my flesh for its own sake." He said it was so that Christ's power would be perfected in him.
So, my weaknesses are not for their own sake; any suffering, whether it be internal wrestling with sin or suffering by virtue of living in a fallen world, is to draw us back to who we really are by virtue of Christ's death and resurrection. Whehter it be for any other mysterious divine reason, at least we know this: the Spirit of Christ in us, the hope of glory, is helping us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling through our weaknesses.
This is good, this is true; but I need something more concrete than that in order to see how it actually makes a difference in my life. This is where my lines of thought are not fully developed yet; I'm stumped at the most important part. I do know that I need to start by turning away from how I deeply wish to commend myself to God on the basis of what I can do (Christian's comments below are very apropos). I will never see how my weaknesses point me to Christ if I'm frantically trying to cover them up and fix them before anyone else notices. This "anyone" includes God, who already knows my heart better than I do.
If you're wondering about one concrete way to start thinking and acting in this way (since I'm not being helpful!), I recommend the article The Cross and Criticism. The author of this article makes his point much more beautifully and succinctly than I could; and his words have been very instrumental in effecting change in my own life. I pray that they will be equally helpful to you.