On the outside I can come across as fairly strong and very self-reliant.
I have a t-shirt that says, "An enemy that is fearless has never met a Marine." That kind of sums it up. I have been doing karate since I was 12 years old, and hold a 9th-degree black belt. I am an expert in a number of weapons. I …, I …., I … When you have a conversation with someone with whom the majority of sentences begin with "I" you're dealing with a person with a serious problem. Quite probably more than one serious problem.
Though on the outside I may seem strong and self-reliant, that is not nearly as true as it might appear. On the inside, I know my weaknesses, my limitations, my failures and my faults. On the inside, sometimes I am a wimp.
Relying on things that appear strong on the outside when they are not truly strong internally is a recipe for disaster. The early morning hours of June 24, 2021 in Miami gave a horrifying illustration of that truth as the Champlain Towers South collapsed, crushing and killing close to a hundred residents.
There are times when only true strength and reliable support will do. High rise buildings, airplanes, cars are the first examples that come to mind; but the list could go on for hours.
One of our priests was preparing to come to Jacksonville last month for his incardination service. His wife was bringing his car to fill it with fuel so that he could use it the next morning to travel to the airport. Along the way, one of the front tires came off the car. This caused her to lose control. The car careened off the roadway and into a ditch. Thankfully, neither she nor anyone else was injured.
When the things we rely upon fail and we lose control, our LIVES can careen out of control. The damage that follows can be devastating.
"I …, I …., I …" quickly becomes "Aye, yai, yai!"
Our weaknesses ought to drive us to seek greater strength. Paul's words in today's verse are the ultimate example. Paul knows that HE is not the source of his internal strength, and so he can say "WHEN I AM WEAK, THEN I AM STRONG."
Paul learned the lesson of where he could find a strength that would NEVER fail; a true strength that would support him in any and every circumstance. And Paul's life was filled with "circumstances" that proved the power of the presence of God.
His ministry required harder labor, he faced more imprisonments, endured worse beatings than many of us. He was in frequent danger of death. Five times he was publicly beaten by the Jews with forty lashes minus one. Three times beaten with rods, once he was stoned. (That was not a marijuana experience, those were "real" stones.) Three times shipwrecked; even spending a night and a day in the open sea. He relates that, while on his frequent journeys, he's been "in danger from rivers and from bandits, in danger from my countrymen and from the Gentiles, in danger in the city and in the country, in danger on the sea and among false brothers, often without sleep, in hunger and thirst and often without food, in cold and exposure."
Let's note two things here.
First, Paul's faith in God wasn't some sort of a heavenly barrier that he expected would be a protection from the crimes and crises we face on earth. Paul never said, "Why are these things happening?? I'm a believer in Jesus!!" He knew better. If faith in Jesus would inflate your bank account, guarantee your health, provide impressive automobiles, increase the square footage of your home and provide free electricity, heat and air conditioning we'd have long lines of people waiting outside our churches. Paul knew that Christ's strength was best seen when his own strength had reached its limits long ago.
Second, Paul knew that nothing could overcome the strength that Christ gave him. Even in the midst of difficult trials. ESPECIALLY in the midst of difficult trials. He told the church in Corinth, "we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
WHEN I AM WEAK, THEN I AM STRONG.
Because when He gives the GRACE to face any trial, HE gets the glory.
I can enter into any situation knowing that I do not enter alone. He has promised that He will always be with me.
Sometimes, life will collapse around us. There will be days when the wheels fall off. That is true both for those who follow Christ and those who do not. Life hurts. Life exposes my weaknesses.
But that's OK; because WHEN I AM WEAK, THEN I AM STRONG. His grace is sufficient, His strength never fails.
Paul asked the church in Rome - a church based in the very capital of the powers that controlled their lives - "Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or trouble, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?" His answer demonstrates the strength of the love of Christ. Here's how he answered his own question -
"I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
NOTHING can separate me from Christ, His love, His strength.
WHEN I AM WEAK, THEN I AM STRONG.