Last week, Andrew wrote a piece on affliction and God’s fatherly discipline for the sin of his children (HERE). I want to explore this theme from a different but complementary angle.
Sometimes when trials come our way, they expose certain sins we have hidden in our hearts. For example, sometimes a long illness will show us that we are very impatient. Sometimes financial hardships reveal that we love money. Sometimes losing a good friend reveals that we idolized him/her. And so on.
But sometimes trials and affliction also teach us that we are just plain weak, frail, and feeble. Sometimes a long week in the office makes us crawl into bed Saturday night feeling like we’re as fragile as a brittle twig in subzero temperatures. Sometimes when we have difficulties with our children we realize that we simply don’t have the strength and fortitude to raise them properly. God sometimes uses trials to show us that we are weak and frail and that we desperately need him simply to make it through the next minute or hour.
Paul’s words are very relevant here: For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:10 NIV). And we may remember what he said immediately before this. [The Lord] 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me (cf. Phil. 4:13).
John Calvin’s paraphrase of and comments on these verses are helpful.
“The more deficiency there is in me, so much more liberally does the Lord, from his strength, supply me with whatever he sees to be needful for me. …If a man is desirous to be truly strong, let him not refuse to be at the same time weak. Let him, I say, be weak in himself, that he may be strong in the Lord (Eph. 4.10).”
“…If God had not exercised Paul with such trials, he would never have perceived so clearly his weakness. Hence, he has in view not merely poverty, and hardships of every kind, but also those effects that arise from them, as, for example, a feeling of our own weakness, self-distrust, and humility.”
Trials hurt. They make us cry, bang our fists on the wall, and they lead us to ask God many questions through our tears. Trials aren’t fun. The school of the cross is not a bed of roses. Sometimes we may even wish God would teach us in some other way. But we have to remember that through trials, God shows us our weakness and frailty. He shows us we can’t lean on our own strength (because we really don’t have any!).
The good news is that his grace is sufficient, and that in Christ we are strong. In him and because of his unfailing love for us, we’ll make it through painful trials. He knows we are weak and he gives us his resurrection strength to plow through affliction. The line in the popular kids’ song turns out to be profoundly true: “We are weak but he is strong.”