Many people view strength as a sign of God’s approval, and weakness as a sign of God’s disapproval. Many religions view strength, or you could say health and prosperity, as the reward for a good and faithful life. And they see weakness, or you could say sickness and suffering, as the result of a bad and faithless life. Even in the Christian church, many people equate strength with goodness or faithfulness, and weakness with sin or a lack of faith.
The Bible teaches something very different. It teaches that God uses the weak. This truth is found all throughout the Bible, over and over again. But too often we don’t really see it, and we don’t apply it to ourselves, because we don’t really believe it. We still cling to the goal of strength. That’s what society continually sells us. That’s what impresses and drives most people. And we feel like if we can just develop our strengths, and somehow limit our weaknesses, then we can make it out of trouble, or finally live our best life, or whatever. But God doesn’t need your strength to make you useable to him, or to deliver you. In fact, your strength can be more of a liability than an asset. And when God wants to mold you, and use you, he often begins by weakening you.
The story of Gideon is an example of this. Just before heading into battle with the Midianite army, Gideon hears from God: “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me’” (Judges 7:2). Gideon’s army of 32,000 men was already overmatched by 135,000 Midianites (Judges 8:10). But now God was going to shrink their ranks. So, God gives Gideon a couple of tests. First, Gideon sends all the fearful people home. And 22,000 of Gideon’s 32,000 leave. So, now Gideon has only 10,000 men. Then God tells Gideon to have his men drink from a stream, and only those who use their hand as a cup to drink the water, instead of kneeling down to drink directly, are to remain. Only 300 men remain. Now Gideon’s army would be outnumbered 400 to 1. But God gave Gideon the victory.
God was teaching Gideon what he wants to teach you: when God wants to mold you, and use you, he often begins by weakening you. That doesn’t mean God delights in your pain, or that every weakness is caused directly by God. But sometimes God will sap your strength, he will shrink the size of your army, because he wants you to trust him, and that’s often the only way you will. We can get so dependent on our own strengths. You’ve heard people say that when God shuts one door, he opens another. But God isn’t teaching us in life that we should only look for wide open doors. Sometimes God flattens you so that you can slide underneath the door.
So, when you get some bad news from the doctor, or you suddenly lose your job, or your marriage is hurting, those are like your “army” being reduced. In those moments, will you rage against God, will you give up on true teaching and find somewhere to get your itching ears scratched with false hopes and false words, or will you cling to him like never before? We are so obsessed with grasping at strength that pain becomes something only to avoid, something only to battle, and not an opportunity to learn from. And that learning is not just about learning how to avoid that pain or learning to overcome it in the future. It is learning to depend on God, even when the pain doesn’t go away, even when you have to face a bigger battle with less strength.
And here is where God’s truth has been twisted by people who still worship strength. Think about it. God allows certain things to sap your strength, but is it so that you will learn to take your authority over the thing, or so that you will learn to bow to his authority in the thing? What if dependence is more important than strength? If dependence is the objective, then a God-dependent weakness is an advantage.
I’ve been learning that lesson my whole Christian life. It seems I never quite get there. But think about that. If you “got that lesson”, you’d have it in your pocket like a magic amulet, like a sort of strength. You might become complacent. So, God brings fresh new ways to keep you active yet humble in this ongoing lesson of dependence on him. Weakness forces you to be desperate before God, and that is the place where you really learn that God is always faithful. It’s hard to know that God is all you need until God is all you have.
The popular idea that God will never give you more than you can handle is a misapplication of 1 Corinthians 10:13 – God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability. This text says “tempted” not “burdened”. God doesn’t allow temptations to sin that are more than you can handle, but he does allow situations that are more than you can handle, so that you will rely on him. Listen to the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 – For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. There’s the truth!
2 Corinthians 12:9 – I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. The world parades strength, and people wish they had it. And they try all sorts of ungodly ways to get it. Or they get it and think this means they’re godly. Some people despair because they don’t have it, or can’t get it. But if people just see your strength, they may think, “That guy is great! I wish I could be like that, but I can’t.” But if people see your weakness, and how you serve and trust God anyway, that makes them think, “God is great! I want what that guy has, and I can have it!” Your life needs to witness to the truth that Jesus is worth suffering for. Christians aren’t people who boast about being the head and not the tail; they are servants of God who trust him even when they are dragged through the mud, and covered in blood. And this witnesses to others who know they are weak, and those who are tired of worshiping strength.
Your strengths are dangerous when they keep you from hoping in God’s merciful provision. Strengths can amplify your pride. And how many of us try and hide our weakness, which is also pride. Praise God when he makes it where you cannot hide your weakness. It may sound crazy, but you can boast in your weaknesses, and boast when God lets you fail. Because in your weakness, God is offering you something priceless, a helpless dependence on him. That is childlike faith.
The inner narrative of many is “I want to get to the place where I don’t have to depend on anybody”. But God wants you to depend on him. He wants to change your narrative. You’ll still have to face the battles. But victory is from the Lord (Proverbs 21:31). When your strength is sapped, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might (Ephesians 6:10). Your greatest weakness can become your greatest strength, if you give it to God.