For whatever reason, the last three weeks have been dominated by frequent conversations with my two closest friends about the idea—and very present reality—of weaknesses and the role they play in our lives. But even beyond these past few weeks, the last twelve months have been a time of encountering and accepting the idea that God gives us our weaknesses on purpose, just as he gives us our gifts and talents with intentionality.
This is something rarely talked about in religious circles, though, and as far as I can gather it’s probably just because we fear weakness. I can’t help but think it’s also because of the trickle-down effect of American progressivism, highly-treasured individualism, and a personal psychological alignment with the corporate mindset of being the greatest nation on the face of the earth. No room for weakness exists.
And yet, the fact we lack strength in some areas is a very imminent reality, something we encounter on a daily basis. And it’s maddening to think that’s how God wants it to be, but as far as I can tell . . . it’s true.
The question then becomes what do we do with that? The number of discussions I’ve heard about what we should do with our gifts and talents is higher than I can count. Everybody is always ready with a verse or an opinion as to what we should do with those special niches God’s given to us, ardently mentioning how we are to use them for his glory and place them before him at the altar. Our gifts are given to us by him and are to be returned back to him as a form of praise. And though we never talk about it, I can’t help but think the same is true for our weaknesses.
Obviously the first question asks why God would do this—give us weaknesses on purpose. The only answer I can give comes from the stance of being a writer. In my stories I am going to be painstakingly intentional about how I craft my characters, and I will—without question—give each major player some sort of weakness because it is within those flaws that I, as creator, can begin to go to work. As the author of the story I’m writing, I have goals and aims I want to see fully actualized. This can not happen if my characters have it all together. What I want to happen must take place within the areas where those characters come up short.
I believe this has to be the same way with God. And thankfully, in this case, we have more reassurance than with me as author of a story. With a book I can simply state that I’ll use those characters’ weaknesses to bring about what I want, but what I want could be anything. My goal could be chaos, despair, good, entertainment, pain—there’s no telling. But we, on the other hand, already have the benefit of knowing what God’s end goal is, and that is his glorification. If we didn’t have this benefit, then our weaknesses would be a nightmare. We’d have no possible way of understanding what purpose they serve. But we can be assured of how they perfectly align with the story God is telling.
And so this creates a need to put to death the fear of weakness. I would assume the majority of people associate such words as “fear” and “limitation” with the idea of weakness, and yet, we see in God that nothing could be further from the truth. We have numerous accounts of times when he’s employed the services of the prostitute, the meager, the meek, the ailing, the frightened to bring about his glory. I have a hard time believing this is no longer the case today.
This goes beyond merely referencing how his power is made perfect in our weakness. I don’t know about other people, but I often think of that verse while still saying in the back of my head, “Yeah, but at least I still have gifts and talents, too.” I would posit the possibility our weaknesses stand as the very arena in which God will work the most. It’s a purposeful deficiency he’s given us so that he can begin to do the most good. Why? Because it’s easy for our gifts and talents to overshadow him. Should we become adept at our craft—whatever it may be—often the participant becomes the focus and not the one who bestowed the talent in the first place. But take a person’s faults and have things of good repute proliferate out of them, the presence of God is unmistakable.
It sounds weird to say it, but perhaps we are to celebrate our weaknesses just as much as our gifts and talents. Why? Because both display his intentional hand of work. We always scream, clap, and holler when God is working through good things; hardly ever do we exude joy when the avenue just might be things of hardship. Perhaps this is why we’re urged—no, commanded—to be thankful in everything. This doesn’t mean our weaknesses are suddenly enjoyable, but our shortcomings—just as much as our gifts and talents—are a sign that God wants to work through us if we would only let him. And this requires not blowing up our weaknesses out of a greater proportion.
All of us are at risk of doing this, and all of us have fallen in this trap. We assume we’re incapable of doing enough good for God because our weaknesses get in the way. We focus so much on our flaws we begin to see them as impervious to God’s hand of work. And essentially this means we’re holding on too tightly to our limitations, just like we run the risk of monopolizing our gifts and talents and not letting God work through those, either.
This is why I believe the appropriate response with weakness is to place it on the altar before God, proclaiming it just as much a gift and a talent as our strengths are. Both have been given to us. Both need to be returned. God wants to see that we have open and willing hearts, which doesn’t mean he’s only focusing on our strong points when he says that.
Often the question in our minds becomes, “But how?” and we don’t need to be asking this. Yes, our weaknesses often seem this insurmountable peak, but the encouraging thing to remember is if God wants to have his way, he will have his way, and no human weakness will be an immovable obstacle before the divine God. Often such movement and work from him could manifest itself in violent suffering, tremendous heartache, or a near breaking of our spirit, but so be it because such things refine our faith, purifying it and scraping off the dross. If we are to become who God wants us to be, those instances must happen.
It may be harder at times to see how God is working through our chronic inabilities, but often we must rest on faith that he is doing something glorious through it. In the first chapter of Ephesians, Paul says God is a god who “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” There is inherent purpose marking everything he does, and it’s a shower of rain that does not fail to sprinkle upon the areas of life where we are insufficient.
So what are our options? We could pray that God take away our weaknesses. He is mighty to save, after all, and there’s nothing wrong with pouring forth before him our pain and begging him to take away our limitations. Paul did this. We must keep in mind, though, it is entirely up to God how to respond. We can approach him with full faith and confidence in him bringing about a miracle by taking away our weakness. Sometimes the answer to such a prayer is yes. Other times, in Paul’s case no less, the answer is a firm no. Regardless of his answer, our response should be praise.
At my church we sing this song where at one part we just proclaim over and over, “Have your way, have your way.” And it’s a really upbeat song, and I love it, but even so it terrifies me because I know the violent faithfulness with which God answers prayers like those, and often he responds by giving us things that target our weaknesses. He’s always at work, and he needs those places where we are inadequate to do his best work. That is not something to mourn. It is something to celebrate.