Several years ago I was planned to preach for an important service. It had all been planned carefully with others taking part. During the night I came down with an awful kidney infection. I was in agony, but felt it was too late and too complicated to pull out and ask someone to cover. People said afterwards what a great sermon it had been – I had no idea, I was so ill. But that I think is the point. I had nothing to give that day, fortunately God did. In my total weakness, he was able to get a word in and he spoke. It was a sobering reminder.
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows. 3 And I know that this man – whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows – 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.
6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he 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. 10 That is why, 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.
I suppose this is the other side of the healing stories we have had in recent weeks. Paul has prayed for healing, for his “thorn” to be taken from him, but God has chosen to use him in and through his weakness. We don’t know what Paul’s weakness is, but in a sense it doesn’t matter, it is how it effects him that is his story. For Paul it was a constant reminder that he could do nothing without God, I suppose we would say it kept him humble.
It’s an encouragement to me that “even” Paul was not physically healed by God. God does not always work that way. He can, and he does, but not always. Sometimes we are left to live and grow with the pain, and it is in that that our healing comes, and our call is worked out. God does not wish illness or weakness on us to keep us in our place, but it is in our weaknesses that we find God’s strength, in the times we realise what we can’t do, that we discover what he can – in and through us.
I offer you my weaknesses,
that in you may be my strength.
Thank you that you never fail,
work in and through me