There’s a misconception, a lie if you like, that is pervasive within modern Christian church culture. At one time I was fully immersed in it; maybe you have been also. It goes along these lines: ‘’As Christians we are called to be strong, authoritative personalities who know what we’re about, face every challenge with courageous determination, and exercise spiritual authority with grit and fortitude. We are the mighty conquering army of Christ, His champions. We just need to believe it and walk this world demonstrating the authority with which He has crowned us.” Sounds like scriptural truth, and so it is, but it’s not the all-truth that the Holy Spirit came to lead us into (Jn. 16:13).
And so it was that Sunday after Sunday, and mid-week also, the message of this desirable Christian “persona” was preached, quoted, sung, encouraged and expected among the congregation. Unquestioned. For to question it would appear to display doubt and unbelief, which in such an atmosphere would mark us as less than committed. We would turn up for our regular infusion of positive attitude, often wounded, wrecked and ragged from just doing life in this world, receive our group power shot and leave quietly repeating the appropriate verses and phrases to ourselves, feeling uplifted, strong and ready to slay giants.
For a day or so.
By which time we needed another shot. And by which time instead of feeling strong, powerful and invincible, we were beginning to feel defeated, condemned and worthless, in fact anything but this Christian persona we were supposed to be living.
There’s another Christian persona promoted among some Christian church cultures that teaches believers they are weak, sinful, wicked beings, powerless to change anything in this world, who must daily strive for holiness to please a disapproving God who will hopefully one day whisk them away into Heaven where they will never have to think about the horrors of this world again. Let’s be clear this persona is just as false and impossible to live up to as the first one I described. Both are rooted in man-made religion. Both are anti-Christ. Neither are the Kingdom of God.
You may have spent some time in one or both of these environments, or you may not identify at all with either of them. If you don’t you can thank God for sparing you. But there are many who will read this and will know to either a small or a large degree exactly what I’m on about.
Many of us have heard countless sermons, sung myriads of songs, and read innumerable books telling us if we just believe we are the strong, bold leaders, warriors and life-bearers the Bible says we are, we will be walking as the overcomers God wants us to be. We are told over and over again that boldness, strength, determination and persistence are the character traits God values and needs in His people. And if you’re lacking in these, well you just don’t believe hard enough. We need to surround ourselves with “strong” brothers and sisters. We need to come to more meetings, sing more songs, hear more positive preaching, until we DO believe, right? Simple.
Here’s the thing. In decades of being immersed in various church cultures – mainstream, Pentecostal, charismatic and several varieties in between – I never once heard a sermon to explain this:
And He said to me: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness”. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
Power is perfected in weakness? Really? Bear in mind this is Paul quoting Christ. Who among us, in our church environments of spiritualised positive thinking, ever considered such a concept? As we told our stories and sang our songs about how strong we are, imagining Jesus in the background smiling, nodding and approving, who knew we were merely boasting in the strength of our own flesh?
Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Friends, if we are intent on continuing the journey out of Christian religious culture and pursuing the Kingdom of God, we need a far deeper revelation of what it means to be content with weakness, and to be strong only when we are weak!
Personally, I am finding as the Kingdom expands within me, I am more powerless, more weak, more dependent on the indwelling Life of Christ than ever before in over fifty years on this Christ following journey. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not speaking of a weakness which is victimhood, nor am I speaking of a weakness that is grounded in fear and intimidation or indecisiveness. Kingdom living requires courage and deep commitment. But I am speaking of a weakness that manifests as utter and complete dependence on Christ’s love, grace and faithfulness at a deeper level than many of us have ever known. A weakness that knows nothing for certain except that He will get us through whatever we’re facing, because there is nothing left in us that can do so.
In my life I have known others to call me a ‘’strong woman’’. Determination has been one of my chief personality traits, even as a very small child. More often than not gritting my teeth and drawing on my resources of sheer dogged determination have propelled me forward where others fainted by the wayside. But at this point of the journey I feel the strength of that life-long determination fading as it is crucified along with other strengths of personality that are a stumbling block to my relationship with Christ.
I feel emptied.
On every level of life at this present time I am confronted with several impossible situations that are utterly beyond my influence or any semblance of control, no matter what I do. The reality that only Christ can change anything, from relationships, to health, to jobs, to finances, to politics, to weather, to weariness, to life and death situations, is more palpable by the hour. But so is the reality of His faithfulness and His ability to keep me, no matter what.
This is not comfortable. Pursuing the Kingdom is a costly venture. We may as well start to deal with the fact that strength in the Kingdom is infinitely different to what the world (and often the church) calls strength. We may as well start coming to terms with the truth that God actually chooses the weak over the strong (1 Cor. 1 27-29).
Pursuing Christ and His Kingdom will cost you everything that is strong in your flesh and you will be left feeling powerless, vulnerable and fragile. You will be required to surrender all the natural talents and attributes that you have relied upon, including all that is so admired by the world. But in exchange you will connect with the unmatched power of Christ’s endless Life within you and discover it is the strongest, safest, most trustworthy thing you can ever depend upon. And depend upon it you will.
Was this what Jesus was teaching us when He said “apart from Me you can do nothing”? (Jn. 15:5) Can it really be that He meant it…..literally? He Himself often repeated that He could do nothing on His own initiative. Absolute dependence on the Father was His life secret, hidden in plain sight (Jn. 5:19; 5:30; 8:28). Absolute dependence on Christ is to be ours, as the Spirit transforms the Bride ever more deeply into His perfect image. This is what it means to be found “leaning on her Beloved’’.
The perfection of weakness. It’s the way to the strength we have so long pretended to own. It’s the way of the Kingdom.
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2018. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.
31 thoughts on “The Perfection Of Weakness”
Yes yes yes!! Even today, Pentecost I was talking with my wife about this. God wanted all Israel to come into the cloud on the mountain top but only Moses was ready to do so. Moses knew thoroughly that he could do nothing of himself, whereas all the people still thought they had what it takes to obey God and to follow His commandments. They swore an oath to do so…hahahaha
Good point. Thanks Dennis.
I was thinking about this today and realized (i think by the Holy Spirit) that the flip side of what you are saying is also true – if our natural character strengths can be a hindrance to our relationship with Jesus, then, also, our natural character weaknesses – those things we don’t like to admit about ourselves and hope others won’t notice – these character weaknesses can be an asset in our relationship to Jesus because of how they remind us so powerfully that we can do nothing without him. It was an encouraging thought – seems to be included in the idea of Paul the apostle of boasting in weaknesses. What an upside down thought.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts here Bob. Yes, if I am understanding you correctly, perhaps initially when we see those character weaknesses within ourselves they can definitely illuminate our inadequacy to live as He would have us live, and our powerlessness to change ourselves. But I don’t think the process of transformation into the image of Christ should stop there, just so we can realise our need. He moves us on because it’s His intention to make us new creations in His image, so those character flaws have to go to the Cross and be crucified. We need to be brought to maturity, acknowledging and owning our total need of Him, but at the same time being healed by Him and our character changed to reflect His own I believe.
I have learned to agree with my accuser, the dialog between us has really shortened. my perfection is not in me but in Christ. I have lived in both of these camps in your article. I had used my faith to go over or around every trial and tribulation then one day Holy Spirit said we are going through. i rebuked that thought for days until i realized it was Holy Spirit. I had a new Paradigm to go forth and give God Glory. i appreciate this article very much.
Hi Michael, I hear you. Over and around often looks so much more preferable than going through. But over and around doesn’t make overcomers. Thankyou for your comment!
Hi mMichael..I just told someone this…took me a long time to do it..and faith..but going through is much better than running away..as I did for so long..before Christ
Amen-Amein Sister in Christ-Messiah Jesus-Yeshua!!
Love Always and Shalom ( Peace ), YSIC \o/
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Beautiful Cheryl. I needed to read your post.
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Dear Cheryl, I must have read this article once before (as I see I “liked” it, lol) but may may been was reading it when I still I thought I had some strength left of my own :-O because I just read this yesterday when I was in an extremely low place, having so many things stripped away that I’ve been holding onto, or loved, until I was left only with Christ. At first I ran away from home (literally) for a few hours, to cry it all out and feel sorry for myself, but at the same time the Spirit in me did not want me to stay there. I could feel the struggle going on, and it was at that time I remembered your article here, and that you had re-posted it on FB and I thought I hadn’t read it. Well, not with these new eyes of course! There’s a real difference from reading it from a place where everything in life is going fine, and you still have some strength left, to reading it when the Lord is bringing His loving chastisement and will for our sole attention. Anyway I pulled over and dragged myself to my phone where I looked up your article, and by the time I finished it, I could feel the comfort and strength of the Lord filling all the empty places. It was incredible. I was able to get home just in time for some company who were supposed to come, who I did not feel I had any strength for, and love them with a love that was not of myself. I have been holding onto His strength since. Thank you, Cheryl, for speaking faithfully – this article was a God-send XO and I pray for you, too, that Father will be your comfort continually as you go through the unique hard times that is your particular journey. Much love, Pamela
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Thankyou Pamela for responding to this article again. And it is nice to hear from you once again also. I am not sure why I reposted it on FB, it seemed like a mistake because I thought it was missing, but now I see it was already on FB from the first post in September 2018. So it seems it was meant to be. All I can say is He continually takes us deeper into Himself by removing layer upon layer of all we’ve been carrying that separates us from Him. He is a persistent Lover. This is an extraordinarily difficult time for the ecclesia/Bride as He brings us into the fullness of who He has determined that we are and will be. We must continually re-evaluate, is the journey worth this? And yet, each time we ask ourselves that question we know there is only one answer. That’s all it takes, for us to say ”yes, I will go with you” as Rebecca did, and He does the rest. We will not regret our daily decision to follow the Lamb, wherever He goes. Much love to you as you continue your journey with the Beloved. And yes, I very much appreciate your prayers which are much needed.
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Hi Cheryl..I see I commented on this post ..not sure what happened..But I read it today as by the Spirit and so thankful…I have been on the same journey..It is trying to a strong woman…to be weak and vulnerable..I have no energy…were it not for the Lord ..lifting me and keeping me going each day..and for the past few years opened..a life in Him I could not have imagined..I am deeply being ministered to each day with T. Austin-Sparks..teachings..and glad you spoke to me today..thank you Sister..much love and prayers for your circumstances…I understand..:)
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Hi Sandra, I’m not sure what happened either. I reposted this article on FB because it wasn’t showing, but now it’s there twice. Anyway…..I hear you, and though many would disagree, and without knowing your personal circumstances, it sounds like where you are spiritually is a good place to be at the moment. The world around is changing so rapidly, on a daily basis really. Everything that people have relied on in their lives is being shaken. But wherever the Lord leads us, He meets us there, and becomes our sustenance, our daily bread and wine. And you give testimony here that is exactly what is happening for you. I too am thankful for the older teachers who walked the hard places with Jesus, like T. Austin-Sparks and others. Although they cannot take the place of daily communion with Jesus, and the gentle whisperings of the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth, they do minister refreshment to us along the way. There is so little around these days that does that and so few who walk in those deep places that they can share their treasures with us. Thankyou for taking the time to share, affirm and connect. It is appreciated more than you can know.
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Hi Cheryl, it’s been a while. I just saw this on FB after writing a post myself on this very matter of the heart. (Will post in a couple of hours.)
I’m no longer active on my blog. I just post on FB now.
There has been no greater awareness of Christ for me than to have had my own strengths tied up. Unfortunately, many consider this to be a religious intention. But the cross is still alive for us today as it was for Jesus when He walked the earth.
Your writings have always been pure in heart. It’s good to see you back.
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Hello Paul, I will check in to your FB page to read your post. It is so hard to find others who are hearing/sharing the same things these days. I have been quite inactive for the last few months but necessarily so. I do have some things to share and will do so here and on FB when I am able, which I hope will be soon. Thankyou for reaching out from the others side of the world, it is so very much appreciated!
Dear Cheryl, what a joy to see that again the Lord is speaking to us about the same thing. I tHank you for writing and Him for confirmation of what He is speaking to the Body.
Hello Pat, Thanks for taking time to comment. I am sorry for my late reply…we have had a death in the family and I have not been keeping up on WordPress. I hope you and Ed are both doing well.
Thankyou Debra. Bless you.
Wow…and yes and amen are all I can say. Sharing this with others who will find your words a blessed confirmation.
Nanette (Houston, TX)
Thankyou Nanette. Please do share.
Hi sister…youre speaking to me today..and just in time..I can only say what the Spirit led me to say and on my heart..Yes..I have thought a lot of the same things..A Warrior?..and walk in my destiny?..I had learned dependence on God..and went to the worldly church and experienced the things youre speaking of..no negative talk ..and certainly not sick..
I am where you are on this journey…and I love Sparks teaching which the Lord opened up to me in 2015..so grateful..and I love Paul..as he does..and many in the church and world do not…and it is toughness..sadly..Jesus did not come to bring peace but a sword..
thank you so much for this teaching today..
Hi Sandra, Thankyou for sharing your thoughts here. I’m glad we’re on the same journey.
Of course you would know that Paul ‘had’ a thorn in the flesh which he described as a messenger of Satan which came after he had great revelations. I much prefer your 1 Corinthians reference, verse 27. Sounds like you’ve been reading the wrong books. I’ve get a few on this subject, mainly from America.
Hi Malcolm, Yes I am aware of the reference to Paul’s thorn in the flesh, but I’m wondering what your point is? I don’t read many books, so not sure what you’re assuming in that comment either.
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This past Sunday, one week after another debilitating bout with vertigo, followed by a day of such tiredness my whole body ached; two days after my in-law’s were here and I spent the morning at the local Veteran’s Hospital so my father-in-law could have the tests and pre-op work for his October 10th surgery to remove a tumor from his colon; one day after releasing cathartic tears pent up from emotions regarding, well, lots of things; that day (Sunday) as I sat on the table on our back patio hours before my oldest daughter’s baby shower where I would need to socialize and smile, I told the Lord, “I accept my weakness. I have nothing in me. I am dependent on You for all things.” The dependency never ends, though our mentality about it is quite fickle. After returning home from the shower, my youngest daughter learned that her husband’s grandma, who had had a stroke five days earlier was dying, which she did then in her sleep that night.
It is relentless. Nary a rest between phone calls or needs that go above and beyond my ability to handle it. As you shared, I, too, have been known as a strong woman, or at the very least a woman with a strong personality. The Lord continues to use the circumstances that surround and close in around me to break me of my self, to empty me of my flesh, in whatever capacity that had ever been used. There is no way out, every door is closed but the Throne Room, the path’s I once wore down are washed out by His blood. This has been a consistent way for the last 11 years. I have battled against it, presuming I did something wrong and that’s why I could no longer manipulate or control ANYTHING. But in the last 2 years, He has made it quite plain to me that it is His hand, and I submit to it with more ease today than I ever did before, rebel that I was.
It is hard to describe to one who has not been on this particular path of being emptied. The flesh despises this sort of thing. But the spirit is willing. And all this emptying and breaking is not the end result, it is His resurrection life within that comes through in the midst of it. This does not deny the hardships or trials or suffering’s, no! But as Christ learned obedience by the things He suffered, so do we.
The things which we face, either by our own choices or others’ or simply because we live in this world, is not God’s disapproval of us, or punishing us, no! He is a kind and merciful and loving Father, and He will use anything and everything which is allowed to touch our lives for our benefit and His glory. Cheryl, I can say with 100% honesty that I am beyond grateful for all that has been allowed to touch my life in these past 11 years to get me to a place where I can know that about God – He is kind, merciful and loving whatever circumstance we are in.
I’ve said enough.
Thank you for writing this post.
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Beckie, I can only say amen. Thankyou for sharing here so honestly and vulnerably. You are much loved!
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Thank you Cheryl. Many times this past year I have found myself feeling and knowing there is absolutely nothing I can do except lean on my Beloved. His Word has once again given encouragement and enlightenment and the courage to stop trying to fix in my own strength.
Thankyou for sharing this Wendy.
Thank you. Just thank you.
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You are in my thoughts and prayers Charis.