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.