April 14, 2021
“There’s no dishonor in losing the race. There’s only dishonor in not racing because you’re afraid to lose.”1
The cultures of this world tend to overemphasize the importance of winning, of being the best in your sport, hobby, or profession. The old saying may seem trite, but it stands true: “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” When one grasps hold of godly goals and eternal truths, he may not attain a prominent place in this world’s limelight, or stand among the trophy winners, or win acclaim among the celebrity personalities. Following God may be a lonelier path, but nevertheless, it’s rich with blessing.
In the Bible it seems that most, if not all, of the primary characters suffer some defeats, humiliations, or delays throughout their lives, while holding true to their godly goals. They all seem to display some form of human weakness. When we are weak or unable, we see that His strength can more easily work in us.
In Scripture, the apostle Paul is the one who teaches this principle of owning our weaknesses. He certainly had many strengths, but evidently the Lord gave him a “thorn in the flesh.” Although he prayed three times for the Lord to heal it or free him of it, God told him: “My grace is sufficient for thee; for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then affirms, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”2 Paul didn’t tell us exactly what his thorn of weakness was, and he probably didn’t speak about it too much, or walk around putting himself down in front of others, but he certainly acknowledged it before the Lord and learned from the Lord how important this humility in weakness was.
In the story of Joseph, found in Genesis chapters 37–50, Joseph has a dream of having a predominant position among his siblings. That probably boosted his aspirations for a meaningful life. Possibly, too, it caused him to be a bit proud. It is at this time that his real-life training began; it started with a major downfall, a seeming utter defeat. Like Joseph, we too may experience the taste of failure and go through disappointments, with our dreams not being realized, even while endeavoring to uphold godly aspirations. “God’s way up is down,” as the old saying goes.
King David is another example. His grave mistakes and prolonged struggles in life served to strengthen his relationship with the Lord and brought him to write some of the most beautiful songs and prayers ever written. His troubles, no doubt, refined his character as well. And in the end, he ruled as a very wise and God-fearing king.
Human weakness is mentioned frequently in the Bible. We are told that the valiant men of faith in Hebrews chapter 11 “out of weakness were made strong.” As Tim Keller put it, “God often uses our troubles to rescue us from our own flaws and make us great.”3
God is known to use men and women who are considered to be weak, fragile, or insufficient in some way. He can bring joy and beauty out of the ashes of their broken dreams. So, if there are areas in our lives where we are weak, where we have made mistakes or failed in some way, we can own these weaknesses, failures, and shortcomings; and at the same time, we can own His forgiveness for them. Instead of struggling to hide or disguise our weaknesses, we can glory in them, like Paul, because we know God has allowed them, and forgiven them, and will bring good out of them. While abiding in Him, yielded, and honest, we can trust that He will bless and use us according to His plan.4
The life and words of Joni Eareckson Tada, who was paralyzed at age 17 as a result of a diving accident, speak clearly on how a Christian is to deal with suffering, weakness, and affliction. She relates:
[Other people] don’t have broken necks—some of them have broken hearts, they have a broken home. … Think of the times suffering has ripped into your sanity, leaving you numb and bleeding, and you too ask, “God, can this be Your will?”
Steve Estes said a very wise thing to me, he said: “Look, Joni, think of Jesus Christ, and there you’ve got the most God-forsaken man who ever lived. Perhaps the Devil thought: ‘I’m gonna stop God’s Son dead in His tracks!—No more of this ridiculous talk about redemption.’ But God’s move was to abort that devilish scheme and throw open the floodgates of heaven, so that whosoever will might come in! God always aborts devilish schemes to serve His own ends and accomplish His purposes. … God permits what He hates to accomplish that which He loves. And heaven and hell can end up participating in the exact same thing but for different reasons. ‘God works all things according to the counsel of His will.’”5
And I believe it was Dorothy Sayers who said: “He wrenches out of evil, positive good for us and glory for Himself!” In other words, He redeems it! … The God of life is the only one who could conquer death, by embracing it, and so death no longer has a victory; and neither does suffering. Christ has given it meaning, not only for our salvation, but for our sanctification! … I’m not in the middle of some divine cosmic accident. No, my suffering can be redeemed! I am not alone in it … it’s all for my salvation and my sanctification. … God will permit the broken neck, the broken heart, the broken home, to act as a sheepdog driving us to Jesus, where we might not otherwise have gone. So we can embrace our weakness, knowing God’s power will always show up best in our weakness. … God shares His joy and intimacy with us on His terms.
First Corinthians 12:22 tells us that the weakest members of Christ’s body are indispensable! … And 1 Peter 2:21: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps.”6
1 From the movie The Art of Racing in the Rain.
2 2 Corinthians 12:9.
3 Timothy Keller, The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms, Sept. 24 (New York: Penguin, 2015).
4 1 Corinthians 1:26–31; Isaiah 57:15, 61:3.
5 Ephesians 1:11.
6 Excerpts from talk “The Theology of Suffering” by Joni Eareckson Tada (containing quotes from Steve Estes and Dorothy Sayers).
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