I can relate to these words of Paul:
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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. 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. -2 Corinthians 12:8-10
I, like Paul, asked God to take something away from me. Two months ago, I started to experience extreme pain in my face and mouth. During a trip to the emergency room, I was diagnosed with shingles. Shingles is unlike any other sickness I’ve had. I feel most sickness on the inside of my body primarily, but with shingles (because it attacks nerves), it felt as if somebody was hurting me over and over again, all day long.
Every day the pain was different, and difficult. One day it was like somebody punching the upper roof of my mouth over and over, the next day like somebody was stabbing an ice pick into my temple over and over. Scott Wilson, who has both been literally stabbed and had the shingles, said that they are very similar sensations.
After a couple of weeks of the shingles (I had it for 7 weeks), I asked for God to take it away from me. I was ready for him to take it away…or so I thought.
I, like Paul, did not experience relief, and, instead, experienced a different side of God’s grace. God’s grace is not always unexpected checks in the mail and freedom from cancer. Sometimes, like Paul shares in the scripture above, God’s grace is power IN our weakness.
Does God have the power to take away our weaknesses? Our sicknesses? Our difficulties? Without a doubt. But sometimes, his perfect grace is more perfectly expressed by being the power IN our weakness. Sometimes God’s grace means that we find ourselves boasting about our weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on us.
If my focus in life is my own personal glory and comfort, then this kind of grace, and this kind of boasting, makes no sense. But if my life is about knowing and showing God’s glory, then it is grace that God allowed me to be sick for so long. Because God is the power in my weakness, my weakness gives me opportunities to know and show God’s glory. And so it is his grace that allows me to stay weak. That’s why Paul can say, “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.”
I, like Paul, experienced an amazing strength IN my weakness. Paul says, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” This is a paradox….a saying that seems, at first, to be impossible, like when my wife tells me she has to spend more money in order to save more money. But if we reread the sentences leading up to Paul’s statement, we can see what he means. It is when we are weak that Christ’s power can rest on us.
When we come to the end of ourselves and call out to God, those are the moments when we can actually experience TRUE power, and TRUE strength. Not the kind that I can muster up from within my flesh…the supernatural kind of strength that comes from God alone.
During my seven weeks of shingles, I experienced God’s power IN my weakness. I felt so strong during those weeks, not because there was strength in my flesh, but because I was relying on God’s strength. I was strong IN my weakness, because:
- I felt supported by Christ’s body, the Church. I can’t tell you the number of people from the Church that expressed support and encouragement during those weeks…dozens of people prayed for me, left encouraging comments on FaceBook, sent me e-mails, and asked how I was doing in the halls of Destiny Church. I even had a prime timer that I’ve never met before bring me a home remedy in a mason jar.
- The Holy Spirit comforted me and strengthened me. He showed me that my pain was an opportunity to grow closer to God as I thought about how each type of pain could be connected to different components of Christ’s suffering. He also spoke a clear word to me on week 5, and told me the very day that the pain would be gone – what an encouragement to know that an end was in sight.
- God comforted me through his Word. There were so many verses and passages that helped me during my shingles. “Be still and know that I am God.” for one.
Here’s the bottom line: I am absolutely thankful to God for the painful experience of shingles. I, like Paul, found delight in my time of suffering. My relationship with God is closer than ever as a result, and nothing is better than that…not even being pain free.