Many wonder what “when I am weak, then I am strong” means. At first glance, the statement does not seem to make any sense and even seems to contradict itself. How can someone possibly be weak and strong at the same time? Surely we can be one or the other, but not both?
The apostle Paul wrote these words when he was struggling with an issue that he described as a ‘thorn in the flesh.’ We do not know exactly what was troubling him, but the severity of this trial was obviously so terrible that it greatly weakened him.
‘Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it [a thorn in my flesh] 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. NIV.
When our lives are running smoothly and devoid of trials, we have a tendency to rely upon our own human strength – strength that cannot compare in any way to Christ’s almighty, divine strength.
However, when our life is beset with difficulties and storms, our strength fades away and we become weak. Yet in these times of personal weakness we can turn to Jesus and rely upon His divine strength, and through that strength, face and endure those storms. And when we are relying upon Christ’s almighty strength instead of upon our own inadequate strength, we are really strong.
The Amplified Bible’s expansion of this Bible passage, explains it perfectly:
Three times I called upon the Lord and besought [Him] about this and begged that it might depart from me; But He said to me, My grace (My favor and loving-kindness and mercy) is enough for you [sufficient against any danger and enables you to bear the trouble manfully]; for My strength and power are made perfect (fulfilled and completed) and show themselves most effective in [your] weakness. Therefore, I will all the more gladly glory in my weaknesses and infirmities, that the strength and power of Christ (the Messiah) may rest (yes, may pitch a tent over and dwell) upon me! So for the sake of Christ, I am well pleased and take pleasure in infirmities, insults, hardships, persecutions, perplexities and distresses; for when I am weak [in human strength], then am I [truly] strong (able, powerful in divine strength).
I have endured much in my life, with a sickly childhood, rejection, bullying, epilepsy and deafness, but it was when I was severely depressed that I was at my weakest. Here are some things I wrote in my diary:
I wish I had the wings of an eagle,
for I grow faint, physically and emotionally
I feel so inadequate, so helpless, so full of fears.
Irritation, frustration and anger rise up and consume me,
and I’m so weak I can’t even fight them.
Yet in spite of this weakness, I sought Jesus throughout the ordeal with every fibre of my being, praying, worshipping and praising Him, waiting on Him, and standing upon His word. And although I could not feel His presence during that time, when I look back at those days, I can see so clearly that He was there, carrying me and giving me the strength to persevere.
I would also like to draw our attention to another very significant aspect of allowing Christ’s strength to empower us during our trials. Paul talks about being glad about his weaknesses and even delighting in them.
It is imperative that we do not fall into the trap of grumbling against God during such trials, nor fight or fear them. We need to keep in mind that God uses such trials to strengthen our faith and develop our character, and then thank and praise Him in, through, and even for such trials. We need trust in Christ completely, reminding ourselves that He is sovereign and in control of all things. I remember reaching this point during my journey with depression - and how different the journey was from that point – I was able to get back out there and live an increasingly normal life while awaiting full recovery.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18