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2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NIV) 7  To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.8  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9  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. 10  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.

Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, whether you are an athlete or an artist, whether you come from a well-to-do family or a family who has struggled, no matter your background or interests, whether you were born a West Virginian or came into the world somewhere else, we all have at least one thing in common: We all have weaknesses. Our human condition unites us all.

There are times our bodies don’t cooperate with us and we need rest or medical help. There are moments we say things in anger that we can’t take back, causing pain we can’t believe we’ve imposed. There are decisions we make that don’t pan out because we were short-sighted. We couldn’t think through all of the possibilities and what-if’s. There are times we give in to temptation and become trapped by our momentary lapses, leading to a long and often lifetime struggle with drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, online perversions, credit card debt, bankruptcy and the list goes on. There are times when we study as hard as we can, prepare as well as we can, and the test or the interview just doesn’t go our way.

There are situations that open the door for us to witness to someone about Jesus, but we don’t take advantage of the opportunity because we feel awkward or even embarrassed to bring the subject up. We aren’t sure how the topic will be received, so we say nothing. We tell ourselves we are going to start attending church more faithfully, but when the alarm goes off on Sundays, it is just easier to sleep in. We want to read the Bible and become more versed in Scripture and the tenants of the Christian faith, but social media, Tic Toc and Netflix just consume all of our extra time.

We compare ourselves to others and become limited by our own measurements. Because we think we can’t measure up, we don’t try to go for our dreams. We make promises we don’t keep. We lie to save face. We cheat when it is convenient or because we didn’t put the work in that we should have to prepare. We take credit for things we didn’t do. We tell people what they want to hear because it is easier than dealing with the drama that could take place if we told the truth and spent the time investing really investing in someone and letting them know who we are. We look for a way to blame others for our shortcomings. We are human, and sometimes we struggle to admit it.

Is anyone still happy to be here after I have listed all the many ways we are weak? I’m sure you are thinking, “This is going to be an inspiring message! I’m so glad I got up and came to church today!” Good news is coming. I promise.

I want to share the text with you again: To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.8  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9  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. 10  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.

Have you ever met someone who had a hard time remembering or admitting they were only human? Someone who is naturally good looking, naturally academically gifted, naturally athletic, naturally good at _______________. Those people may have a sometimes inflated view of themselves or at least an unhealthy estimation of who they really are. Sometimes we need reminded of who we are. No matter how much we know, how much money we have made, how many friends we have, no matter what kind of earthly success we have achieved, at the end of the day we have to remember that anything we have been blessed to achieve or receive hasn’t come from us, but from God.

The Apostle Paul obviously had a close relationship with Jesus. He was intentionally living his life as a Christ follower and the Spirit of God led him into deep waters and revealed the deep mysteries of God to him. He had reason to think more highly of himself than he should. Back up in II Corinthians 12 with me and look at the verses that precede our main text:

2 Corinthians 12:1-6 1  I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2  I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know–God knows. 3  And I know that this man–whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows– 4  was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. 5  I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6  Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say.

If there were ever a Super Christian, it was Paul. He saw things none of us have ever seen. He was transported, in some way, to Heaven and he kept quiet about the incredible things he saw there, something that would have been incredibly hard to do. Most people would be looking for a spot on GMA and a book and movie deal for which we wouldn’t blame them, but Paul’s experience, verse 4 tells us, wasn’t something God would permit him to talk about. It was for Paul only. How many of us could sit on that kind of intell? How many of us would have to at least tell someone? Those would be the hardest secrets ever to keep!

It wasn’t the first time God had given him a vision. He saw the glorified Christ on the day of his conversion. He saw a vision of a guy named Ananias who was coming to bring healing to him. He had a vision from God when he was called to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. There were visions all along while he was establishing churches, training ministers, and preaching the Gospel. Through a vision he was called to Macedonia. When things got tough in Corinth, God encouraged him by a vision. After he was arrested in Jerusalem for doing God’s work, he was again encouraged by a vision from God. One time, an angel came to him in the middle of a storm while he was out in a boat and assured him that he and all the passengers would be safe.

And if all of the special visions weren’t enough, there were so many times that special revelations of Divine Truth were given to Paul . He had a profound understanding of God’s plans for the church. He had special wisdom regarding the mysteries of God (Eph 3:1-6).

How could Paul have had all of these amazing spiritual experiences and still remain humble? How could he not become conceited, arrogant and automatically deem himself spiritually superior to others as he had done as a zealous Jew before he came to Christ? How could he keep pointing others to Christ when it would have been easy to captivate audiences with his spiritual prowess? It would only be possible because God, in His love and grace, would allow Paul to have some kind of physical affliction in his life to remind him that he was human, to remind Paul that Paul wasn’t God. What Paul knew, he knew by the grace of God. What he experienced, he experienced by the grace of God. God would make sure that he never forgot that.

The point of the message is that each of us lives with reminders on a regular basis that we are human. It’s a good thing to remember, quite frankly. It becomes our opportunity to look to God for the help we need due to our pain or limitation. The season of Lent that begins this Wednesday with our Ash Wednesday service is a great opportunity to remind ourselves of our humanness. Psalm 103:14 puts it this way: God knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. The Message translation says it like this: He knows us inside and out, keeps in mind that we’re made of mud.

Dust, mud. These were the raw materials used to create Adam in the Garden. I think we could all agree that those are pretty weak and fragile materials. In the New Testament, Paul talks about our physical bodies being like clay pots. Easily chipped and broken. We’re all human. I believe those who live the best possible lives are those who embrace God’s Divinity while acknowledging their complete humanity.

You see, weaknesses(and pains) remind us we aren’t the Source of strength. We cannot fuel our own success or perfection. It comes in and through a work of God in our lives, and those who are fueled by Divine power, those who will succeed, those who will be transformed and perfected in the struggle are those who are willing to admit they can’t help themselves. You see there is a direction correlation between

Humility and help. Humility invites God’s help.

If Paul was going to accomplish all he accomplished for God, he was going to have to have Divine strength. Many times we try to cover up our weaknesses, our insecurities, our flaws, and our sin. Not Paul. He said in verse 9 that he would boast about his weaknesses. He wasn’t going to try to pretend that all was always good with him, that he had no daily difficulties to overcome. No, he said he would talk about his weaknesses. It’s right there in verse 9. What was his motivation? Look at the verse in its entirety: Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Paul knew that admitting his weaknesses would invite God’s strength to take over for him. Do you see that he said he welcomed Christ’s power to “rest” on him. That word, “rest” means “to spread a tent over.” Paul saw his body as a frail tent (II Cor. 5:1ff) but the glory of God had come into that tent and had transformed it into a holy tabernacle. Listen wherever the presence of God dwells, there is power. If there is one thing we could all use more of it is the power of God in our lives.

Listen to me, you can do all of the right things for your physical body. You can eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, drink lots of water, have regular check ups, take supplements, and stay up to date on the latest health news and still have a major illness change your quality of life. What I am trying to say is that our best efforts in life, whether we are bent on sinning or not, our best efforts will still be weak unless Christ’s power is resting on us.

I have done this ministry stuff for 28 years now. For 28 years I have stood in front of people and led them in worship and preached the Word of God. Now I have some God-given communication skills and some ability when it comes to organizing information to share with people, but my best efforts would be weak without the power of Christ resting on me. Every week I depend on God to give me a direction in which to go. I preach about 100 times each year between Sundays and Wednesdays. I am not smart enough or spiritually savvy enough to know what we all need to hear. I’m not clever enough to come up with the outlines. I have never had a preaching class. I didn’t even take anything beyond general English courses in high school or college.

What I have to offer you is what God gives to me by His grace. I don’t have what it takes to do this job. I admit it publicly. I admit it almost daily, I think. And because I am willing to admit that, the power of Christ is resting on me, helping me, equipping me, steering my mind, enabling me to love spending time on sermon prep. How many of you would relish the idea of writing two research papers every week? Would you be excited to wake up each day knowing you had to get after a 6 page paper twice a week? In the natural, I wouldn’t be up for it either. I wouldn’t be drawn to it. But because God has called me, and I willingly admit I don’t have what it takes to do the task, He has spread his tent over me, and I am being fueled by His supernatural power to come up with something to share with you every time we gather. Today I complete thirteen years as your pastor, and I haven’t run out of things to say yet!

This Lenten Season, I am going to wrestle again with some other areas of weakness in my life. OK, it’s carbs. We all knows it’s carbs. You can look at me and know that carbs are my Kryptonite. People probably come here for the first time and when I walk into the pulpit they lean over and whisper to their neighbor, “She needs to step away from the carbs.” My challenge isn’t so easily hidden, so why not admit it, right? Listen, if my life will be transformed by the power of God it will be because I invite Him to help me with His power because I humble myself to admit I am human, and I need God’s supernatural power to succeed in this area.

I Peter 5:5 tells us that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble, and listen to me, grace is power. God said to Paul in verse 9 of our text that God’s grace was sufficient for Paul to deal with his physical challenge and that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. In other words, to the degree that we are willing to admit we are weak and in need of help, to that degree, the power of God comes in to hold us up, sustain us and transform us.

I don’t know what it is you need help with today, whether anger and unforgiveness, addiction or some secret life compromise-God says He is willing to infuse your life with His power and strength if you will call on Him for help. But admitting we need help is often a deal breaker for people. They don’t want anyone else to know their truth, not even God (as if they could hide it from Him). They don’t want to boast about their weaknesses. They don’t want to expose their need. The trouble is, the grace, the power to change won’t come until we do.

And so some people choose to live by grit rather than grace.

Grit and grace

What I mean by that is that some people just determine to try harder to overcome their issues or try harder to cover them up. Ain’t nobody going to see them sweat. They will just get on the performance treadmill and keep working until they are perfect, until they escape the constraints and imperfections of their human condition which will never happen.

What happens instead is that those who choose grit just set themselves up to try and fail, try and fail, try and fail and then fall into self-loathing, guilt, and shame. It is an endless cycle. They do well for awhile and then they blow it. I mean, you can only save face so many times. You’ve bragged about how you licked whatever your issue is. You’ve posted about it on your social media and are feeling confident, and then, like having the legs on a chair cut out from under you, you fall and are reminded again that you are weak. You are human. Eventually, you just give up and give in to whatever it is you were trying to conquer.

My awesome husband has made radical lifestyle changes, and he has had tremendous success getting off of diabetes medicines, losing weight, inserting exercise into his daily routine, and even though he was able to determine and implement those changes (with God’s help), he recognizes that maintaining that as a lifestyle is beyond his ability to just will himself to do. And so, a while back on Facebook, he asked for prayer and accountability to actually make these changes a lifestyle. That is the kind of recognition we need when we rely on God’s grace to sustain us for the long haul. We have to recognize we don’t stop being human just because we have a season of perceived success. Grace isn’t about a one-time trip to the altar or a moment of confession, but it is about availing ourselves to the help of God every day. Yes, Thom started with grit, but he knew if he was going to do this for the long haul it would have to be done by God’s grace with God’s power.

Believers, the call today is to get out of the grit and grind of self and get in the grip of grace by just admitting you are flawed and weak and need help for the long haul.

Listen, those who choose grace instead of grit, find power to get back up when they fail rather than simply walking away from the call to do better, to live holy. Those who choose grace find a loving God who will encourage them to keep going and eventually, as people are in the grip of grace, in the hands of a loving Father who won’t let them go, who won’t let them quit, they are transformed into people who stand in the power of Christ rather than people who are always caving to the power of temptation. Grit people are self-will people. Grace people are people who have surrendered their will to God’s. Grace people have humbled themselves in order to give God permission and space to work in their lives rather than trying to live victoriously on their own. You can only live by grit for a season, but you can live by grace forever.

This brings me to my third and final point about:

Rejoicing instead of running

If Paul was dealing with physical pain every day, what did he really have to rejoice about? Look again at 2 Corinthians 12:9b-10 Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10  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.

He was all the more glad about his weaknesses? He rejoiced in his human limitations? He delighted in his weaknesses? Was Paul mentally unstable? That ain’t right, is it? What he was saying was he was thankful for anything that gave him the opportunity to have Christ’s power rest on him. He was rejoicing that he was experiencing the power of Christ that came to him because of his weaknesses. He was happy and glad that there was a Source to turn to when he had a need. Where he was limited in his ability to endure his struggle, God had unlimited power and grace to enable him to keep going. And that sufficient grace was a thrill, a buzz, a spiritual high, an experience with contentment like none other. Having the thorn while having the grace of God was a higher high than simply having the thorn removed because he got to see just how powerful God’s grace really is. And just as God’s grace was sufficient for Paul, it is sufficient for you in your human struggle.

Right now, in this moment I want you to fill in the blank in your mind. Today, I am struggling with ____________. Is there a willingness to admit your struggle and to invite the grace of God into your situation rather than running to things that will never complete and transform you? God wants to make His power perfect in your weakness. There is power to change that some of us have been leaving on the table because of an inability to admit our need. Some of our marriages need help In a minute, you need to step out and come to pray for God’s grace over your relationship and quit pretending that everything is OK. Some of our hearts need help because we are dealing with great stress, heartache and disappointment and we are tempted to turn to the wrong things for comfort. You need to step out and come and pray for God’s grace to be your comfort and quit pretending that we’ve got this. Some of you are in the middle of waiting on physical test results, and the waiting has you torn up, anxious and afraid. You need to come and pray for God’s grace to sustain you during this difficult time. You don’t kneed to be strong! You need to be weak, so that you can experience the strength of God!

I want Christ’s power to rest on my weakness. That is what I am seeking every day. It is what I have come to rely on. It is what gives me hope for each day. It is what fuels me on even when I am being buffeted by Satan as I was a couple of days this past week. The greatest prayer you can pray is this: Help me, Lord!

Allow your weaknesses to prompt you to turn to, to rely on and to be filled by Christ, the Source, who can keep you from falling, who will pick you up when you do fall and who will provide everything you need to keep growing in His grace as His life is perfected in yours.


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