When Strength Is a Disadvantage
"And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (II Corinthians 12:9-10).
Normally, we think of our own ability as an advantage. Whatever we think we need to do, we'd rather be able to do it than not be able. We cringe at the thought of personal insufficiency, of coming up short. But in our relationship to God and in our work in His kingdom, there is a sense in which our own personal strength can be a disadvantage. "Natural strength is often as great a handicap as natural weakness" [Hannah Hurnard].
Whenever there is something that we can do and we know that we can do it, we are tempted to believe that our strength is our own: this is our ability, we have learned how to do this thing, and so forth. We begin to feel independent and self-sufficient, and our need for God recedes into the background. It is strange but true, the more we think of the things God has made us able to do, the less we pay attention to the God who made us able to do them.
To Paul, God said, "My strength is made perfect in weakness." Paul, like all of us, probably enjoyed days when he felt adequate and sufficient to do what had to be done. But in truth, God could do a good deal more with Paul on the other days — when Paul felt weak rather than strong. So God gave Paul a "thorn in the flesh" to multiply the number of days when he would feel weak. Those would be the days when he was most conscious of his dependence on God's help and therefore the days of his greatest usefulness.
When a "thorn in the flesh" makes its painful appearance in our own lives, our natural response is to want it to go away as quickly as possible. Yet if it is God's will for us to continue to deal with it, our attitude needs to be the same as Paul's: "I take pleasure in infirmities … For when I am weak, then I am strong."
"God uses chronic pain and weakness, along with other afflictions, as his chisel for sculpting our lives. Felt weakness deepens our dependence on Christ for strength each day. The weaker we feel, the harder we lean. And the harder we lean, the stronger we grow spiritually, even while our bodies waste away. To live with your "thorn" uncomplainingly — that is, sweet, patient, and free in heart to love and help others, even though every day you feel weak — is true sanctification" [J. I. Packer].