It seems to be a common thought, at least in Christian circles (and maybe outside, too, I don’t know) that when we go through trials, we come out stronger. This is (as far as my limited experience can tell) true, by and large, as long as we learn from the trials. But I do not think that becoming stronger is the only benefit of trials.
I have found, or perhaps “learned” is a more appropriate term here, that I rely on my strength when I think I am strong. I think, for example, “I am a good student; this assignment will be no problem. I can do this.” The emphasis here is on the “I”. I don’t need help, I am able, I have the ability.
Invariably, I end up crashing and falling flat on my face (metaphorically), as this past semester was clear proof.
I think I have learned something, though, from this last set of trials: I am painfully aware of how weak I am.
I think, perhaps, that we need to remember our weaknesses, not just seek to know and rely upon our strengths. To use an example from literature/film, Gandalf, who was incredibly strong, knew his weaknesses, and because of them, when Frodo offered him the “One Ring to Rule Them All,” he refused. He knew that he should not take it, not because he wasn’t strong enough, but because his weaknesses weren’t strong enough to resist the Ring’s power.
I feel like I’m rambling a bit. Let me try to be more to the point.
Take an example from the Bible. Paul says he was given a thorn in his side–blindness? imprisonment? something else?–to keep him from becoming conceited (2 Cor. 12:7). God’s response to him in the trial was not to make him strong again, but to say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). As a result, Paul said, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).
God’s power is made perfect in weakness. When we are weak, we have to rely on Him. I don’t think Jesus intended a Church of strong, independent people (otherwise He would have had a following of all Pharisees and Sadducees). I think He calls a Church of the weak, as Switchfoot calls it, “the Church of the drop outs, the losers, the sinners, the failures, and the fools” (“Beautiful Letdown”). When we try to be strong, we cut Him out of our lives; when we admit our weakness, He has room to move in our lives. His strength has no weakness, never falters, never changes.
True strength is not being able to rely on ourselves; it’s not being able to face down anything alone. True strength is knowing how tragically weak we are and wholly relying on God’s unfailing strength and love.
Never underestimate my Jesus–
You’re telling me that there’s no hope, I’m telling you you’re wrong.
Never underestimate my Jesus–
When the world around you crumbles, He will be strong, He will be strong.
(Relient K, ‘For the Moments I Feel Faint”)
When the storm is raging all around me,
You are the peace that calms my troubled sea.
And when the cares of this world darken my day,
ou are the light that shines and shows me the way .
Oh, the beauty of Your majesty .
On the cross You showed Your love for me!
(Leeland, “Beautiful Lord”)
I need eyes to be my guide,
I need a voice that’s louder than mine,
I need hope, I need You
‘Cause I can’t do this alone!
Grace I call Your name!
Oh won’t Your smile fall over me.
I’m cracked and dry on hands and knees,
Oh sweet grace rain down on me! I need You grace.
(Phil Wickham, “Grace”)