The following is a sermon I preached in the church where I am currently serving. It is part of a larger series of stories about “power in weakness” from 2 Corinthians 12.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
That is a quote from 2 Corinthians 12:9. At this point in his letter, Paul is talking about some sort of physical affliction that he has. He prayed and prayed and prayed about it but it would not go away. Then he says that the Lord told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
When I was asked to talk about this I scratched my head for a long time. Did I really know what that actually means? Have I actually seen that in my own life? It seems kind of doubtful. We are surrounded by power all the time in the world, but power in weakness is something different entirely. I just about gave up right then and walked away.
We don’t really do power in weakness in this world. Instead, power is usually summed up by our achievements. If you do enough and you try hard enough you will gain power and all of the good things that go with it. For those in the world then who do not have power there is an unspoken assumption that they just aren’t doing it right.
So we get caught up in the rat race to gain more power for ourselves. Or more influence, more attention, more recognition that what we are doing matters. We find ourselves following the formula of please, perfect, and perform.
We think that if we can please others around us, perfect certain things in our lives, and perform how we think others want us to be- then we will get power and recognition. Because that’s what life is all about right? We have to make our mark on the world. Do something that we will be remembered by. If not, then our life was a waste.
What happens though when we don’t- and can’t- live up to this expectation? I got a crash course in this last year on my internship. The year had been very difficult on me spiritually and mentally. I had been challenged in ways that I didn’t think were possible. Without realizing it I had gotten trapped in the please, perfect, perform model with everything in my life. It was only with the help of my supervisors that I was able to live in a different way.
I remember the conversation that we had at our last meeting together before the formal end to my internship when one of my supervisors told me, “I’m going to be honest with you. When you first started I didn’t think you were going to make it through the year.”
The conversation that followed was probably one of the most awkward I have ever had. I mean, what do you say to that? How do you respond when someone reveals to you that they expected you to fail and that they had no confidence in you? Talk about your super uncomfortable moments!
In the months since I finished my internship I have reflected a lot about that comment. It explained a lot of other peoples’ behavior around me. The biggest thing I think that I took from that though was that I am glad I was not told that sooner. If I knew that no one believed in me and had confidence in me, I probably wouldn’t have finished that internship.
Moments like that one, where people don’t believe in you for whatever reason, they can have a deep power over us. When we hear that message, “you are not enough” it can crush us and tear us down. It disempowers us in a variety of ways. And if we hear it long enough- we start to believe it. We begin to think that we are not important. That our lives and our stories carry little value. We start comparing ourselves to other people and we always come up short.
It doesn’t take long for that worthlessness to become a part of our identity, and it stops us from taking a risk or taking an opportunity that comes our way because we feel that we are not good enough to be able to do it. We fear that by trying that we will fail, and so then it is better not to try at all. We fall back into that pattern.
University of Houston Professor Brené Brown talks about this idea in her book Daring Greatly. She talks about how all humans strive for love and belonging and a sense of worthiness. And without this sense of being worthy of love and belonging we are unable to experience genuine connection and relationship. And it is that genuine connection and relationship that we all need to thrive. Instead of this we end up carrying a deep sense of shame feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging because, “I am not enough.”
It seems really bleak doesn’t it? But we have been immensely blessed with promises from God that tell a different story. A promise that we have a God who loves us. A God who wants to know us. A God who tells us you are enough, because you are mine.
Your story, your experiences do matter. We have a God who tells us that she will be with us always. Psalm 139 reads, “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me.” And we too can proclaim the same thing without doubt or fear that this is not true. And so we don’t need to be afraid to take a risk, try something new, and accept opportunities that come our way that lead us out of our comfort zones. We can dare greatly! And if we fail at a task- that’s okay! We are not any less loved, or gifted, or valued. We will not be rejected or cast out.
Learning this promise changed my life and has deeply impacted my ministry. It was the reason that I was able to successfully complete my internship. And I know that it can be life changing for you too. Because we have a God who became weak by hanging on a cross so that we could be made strong. A God who redeems us from our past failings so that we don’t have to be afraid to get up and try again. That was the greatest lesson that I learned on my internship and I know that it is something that will continue to carry me through my life. I hope that you too can come to know this so deeply that you can feel it too and be transformed by it.
I want to end with a quote by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt from a speech he gave in 1910. He says, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ I invite you all to remember God’s promises to you. That you have all been freed from fear, renewed in hope, and empowered by God’s spirit. You can enter into the arena with full confidence that no matter what God is right there by your side so that you too can dare greatly.
Featured Image is “Leadership and Power” from Wikimedia Commons.