Strength in My Weakness – Numbers

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2 Corinthians 12:8-10 – New International Version (NIV)

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it 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 – Contemporary English Version (CEV)

Three times I begged the Lord to make this suffering go away. But he replied, “My kindness is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.” So if Christ keeps giving me his power, I will gladly brag about how weak I am. Yes, I am glad to be weak or insulted or mistreated or to have troubles and sufferings, if it is for Christ. Because when I am weak, I am strong.

I own a thorn. For years, it’s been my secret shame. Honestly, until very recently, its official name was unknown to me. I only thought of it as a small issue unique to me, and pridefully decided to overcome it alone. I didn’t tell my wife or my closest friends. Never even considered addressing the deeper levels of the issue with God. And yet, no matter how hard I try, I can never climb over it. It’s beyond my ability to handle alone.

The apostle Paul knew a thing or two about relying on the Lord for strength, in times of weakness. In his second letter to the Corinthian church, he told the brethren how he continued to face suffering. But God—refusing to remove the source of that suffering from Paul—instead reminded him that His grace was enough to not only sustain Paul, but to give him strength through the suffering. Paul eventually grew to understand and even embrace his human weaknesses, recognizing God’s supernatural strength working through his own human weaknesses. God’s grace was strong enough to carry Paul through his personal obstacles; obstacles he could not conquer on his own.

Christians want to hope God removes every obstacle blocking our paths. But sometimes, God leaves that thing right where it is, giving us no other alternative but to lean on Him for strength in dealing with that thing. It is by His grace that we are able to keep moving forward through some of our most troubling trials. And though He may not remove all sufferings—remember, Jesus promised us we would face trials and sufferings—God walks through those times, carrying us when we cannot walk on our own.

Last week, I took a particular type of test and scored low on the scale. I’m kind of an over-achiever so, under any other circumstances, this would have been a real problem for me. But there was actual comfort in now knowing. In fact, I had peace in discovering it’s an actual thing—my own thorn—and I’ve secretly struggled with it my entire life.

Dyscalculia is akin to dyslexia and I’m pretty sure it’s with me. I have a hard time dealing with and processing numbers. In particular, 6s and 9s tend to flip on me pretty easily. Digits in large numbers sometimes switch places entirely, causing me to constantly double back to make sure they’re correct. Sometimes, I come up with different answers to the same problem, when using a calculator, because I’ve flipped a digit or two someplace, so I constantly have to recheck my math for even the smallest calculations. I can’t remember a time when I scored a perfect 100% on any math test…ever. I took collegiate pre-calculus three times while at Western Michigan University and finally passed with a low grade. Budgets terrify me. Numerical graphs are a nightmare. Number-only charts mock me, because I have a hard time visualizing what they mean. For a really-long time, I simply thought of myself as being numbers-dumb. With that type of shame, I hid my problem from those closest to me…including God, as if He didn’t already know.

But recently, my wife has been by my side to help me out, whether she knows it or not. See, she’s discovering its depths just like I am. And she’s been supportive and patient. For years, I let the enemy convince me that she would look at me differently, if she knew my struggle. But God’s grace is sufficient. And, I understand now that she’s going to be right by my side whenever I need help.

God may not remove this thing from me. Or, maybe He will if I ask him to specifically take it away, by name; now that I know what it is. Either way, I understand where Paul was coming from when he wrote those words in 2 Corinthians. I have comfort knowing my wife supports and believes in me. I have courage knowing that God will be with me when numbers challenge me. His grace is sufficient.

Friends, I’m 46 years old and finally coming to terms with an issue I’ve harbored my entire life. God, in His loving kindness, brought understanding and peace into my situation. Just as important, He made it okay for me to share with others. He turned my weakness into a source of His strength and I have a confidence like never before, because I know those who are most important to me are by my side. I don’t have to be ashamed of my personal struggle anymore. So, be encouraged if you’re facing something monumental. God is greater than anything you may face. You may not ever be able to fully defeat all of your struggles, but God’s grace will supply the strength to push through, when you do not have it on your own.

Stronger

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Exercise to gain strength

At 27 years old, I purchased a new weight bench, an 80-pound heavy bag and a 250-pound free-weight set complete with a 15-pound bar and 10-pound dumbbells. Oh brother! I was buying meal supplements at GNC, for $50 a box; drinking whey powder every morning; ingesting creatine monohydrate and drinking water…a lot of water. The mirror was my closest friend. All of that lifting paid off in the field, went I had to do a full day of carting around heavy testing equipment, for work. 

By the time I was 30 years old, I weighed 155 pounds, had roughly 5% body fat and was able to bench-press 210 pounds. I thought I was strong and sexy! But, for all of that physical strength, my spiritual strength was super-weak. I can actually remember having a conversation with my best friend, Eric, telling him I was a spiritual person. I had glanced through the entire bible just to be able to say to myself “I’ve read the good book.” My prayer-life was only active when I needed God to do something for me. Despite all of my physical strength, I wasn’t strong enough to give my wife the kind of marriage she wanted and needed. As strong as I was in physical might, I was a weak father, because my kids were more afraid of my short temper (creatine-rage) than they were comfortable with my loving personality.

Take a look at the two photos up there for a second. It looks like both men are engaged in separate activities, doesn’t it? The brother on the left is seriously gettin’ his buff on; steamy background and all, right? While the Average-Joe on the right is enjoying a leisurely morning read; a short coffee by his side, ya? Actually–dear friends–these two men are both working out; training muscles; inducing strain and growing stronger by virtue of the repeated process. The first time I paid attention to what the Apostle Paul said to his young disciple, Timothy, regarding physical exercise in relation to the study of the word, I shirked it off as nonsense. In 1 Timothy 4:8 (NIV), Paul said this:

“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

What exactly was Paul telling Timothy? Was he saying, “Kid, don’t worry about tightening your body; read your scriptures instead!” Not at all! The bible also tells us our bodies are the Lord’s temple and, as such, we should take care of the temple. That’s a whole different topic for another day. I think what Paul was trying to tell Timothy was to concentrate more-so on the spiritual exercise of studying and communing with God, because that type of activity has lasting affects not only in the here and now, but in the afterlife as well.

Physical workout activity definitely has its benefits. But, as a Christian, I have come to believe the spiritual strength of my relationship with Jesus falls higher on my personal priority list than how many reps I can push under the chest-machine. The more I learn about the Lord, I see changes in my earthly relationships; I see changes in my conduct; I recognize change in my thinking and my actions. The more I spend time exercising my faith, the stronger my faith becomes.  

At 45 years old, I am happy to say you can find me spending more time seeking the Lord than running the treadmill at Planet Fitness. I still have the same intensity toward working out that I had at 27, except I shifted the type of working out I engage in. Paul told Timothy physical training has some value, and I believe that’s true. But the day will come when I can no longer push 150 pounds. The day will come when I can no longer lift myself physically. Time catches us all. But time has no hold on the things of the spirit. Once I accepted that truth, the Lord became real to me. Suddenly, gaining a real relationship with him–and maintaining it–became more important than my looks. 

Hey, I’m on the Lord’s team. When my time on earth is over, he’s going to gift me with a new body that will never perish. These days, you can catch me working out like the brother up there, on the right. And I’m pretty okay with that. I’m pretty strong in my faith. But there is always room for me to grow stronger.