In his little book Weakness Is the Way, J.I. Packer, someone who grappled with feeling weak throughout his life, focuses on passages in 2 Corinthians, a book where Paul puts his weakness on full display for his readers and concludes, “[Jesus] has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness’…. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9–10).
As Packer explains, this isn’t just true for Paul; it’s the way of life for the Christian: “For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11). Our weakness changes us, makes us more like him; and our dependence on him brings him glory. This is the way for us.
We may, I think, take it as certain that Paul was not by nature or upbringing weakness-conscious in the way that he came to be after putting himself in Christ’s hands on the Damascus road and setting out at Christ’s command on his apostolic travels. And we should recognize that the fierce and somewhat disabling pain with which Christ in due course required him to live, and which he clearly accepted as a weakness that would be with him to his dying day, had in view less the enriching of his ministry than the furthering of his sanctification. The clues are there: Paul refers to increase of humility in face of privileged revelations (12:7), deepened dependence on Christ in face of Satanic discouragements and distractions (vv. 7–9), and a robust readiness to welcome whatever other forms of suffering might come his way in the future (v. 10). He demonstrates a sustained recognition that feeling weak in oneself is par for the course in the Christian life and therefore something one may properly boast about and be content with (vv. 6, 9–10). (“Boast” here means, not parade or be proud of in a self-centered way, but highlight when appropriate as a significant, God-given part of one’s life.)
In this, Paul models the discipleship, spiritual maturity, and growth in grace that all believers are called to pursue. [Emphasis added.]
And now he comes to the point that smashes through the mold of expectations our culture constantly tries to squeeze us into:
When the world tells us, as it does, that everyone has a right to a life that is easy, comfortable, and relatively pain-free, a life that enables us to discover, display, and deploy all the strengths that are latent within us, the world twists the truth right out of shape. That was not the quality of life to which Christ’s calling led him, nor was it Paul’s calling, nor is it what we are called to in the twenty-first century. For all Christians, the likelihood is rather that as our discipleship continues, God will make us increasingly weakness-conscious and pain-aware, so that we may learn with Paul that when we are conscious of being weak, then—and only then—may we become truly strong in the Lord.
Do not be surprised when your weakness increases. And don’t be tempted to conclude God has left you when you experience it. As Packer notes, “Paul went unhealed, though not abandoned.” In fact, he says, the opposite of abandonment was true: Paul’s weakness was the result of God’s deliberate, loving, fatherly work in his life for a purpose.