Jesus once said to the Apostle Paul that “my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). This principle is the central paradox of the Christian faith: God’s power works through human weakness. Paul goes on to say, “therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Yet at the same time, the Bible repeatedly asserts that human beings have real authority over all creation (Gen 1:28), in marriage (Eph 5:22-24), in parenting (Eph 6:1-4), in government (Rom 13:1-8), over demonic spirits (Luke 10:20), and in the church (Heb 13:17). Exercising authority is exercising power, yet we are simultaneously called to a life of weakness. How can this be?
Definitions are important, and in this case we need to understand what weakness means. Weakness is not the same as being passive, a push-over, timid, indecisive, ignorant, or unprepared. Many people fall into the trap of thinking that sitting around and doing nothing is what God wants them to do. This is not the weakness Jesus calls us to but rather putting God to the test. God calls his people to be people who exercise authority by taking bold and courageous action. We are simultaneously called to power and weakness. The weakness Christ calls us to is trusting God to work through our deficiencies. It is taking action with an utter dependence on God’s power to work through you.
In other words, Jesus taught Paul that true effectiveness in ministry is not derived from human wisdom or human power, but rather on God’s wisdom and power (1 Cor 1:18-25). God reminded Paul of his utter dependence on Him by weakening him physically in some way (Paul called it a thorn in his flesh). Yet God still told Paul to continue preaching, studying, preparing, working, traveling, disciplining, and writing. Paul put forth maximum effort, but his ultimate trust was not in his own abilities, but a deeper trust in God’s power to work through him.
I once knew a Christian missionary who decided that his fundraising strategy would be to sit in his room for a month and pray and trust God to provide. This sounds holy, spiritual and filled with faith, but it was his hyper-spiritualized way to avoid his fear of picking up the phone and putting in the hard work of support raising. Needless to say, he never reported to the mission field.
For many Christians, this verse can become an excuse for sitting on the sidelines and not doing anything while holding the spiritual trump card of “trusting God.” That’s not God’s power through weakness, that’s just laziness. God’s power through weakness is trusting God through your fears, your doubts, your insecurities, your failures, and your ignorance — and yet still taking bold action, trusting that even though you’re weak God will do something for his glory through you.
How will you trust God, in spite of your weaknesses, fears and failures, to still take bold action and believe Him to work through you?