“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor. 12:9
I am by no means a sports fan. Even when I was in college, I just went to the football game on Saturday to see my friends march in the band at half-time. By the time the team was taking the field again for the second half, I was already halfway home.
The Olympics, however? Well – that’s another story.
I love the Olympics. I love the hype and the drama and the pageantry; I love the tears after bobbled dismounts and the fists pumped in the air after setting world records; I love the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
During the London Olympics this year, though, I especially loved South African runner, Oscar Pistorius.
Oscar competed in the men’s 400 meter sprint; unlike all the other men competing in that particular event this year, however, Oscar doesn’t have biological legs below either knee – he’s a double below-knee amputee. (His legs were amputated when he was just 11 months old due to a congenital birth defect.)
Oscar runs with the aid of Flex-Foot Cheetah carbon fiber transtibial prostheses. (If you’re not familiar with him or this particular type of artificial limb, take a look here)
Any initial curiosity at seeing this almost science fiction-like manner of locomotion for the first time soon turns into wonder at this perfect marriage of technology and the human spirit. Oscar made history at the 2012 Olympic Games in London by becoming the first double amputee to compete on the track and make an Olympic final.
A lesser man might have succumbed to the seemingly insurmountable challenge of simply getting by – much less running – without legs and feet and the inherent feeling of weakness that must impart. However, when Oscar runs, his carbon fiber “feet” are sufficient to give him amazing power on the track; power, in fact, made perfect because of his weakness.
Taken out of context, the part of 2 Corinthians 2:9 that reads, “My power is made perfect in weakness” probably sounds like one of the most cryptic things Jesus ever said. Taken in context, though, we know that He said this to the apostle Paul after Paul asked Jesus to take away what he referred to as a “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan.” (2 Cor. 12:7)
No one knows for sure what this “thorn” of Paul’s was – scholars debate whether it was a physical or emotional illness or disability or a powerful temptation of some sort he struggled with.
Paul notes that he was given this condition to keep him from becoming conceited. In fact, just a few verses earlier in verse 4, Paul tells us that he “was caught up to paradise. He [Paul] heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.” I can only imagine that the recipient of such great revelation directly from Jesus would have found it really tempting to think pretty highly of himself.
Paul might have wondered just how much more effective his ministry would have been had he not had this thorn hindering him. He begged Jesus three times to remove this challenging condition and three times Jesus refused – not to punish Paul, but to make him a living demonstration of just how amazing a life lived with only Jesus’ grace and power to depend on can be.
In the corporate world where I work, being independent can garner great year-end reviews; in the spiritual world, though, being independent flies in the face of God’s will for my life. By pairing Paul’s words in Philippians 4:13 with Jesus’ words in John 15:5 and putting a “but” in between the two, we come up with a pretty powerful warning about self-sufficiency: “I can do everything through him [Jesus] who gives me strength” but “apart from me [Jesus] you can do nothing.”
Of all the things that tempt me, the temptation to try and make it under my own power may be the most insidious. God has blessed me with some abilities that I cherish that bring me great pleasure; however, I sometimes want to depend on those abilities for success without ever involving their author in the equation.
Big mistake, that. Depending on those abilities makes them idols – something I look to for strength other than God. To quote a 1940s Duke Ellington tune, “and that ain’t good.”
So just as Oscar Pistorius’ prosthetic blades allowed him to be a runner in spite of missing key runner’s components, Jesus’ grace was all Paul needed to carry him through in spite of an affliction that, under his own power, would have robbed him of his ability to teach and preach most effectively.
Fittingly, Paul often spoke of life as a race. In fact, in Acts 20:24 he told some of the church elders: “…if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”
And testify he did.
Oscar and Paul both did pretty well in their races despite their individual weaknesses: one depended on technology and qualified for the Olympics; the other depended on God’s grace and became the writer of some of the most compelling work in the best-selling book in the world.
And that same grace? It’s all I need, as well.
Heavenly father, please forgive me when I want things my way: depending solely on myself, denying your power and will for my life and living life as I did before I surrendered everything to you. Forgive me for ever wanting more – or less, or different – than what you want for me; for your way is always best…
…and your grace is always sufficient for me.