Tuesday, May 15, 2007

CARRY ME ON YOUR SHOULDERS



But by thy saving power, 0 God, lift me high above my pain and my distress, then will I praise God's name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever...

I was given a painful physical ailment... Three times I prayed to the Lord about this and asked him to take it away. But his answer was: 'My grace is all you need, for my power is strongest when you are weak.' I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of God's power over me.

My brothers, think what sort of people you are, whom God has called. Few of you are men of wisdom, by any human standard; few are powerful or highly born. Yet, to shame the wise, God has chosen what the world counts folly, and to shame what is strong, God has chosen what the world counts weakness.

Through faith [they] conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness...

Then one of the elders said to me, 'Don't cry. Look! The Lion from Judah's tribe, the great descendant of David, has won the victory, and he can break the seven seals and open the scroll .' Then I saw a Lamb standing in the centre of the throne, surrounded by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb appeared to have been killed.


(Psalm 69:29-30, NEB; Psalm 73:26, RSV; 2 Corinthians 12:7b,8-9, TEV; 1 Corinthians 1:26-27, NEB; Hebrews 11:33-34b, RSV; Revelation 5:5-6a, TEV)


Scripture is the record of God in his great grace reaching out to us who in our weakness are powerless to save ourselves and restore lost communion with God. When redeemed we are most at risk when we seek to live and serve in our own strength. Weakness, whether it be physical, emotional, or a deliberate acceptance of risk as God's people, is more likely to enable the power of God to work in our lives. The implications of such a theology of weakness are most profound.

For us, like Jesus, suffering and helplessness are risks involved in pursuing a vision of God's love and justice. As we are prepared to 'lay down our lives for our friends' we discover that such deliberate weakness becomes a source of creativity.

We do not have to rely upon our own strength; rather we should make 'I can do all things through Christ' a rule of our lives. To cultivate a dependence upon God will mean far greater resources are available to us than our own.

Church life should be firmly based upon God's strength, not ours. How easy it is for us to organise God out of his church! Our expertise -- or our schemes -- can mean that God is not really needed.

The life of prayer and meditation will help us to depend upon God's strength. Otherwise we are likely to lose our awareness of the divine and find ourselves simply relying upon our own planning and busyness.

When suffering comes to us in any dimension we are able to acknowledge it as a positive experience. We can know God's presence and be covered by his power.

We must all descend into weakness sooner or later. A theology of weakness will help us see that even the ultimate weakness, dying, is opportunity for God to work in our lives. The process of growing old need not hold so many fears for us if we accept the presence of his strong shoulders.

In God's topsy-turvy approach to power, he takes weak, scarred, scared, struggling, failing and ineffective people and accomplishes his mighty work with such miserably inadequate tools.

Robert Girard, My Weakness: His Strength

This is the answer -- that always it is upon human weakness, not human strength and confidence, that God chooses to build his kingdom; and that he can use us, not merely in spite of our ordinariness and helplessness and disqualifying infirmities, but precisely because of them...

J.S. Stewart, Thine is the Kingdom

When we were poor, lost and separated from God, we were able to appropriate his grace to cover our sin. It is therefore no surprise to find that this strength is available for his people in any kind of weakness. Our confidence in the ever-present strength of God is based upon that initial work of God in Christ when the Strong One took our weakness, our sin, upon himself.

John Helm, Weak But Strong

Behold the tiny Babe in cradle small,

He lies so helpless at our lady's side,

New born to filth and stench of cattle stall,

His heaven reflecting eyes are open wide.

This scene's revived each Christmastide.

See Christ with crown of thorns on gibbet raised,

Too weak to need to suffer broken bones,

In dereliction hung with sad eyes glazed,

Unheard by him the weeping women's moans,

This sacrifice for sin atones.

Regard yourself, O Man, weighed down with sin,

Such that the sacred heart was made to bleed,

Receive Christ's strength and rich new life begin

And all the wisdom of the scriptures heed.

God's grace suffices for your need.

Charles Povey, The Paradox of Weakness

Again we heard across the silent night the roaring beasts. One of the men held his cup toward the ceiling. 'To the great lion,' he said, 'the lion of Judah, the lion of St Mark.' We all brought our cups together in the thin clanking that tin makes on tin. We drank.

'This is the blood of the New Testament!' said Publius. We smiled at the distant roaring.

Calvin Miller, The Philippian Fragment

When we compare the strength and vigour of the Spirit-filled early church with the confused and sometimes feeble performance of the church today, we might perhaps conclude that when man's rigidity attempts to canalise the free and flexible flow of the Spirit he is left to his own devices.

J.B. Phillips, Young Church in Action

There are many people who, through long training, have reached a high level of competence in terms of the understanding of human behaviour, but few who are willing to lay down their own lives for others and make their weakness a source of creativity. For many individuals, professional training means power. But the minister, who takes off his clothes to wash the feet of his friends, is powerless and his training and formation are meant to enable him to face his own weakness without fear and make it available to others. It is exactly this creative weakness that gives the ministry its momentum...

Henri Nouwen, Creative Ministry

The great mystery of ministry is that while we ourselves are overwhelmed by our own weaknesses and limitations, we can still be so transparent that the Spirit of God, the divine counsellor, can shine through us and bring light to others.

Henri Nouwen, The Living Reminder

Old age, with all its acknowledged handicaps and limitations can, however, open up new horizons of joyous possibility to us. The very realisation of our own finiteness that comes with the gradual waning of our powers affords us the opportunity of proving in our own experience the validity of Paul's paradoxical claim: 'When I am weak, then I am strong'. We, too, can know the thrill of discovering that our inadequacy is complemented by God's sufficiency...

J.O. Sanders, Your Best Years

Christian faith, I said to her, does not involve repressing one's anxiety in order to appear strong. On the contrary, it means recognising one's weakness, accepting the inward truth about oneself, confessing one's anxiety, as my sister has so movingly done, and still to believe; that is to say that the Christian puts his trust, not in his own strength, but in the grace of God.

P. Tournier, Learning to Grow Old

When I am weak, then I am strong,

Lord, help me sing this triumph song.

Your grace is promised for each day,

Your power upon me, this I pray.

Lord, I do not easily risk myself for the sake of others. Stepping out of the boat as Peter did is scary and I usually opt for greater safety. Yet Jesus spoke about losing oneself for the sake of the gospel and he set the example of suffering servanthood. So help me to be willing to count the cost, to take up my cross, to be less concerned with my own security and more concerned with the Kingdom.

Lord, forgive me that in my ministry I have often relied upon my bright ideas and my carefully laid plans rather than on your guidance and your empowering. Your heart must ache as you see so much 'politicking' and petty ambition in church government. I pray for Christians in countries where the church is under suspicion and your followers must stay close to the Spirit, to survive. But I also pray for your work in countries like mine where there is little external pressure. Many of our problems come from unregenerate desires which are often carefully covered up under the guise of bringing about your will.

Lord, suffering is something which I don't handle well. There are so many negative aspects about it that ] find it hard to discern any value in such experiences. As soon as I find myself in a hurting situation l quickly ask you to rescue me. Help me to realise that healing is not always your will and let me be prepared to accept suffering and find in it opportunity to know your perfect strength. All the time l have before me my ultimate weakness -- death. May my living day reflect a willingness to depend upon you in all things.


A Benediction

Go forth in the strength which God is able to supply. May God's grace which is brought to completion in your weakness go with you throughout this day. Amen.

Rowland Croucher ed., Still Waters, Deep Waters (Albatross/Lion), chapter 12

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