Strength from Weakness
By Virginia Brandt Berg
“Have you not known? Have you not heard?” the Bible prophet Isaiah asks in chapter 40 of the book that bears his name. Not known what?—“The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth … gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:28-31). The central promise there is, “He gives power to the weak.”
The apostle Paul said something similar. “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). It’s interesting to note that Paul wrote those words to the Greeks, who exalted intellect and physical beauty and prowess—man and his achievements—and had no use for a weakling. Yet we know that Paul had some physical impairment, his “thorn in the flesh,” as he called it (2 Corinthians 12:7), and the Greeks said of him, “His bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” (2 Corinthians 10:10). The fact that he had been scorned, stoned, whipped, and imprisoned didn’t help his reputation either. In short, Paul did not at all measure up to the Greeks’ ideas of strength.
What the Greeks didn’t understand is that God frequently works contrary to human logic and natural expectations. He says in His Word, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). What the Greeks called weakness, God calls strength.
It’s very often people who are not particularly gifted, nor highly trained, nor learned in man’s wisdom that God is able to do the most with. Because they are humble, emptied of self, weak in themselves, and depend on God for strength, He can work through them. He supplements such weakness with His strength, and they become truly strong. “To those who have no might He increases strength” (Isaiah 40:29).
All of God’s spiritual giants have been weak men and women who became great by God’s power. Moses was such a poor public speaker that God said his brother Aaron could do his speaking for him. But because Moses had learned to depend completely on God, he became the greatest lawgiver the world had ever known. Most of Jesus’ disciples were uneducated, but the influence of those weak men is felt to this very day. God was able to use them because they realized their weakness and put no confidence in themselves.
But when we are so sure of our own strength, so confident of our own powers, the Lord leaves us to walk alone in the strength we are so sure of. I’m reminded of my daughter when she was just learning to walk. She was naturally very impulsive, and she insisted on trying to walk by herself rather than let me hold her hand and guide her. She really couldn’t walk well yet, but in her independent spirit would pull away, over and over, to launch out by herself, falling, bumping, and bruising her way along—and she nearly always bore the marks of her independence on the end of her little nose.
How many of us bear the marks of our independence—our wanting to lean on our own strength until, sometimes broken, defeated, and disappointed, we learn to depend on God’s strength instead of our own? What a pity that we should depend on the human when we can have the divine, that we should draw only on our natural resources when we can have all of Heaven’s resources at our command! How strange it is that we should insist on depending on our own strength and wisdom when we can have the power of Almighty God!
God wants to be our ally. He longs to give us His strength, but if we insist on walking by ourselves in our own strength, just as I’ve said, He’ll leave us to stumble around till we find how little strength we actually have. He’ll walk off the stage of our lives and leave us to ourselves until the foundations of our pride and confidence in the human strength have been shaken and we at last come to the realization that our supposed strength is weakness.
Look to God for strength. He says, “I dwell with him who has a contrite and humble spirit” (Isaiah 57:15). Ask God for His wisdom and His strength, and He will give it to you, “that the excellence of the power may be of God” and not of you (Matthew 7:7; 2 Corinthians 4:7). Then you will be able to say with the apostle Paul, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
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