Celebration of Weakness

th-1I had breakfast the other day with a theological academic on spiritual formation and found out they have an official theology for what he said I like to teach all the time. It’s called the Theology of Weakness. Now a quick online research showed that this was not an official theology canonized somewhere in the Book of Theologies that anyone would have to go through in any major seminary training. It’s a way a few spiritual leaders have explained how pain, struggle and suffering fits into our growth. As far as I can tell, no one’s written the book on The Theology of Weakness, but there are a few seminars on how to deal with tough times.

I’m glad it’s not official, because this is not what I’m talking about. This says that when things get tough, or for some of us who are destined to be struggling all our lives with some particular sin issue or addiction (Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”), well there is a way to fit this into one’s theological life picture. When things get really difficult we can turn to this “theology” and receive comfort until things get better again and we are good strong Christians like we’re all supposed to be.

That’s not what I’m saying. Not even close.

I’m saying that our weakness — our brokenness — is THE ONLY WAY WE WILL EVER BE USED BY GOD. It’s not a theology for the bad times; it’s a theology for all times. It’s not that there is hope when things go wrong, or when bad things happen to good people, or there is light at the end of the tunnel. This teaches that things are always going wrong, that we are bad people who have had an incredibly good thing happen to us, and that no one needs to care about the light at the end of the tunnel when there is light right here in my heart when all around me is darkness. That’s what I’m talking about. So I’m going to disagree with my academic friend. I am not a champion of the theology of weakness, I am a champion of the fact that we are all weak all the time; we are all losers, we are all broken, we are all in pain, we are all sinners, we are all inadequate, we are all vulnerable, and we are finding the power of God in our lives in the middle of all these things, and realizing that this is the only way we can find it. This is where it exists.

It’s not a theology of weakness; it’s a theology for the weak, and there is no corresponding theology for the strong. It’s the only theology there is. It’s not “Blessed are the poor because they are going to be rich some day,” it’s “Blessed are the poor because they are the only ones who get it.”

Does this sound like the same thing? It’s two entirely different things. One has an assumption of  “strength some day” driving it, the other has an embracing of “weakness every day” which makes it possible.

It’s not a theology of weakness, it’s a celebration of weakness when we discover that our weakness IS our strength. And there is no other way.

Is anyone getting this? Is this old hat to everyone? Am I the last one to find out? Why do I feel like I’m shouting at a wall. Talk to me, people! Talk to me!

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25 Responses to Celebration of Weakness

  1. Sue says:

    I’m hearing you & you’re on track! Keep shouting…you’re in good company. Ask any of the OT prophets.. 🙂 But, what’s with the picture today…?????

  2. Your voice isn’t bouncing off a wall, I promise! I do get it. This falls right into the Pharisee & tax collector prayers. We are ALL really the tax collector. Once we embrace that we really understand how much we need God. The only “strong” people God ever dealt with were folks who were made strong while moving thru His wisdom and guidance. On their own they are nothing. Yes, thank goodness God is constantly pursuing us in our weakness. That’s the best way He can use us!!

  3. Sean says:

    Completely agree with you. Weakness is not something we struggle through, it is the means by which we let God show us and everyone around us how strong He is. His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

    An analogy: We are like the moon. We are supposed to reflect the sun, but sometimes we have a tendency to get in the way and “eclipse” or block the view to the source of the light. It’s only when we are out of the way (through humbleness or weakness) that others will properly be able to view the sun in its full glory.

    • Peter Leenheer says:

      Hey John, thanks for yelling at us! Yesterday when you talked about how Christ is in us ie. he has a new address….US! This comforted me beyond belief. My thought this morning was, I should let him know, but I should have done that yesterday. I notice that when you have a very insightful(at least to me) catch very few people respond. So then I respond and often am one of the few. My appeal is this….don’t make the man yell at us. If it is a catch that requires thought give it that please. John’s messages to us are what the Holy Spirit puts on his heart. Response to the daily catch is what John needs to hear because he desires us to grow in Jesus. Let us give him evidence of our growth all the time.

      As for me, the catch is a huge blessing to me. I read it daily and it always blesses me and makes me think. I love thinking outside the box because for years I had God in a box, more like a coffin. Now that I am out of this ‘box’ I refuse to get back into it. Thanks John for being an influence in compelling me to have Jesus as my me address.

  4. TimC says:

    Right on! Thanks for the clarification. There are so many false theologies that come from the academicians who don’t understand truth. They accuse people who don’t agree with their false theologies as being simpletons or anti-intellectuals.

    For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
    For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools… Romans 1:20-22.

    (BTW: if you continue reading at that point there are some controversial topics and some people’s minds shut down or blow up and they can’t think clearly. Just keep in mind that the original text did not have chapter breaks. Romans 2:1 is an integral part of the thoughts at the end of chapter 1. None of us are without excuse. None of us can point a finger at someone else and call them a sinner. And as John points out in today’s Catch, all of us are weak. No one is strong enough to make it on their own. Some people understand that; some don’t – yet.)

  5. KaT H. says:

    Yes, and I agree w/ you, John. I know that I am NOT the only one to struggle w/ addictions and afflictions! Thank goodness! In 12 Step speak: “one alcoholic talking to another” because we understand where we are each coming from. And, even my weaknesses can shed light and hope for someone else 😉 Thank you so much for today’s Catch. It really resonates with me today!

  6. kevinandbeverley says:

    I am very encouraged that somebody else proclaims that we are all a bunch of messed up, weak and desperately needy people. God’s mercy and grace is needed everyday. I know His strength is perfected in my weakness. It’s at that point where I see a discrepancy between the way I live and His transforming power. Everyday is filled with longing to see more of Him.

  7. Priscilla says:

    John, you are by no means the last one to find out that our weakness is our strength. I have been listening to you talk about this since last year’s Wed. Night Bible study. Now I’m watching your 12 part series on the New Covenant. I am so thankful that you continue to teach us about this. I guess I’m a slow learner, but each day that I read the Catch I’m getting it a little more. Keep preaching it Brother John.

  8. Bob says:

    I have long believed that there is more authentic fellowship at the local AA meeting than at the local church, though I experience a certain commonality in both settings. At church the fellowship includes people who are mostly like me. At AA the fellowship includes people who are really different from me, except that we have messed up our lives in a similar fashion, and are likely to do so again unless something in us changes radically.

    To join any 12-Step group you need to admit that you are powerless in relation to alcohol. But admitting that we are weak – powerless – is not only the FIRST step, it is the HARDEST step. And it is the MOST CRITICAL step. Soon after we take that step we learn that AA is only minimally about our drinking problem. When AA members work the 12 steps they have to confront their weakness in EVERY corner of their life, allow God to remove their character defects, and ask for his help to make amends. The result is a spiritual awakening that they then want to share with others.

    It is a simple program, though not an easy one. If you drop in on an AA meeting you are bound to witness – probably not from everyone but from at least from some – light shining though cracked pots.

  9. Your posts are full of truth and are really helping me in my daily walk. It’s like a breath of fresh air to read and apply. I am picking up what you are throwing down! Between this and reading your book (12 steps for the recovering pharisee) I am starting to grasp things in a new way! I thank God for working through you.

  10. (Long-time lurker here…)
    Have you read, or hear of, the book “Glorious Ruin” by Tullian Tchividjian? It’s saying what you are saying: suffering (a.k.a. weakness) isn’t something that happens so we can learn and grow as Christians (though we might do so), suffering takes away all our own crutches, so that all we have left is Christ. AND THAT IS THE GOSPEL: CHRIST IS SUFFICIENT.

    I am dealing with a long-term, chronic illness, going on 10 years now, and I only just this year got a diagnosis and possible medical answers. I went from an incredibly active and fit person (I raced bicycles, and had a personal cycling coach), to one who now cannot even work because I’m too fatigued to get out of bed. (No, I don’t have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.) You can imagine the pain and heartache that this inflicted on me, mentally and spiritually. But I finally came to the realization that God is still God, my loving father, and I KNOW He has never left my side. He is all I have to get me though each day. The above-mentioned book put into words what I had been feeling for the past few years. Really – this is the Gospel: we cannot make it without Christ. That’s the point. When we recognize our weakness (and suffering, pain and ‘hard times’ will really do that for you!), then we know that CHRIST IS ALL. He alone is sufficient. This is the Gospel. I am living proof!

  11. Linda from Texas says:

    Hi John – Yes, we’re here. Sometimes we don’t respond. After we read the news, we come here for spiritual refreshment. We print out your special messages and think about them without telling you.
    My weakness is getting less bothersome the more I listen to what God says through you.
    Thank you for that!

  12. Jesus said , “Without ME, you can do NOTHING,” Let’s stop kidding ourselves that our words and actions are helpful unless we know that they come from HIM. And then give HIM the glory.

  13. Cathy says:

    I have loved reading your messages John…and the people’s comments…all great sources of encouragement for me. What I know about my weakness…sufferings and recent heartaches (my mom is dying of brain cancer) etc….draws me closer to God on an often moment by moment basis… just to make it through the day, it can get that bad. If I didn’t have those areas in my life to bring me down to my knees with hurt and grief…and life was just going on smoothly, I would become too confident in self and not turn to God like a child turns to his parent needing help. It is only through my weakness I am able to be strong to get through life’s difficulties, but only through Christ! It is what gives me hope to carry on.

  14. Throughout history God has accomplished great things through common or weak people.
    I hate hearing how great we can be in Christ as if our goal is to be perceived as great men or women of God. The truth is closer to, in spite of ourselves God is great. Our hunger for acceptance, the God of acceptance if you will, is giving us celebrity christians that are held up to expectations Billy Graham couldn’t live up to. When we get caught up in how great someone is God is lost to the glory of men.
    People should be amazed that God can use the weak to profound the world. Did we not learn anything from the life of Lonnie Frisbee? God can use anyone!

  15. Frank says:

    A long running joke for me (especially around my church-folk) is that i can always serve as a bad example–as if anyone can ever serve as a Good one….

  16. Murray K. says:

    hey John:
    This theme is one that really resonates with me so your words are not bouncing off the walls…if i may offer my opinion as bible major and reluctant theologian…maybe BOTH you AND your friend are right….here’s why: I like the idea of the theology of weakness but would add that our weakness will never be made whole until we are made whole…i.e. heaven…not pie in the sky but the real hope the NT writers so often spoke of…so my theology is that I have eventual hope that my weakness will be made strong when I see Him…on the other hand…..I can celebrate my weakness now BECAUSE of Christ and don’t have to pretend I have it all together…as my pastor says “we are all wonderfully flawed human beings”….this is the idea it seems the American church does not seem to appreciate….we celebrate (and should) the successful christians (duck dynasty, tim tebow) but what about the “failures” or to use your phrase, the weak…those who can’t find a job, go bankrupt or can’t find (or keep) a spouse…yet thier love for God and more importantly His love for them is no less…ok…I’m babbling but THANKS for this post and keep shouting!

  17. Elizabeth says:

    yes John, i see the difference !! and your theology is more hopeful to me. helps me to live with today’s struggle. thanks for your daily thoughts, which extend beyond the simple boxed theology we were given growing up.

  18. Hans says:

    Hi John,

    I guess that what you are uncovering, about weakness, was already known by those who came to God when they hit rock-bottom, i.e., at their absolute weakest.

    When I absolutely had no strength of my own anymore, now almost ten years ago, I cried out to God and received new strength from above, thank God. Since then, God has been my strength and every time I distance myself from Him things start going wrong and “my” strength disappears.

    On the other hand, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” when I stay with Him.

    That is maybe the difference between those who were saved as repenting atheists, when they ‘did not know God from Adam’, so to speak, and those who were ‘born in the church’ or ‘born into the faith’ – and possibly became like the pharisees, who thought they knew it all and had it all together.

    The latter are almost like a house that has been built starting with the roof and, although they are Christians already, still have so much unlearning, or uncovering, to do before they get really, really humble, meek and weak and start walking “in fear and trembling” in the presence of the Lord.

    Hope this makes sense!


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  20. Dave says:

    Good stuff. By the way, JI Packer has just released a wonderful little book on this very subject, entitled, Weakness is the Way.

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