His Grace is Sufficient
I remember being so elated to have new lights installed in our sanctuary. The room was quite dark until then and, after many hours of exceedingly difficult work, a team of church members had installed all new lighting in the room.
Yet this new light brought with it an unanticipated problem. It turns out our sanctuary's carpet (which was as old as the building itself), was quite dingy and stained. That was something we barely noticed under the old lights. Now, under the new lights, it was something we could not ignore.
So it turned out that we had another massive job in front of us. The same team who replaced the lights had to come back in, along with many other members, to tear out the old carpet and replace it with new flooring.
That experience turned out to be rather predictive of a new phase of spiritual experience the Lord would lead me into not long after.
JI Packer describes my experience perfectly,
"For all Christians, the likelihood is rather that as our discipleship continues, God will make us increasingly weakness-conscious and pain-aware, so that we may learn with Paul that when we are conscious of being weak, then—and only then—may we become truly strong in the Lord. And should we want it any other way? What do you think?" -- JI Packer, Weakness is the Way
In recent years, I feel as if God has changed out the old lights in my heart. Weaknesses and sins I never saw clearly in myself are now undeniable. The immediate effect was a significant increase in my pleading with the Lord.
Where sins were revealed, I cried out to the Lord with a newfound urgency for his prevailing grace to wash me white as snow.
Where weaknesses were revealed, I read books, sought counsel, and asked the Lord to help me make progress.
To some extent, he has answered those prayers and I know he will continue to do so. Part of what God was doing in showing me the real state of things was aimed at changing me. Again, I trust he has done so and will continue to do so.
But the heart of a man is not as simple as a physical sanctuary. It serves as the real dwelling place of God and is infinitely more complex than the physical copy.
So I have found that in some respects, the dinginess of my own heart will not be, in this life, fully refurbished. So in addition to producing some cleaning, this "exposing" work of God has produced much clinging.
A night with uninterrupted sleep has these days become the exception. What is far more common is some moment in the middle of the night when I wake up with a heart full of cares, concerns, and misgivings. I do my best to present my cares to the Lord, to praise him for his faithfulness and patience, and then to quiet my heart and head once again so that I can return back to sleep.
I see something similar at work in the life of Paul as described in 2 Corinthians 12,
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. -- 2 Corinthians 12:7–10.
In Paul's case, God did not expose him to existing weaknesses, but rather brought a new "thorn in the flesh" -- a messenger from Satan -- to harass him.
At first, Paul's response was to seek deliverance. He prayed three times for the thorn to be removed only to hear back from the Lord, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
Then a shift took place in Paul's thinking. He stopped seeing his weakness as a problem to be solved, a pain to be cured, or even a hardship to be hidden. He moved from seeking to be relieved of his burden to actually boasting in what it was producing in him.
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
And what caused the shift in Paul's thinking? The word of God which came to him and a very specific word at that: My grace is sufficient for you.
This is the same word that comes to us. It is a powerful word because it is not just a statement of fact, but also a declaration of God's character and purposes.
When we are weak, he is strong. When we are unable to meet the demands of life, his grace is sufficient.
This doesn't mean that our weaknesses are unimportant or that we should simply resign ourselves to them. It does mean that in our weakness, we can find new strength as we cling to him who has promised never to leave us or forsake us.