"Each time He said, "My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness." So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. Since I know it is all for Christ's good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Tony Campolo tells the story of a time when he was asked to serve as a counselor for a junior high camp, and of a little boy named Billy, who suffered from cerebral palsy, and of how the other boys would mock and pick on him. In abject cruelty, they would line up behind Billy and imitate his uncoordinated movements and make fun of his stammered speech. Each Thursday, a different cabin was selected to lead the camp devotional and when this duty came to Billy's cabin, the boys made sure that he was selected as the appointed speaker - just so they could make fun of him once again. At first, Tony said, you could hear giggles from the boys as Billy began to speak, taking a number of minutes to get out seven words: "Jesus . . . loves . . . me . . . and . . . I love . . . Jesus." But, when Billy was done, said Tony, there was dead silence in the group and a number of the boys had tears running down their faces, and in the following days, a revival broke out in that camp.

We forget sometimes, don't we, just how powerful our God truly is, how masterfully He can change the most depressing of situations, bring light into the darkest of settings? We forget just how much God delights to prove His strength in the midst of our weakness. But that's the lesson of which the Apostle Paul wrote here in these verses. God had graciously taught him that it was not Paul's strength that God needed, nor Paul's all-togetherness, or intelligence, or super abilities, or cool personality - but rather his weaknesses, his inabilities, his failures, his needs and fears. Given these depressing assets, God was fully aware of what wonders He could perform. And that's a lesson you and I must learn as well.

I remember Catherine Marshall writing in her book, Beyond Ourselves, of how "helplessness is actually one of the greatest assets a human being can have." She admits that 'helplessness' is a condition that frightens most of us. "We resist it, deny it, and when we are finally face to face with it, a few of us find that we are unable to endure it." But, she proceeds to write of how God employs our weaknesses as teaching devices where we learn of His glorious sufficiency and power. "Crisis brings us face to face with our own inadequacy and our inadequacy in turn leads us to the inexhaustible sufficiency of God. This is the power of helplessness, a principle written into the fabric of life . . . no sinner is hopeless; no situation is irretrievable. No case is past redeeming . . . that is why every one of us - imperfect as we are - can take heart and thank God for the power of helplessness."

Perhaps you know someone - perhaps you are even there yourself - whose life was once brimming over with optimism and hope until the jagged edges of disappointment, failure, or rejection left them wounded and plunged into a pit of despair. And now, it is almost painful to watch them suffer in an emotional paralysis where their every waking moment seems to be filled with a choking fear and a guilt-fed impotence. What do you do? What can you say to them? To what source of hope can you point them that may serve as the first glimmer of light in their dark world? I'm convinced that the answer is to be found here in these verses. We must lead these suffering souls to Christ - just as Billy did in his own stammering way - to Christ who alone is able to heal, restore, and raise up.

One positive truth to which Paul testifies here concerns his redeemed concept of Value. If you've ever dealt with someone battling deep depression, you know that they suffer from an incredibly low opinion of their own value or self worth. I believe that Paul, through the gospel, was taught to consider his own value in light of what God was willing to spend in order to claim him as His own. In other words, God was willing to give up His own Son, so that Paul might know life and sonship. It strikes me that there is great comfort to be found - by the most depressed of individuals - in that thought, in a Savior's love.

Then, I also consider it important that Paul was brought to that place where he learned that God places a greater value on what He is able to do in the lives of His people than in what they are able to do for Him. Catherine Marshall spoke of the "cult of self-sufficiency" by which many are misled to imagine that God only loves us when we produce, when we're effective, when we are successful. Paul learned that it was precisely in the moment when he was most painfully aware of his miserable failure, his deplorable weakness, and his total bankruptcy of ability - that God showed His greatest pleasure, taking that occasion to work grace into Paul's life.

Are you feeling weak? Are you discouraged? Are you feeling hemmed in by mistakes beyond your ability to rectify, or broken relationships that seem beyond repair? Then, I point you to the sufficiency of Christ and His willingness to bring glory to Himself in the midst of your weakness. Let us thank God for the 'power of helplessness' by which God's strength is revealed to us - and in us. God bless you all!

The Rev. Donald Caviness is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, MS


The Rev. Donald Caviness is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He may be reached at athike1@yahoo.com.