For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses...for when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10
The university where I received postgraduate medical training placed a copy of its emblem, a huge letter U, on a hillside near the medical centre. The U was surrounded by lights which were illuminated during sports events. At the conclusion of each contest, the U announced the outcome to the surrounding community -- the strong lights flashed with each victory. The president of the university explained the symbolism of the lights saying that the university flashed with enthusiastic celebration in victory, yet remained consistent and sure even in defeat. It is true that our real character may be revealed in the manner in which we deal with adversity.
The Apostle Paul knew much of adversity. From shipwreck to stonings and from conflict to confinement, he frequently faced difficult times. And he learned that God does not always choose to relieve personal discomfort. Nonetheless, Paul saw God's strength as the means of overcoming periods of distress.
We, like Paul, will face difficult times. We might be over-burdened by the demands of our profession. We might find difficulty dealing with the results of personal failings. Or we might face overt persecution as we stand firm for God's ways. Paul's example can serve to instruct and encourage us as we face undesired situations.
Paul realised that he was not omnipotent. He even suggested that some of his discomfort, his 'thorn in the flesh', was intended to remind him not to exalt himself. We too must face up to our own limitations.
Paul knew that God is almighty. He realised that God's power was also personally applicable. He could, he told believers in Philippi, do all things through Christ. It was in facing up to his own weakness that Paul was able to appropriate God's strength. Thus Paul found his utmost strength in his own weakness. Perhaps we can avoid some of our own difficulties by recognising our own weakness and calling on our strong God before we get ourselves into trouble.
With God's strength, Paul knew how to live through adversity; he persevered. He could be down but not out. He could be perplexed but not despairing. He kept living with the attitude of a servant despite the adversity in which he found himself.
Like Paul, we shall face adversity. We, too, must learn to recognise our own weakness, to appropriate God's strength, and to keep pressing on. Thus, we can shine brightly even in seeming defeat.
We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that
the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Cor 4:7).
Further reading: 2 Cor 4:5-10, 6:1-10, 12:7-10. Phil 4:11-13.