I’m not commenting here on our national security or our military endeavors for freedom and peace around the world. No, what this is about is you and I in our everyday lives, our lives that often can have a real sense of weakness and defeat, whether physically, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually.
Here’s a story whose author is unknown. It does a great job of helping us think about times such as these:
Sometimes your biggest weakness can become your biggest strength. Take, for example, the story of one ten-year-old boy who decided to study judo despite the fact that he had lost his left arm in a devastating car accident.
The boy began lessons with an old Japanese judo master. The boy was doing well, so he couldn’t understand why, after three months of training the master had taught him only one move.
“Sensei,” the boy finally said, “Shouldn’t I be learning more moves?”
“This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you’ll ever need to know,” the sensei replied.
Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy kept training.
Several months later, the sensei took the boy to his first tournament. Surprising himself, the boy easily won his first two matches. The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy deftly used his one move to win the match. Still amazed by his success, the boy was now in the finals.
This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced. For a while, the boy appeared to be overmatched. Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time-out. He was about to stop the match when the sensei intervened.
“No,” the sensei insisted, “Let him continue.”
Soon after the match resumed, his opponent made a critical mistake: he dropped his guard. Instantly, the boy used his move to pin him. The boy had won the match and the tournament. He was the champion.
On the way home, the boy and sensei reviewed every move in each and every match. Then the boy summoned the courage to ask what was really on his mind.
“Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move?”
“You won for two reasons,” the sensei answered. “First, you’ve almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in all of judo. And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left arm.”
The boy’s biggest weakness had become his biggest strength. (From Bits & Pieces, August 15, 1996, Economic Press Inc)
We all have valleys of weakness, times when we know we are personally feeble against those forces of life that seem to defeat and even try to destroy us. Sometimes that’s something physically wrong with our own bodies. Sometimes that’s an assault on our emotions as we realize something bad is happening to us or our loved ones. Sometimes that’s a brokenness in our relationships that we thought were so dear and lasting. Sometimes that’s a low spot in our faith and a feeling that God is far away.
But what do these dramatic valleys of weakness all have in common? They are all times when we must admit and confess, “We can’t handle this by ourselves. We need help. We need God’s help.” And that is when the miracle of God’s Power pours over us. Because when we finally admit our inability to handle life by ourselves, and then by the power of the Holy Spirit we turn in faith to hold onto God’s Power instead, that’s when even in our weakness, we are strong — God Strong! And with His Strength at work in us we have all the power we will ever need to be, as St. Paul says, “more than conquerors.”
Speaking of St. Paul, the great missionary of the Early Church and whose letters fill so much of the New Testament, we are reminded that he had a mysterious weakness he called his “thorn in the flesh.” When he asked God to remove it, God simply said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” After that, Paul could declare with conviction, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
So, the question comes to you again today, “What about your weaknesses? Will they defeat and even destroy you? Will they win out?” St. Paul says, “No.” And better yet, God says, “No.”
Your faith can be secure in knowing that in these times of your weakness, God has conquered all things for you through the suffering and death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. And all of His power and strength comes to you as a gift, by grace which you do not deserve and cannot earn for yourself. That’s why it’s called “Good News.” And it is such good news, indeed. Say with me, “When I am weak, I am strong.” Amen.
[Kollmeyer is Pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Fayetteville. www.princeofpeacefayette.org]