When God Says I Can’t

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”  (Luke 4:18-19)
7 Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
There aren’t a lot of things in the Bible that make God say “I can’t”. But there is one thing that we can bring to God that gets him saying it every time. In Judges 7:1-7, the Lord tells Gideon that he can’t grant him victory over the Midianites because Gideon thinks that he is strong. If the Lord works a mighty miracle through him, then Gideon is bound to assume that the victory came through his own brilliance, and not through God at all. It is only after he has thinned down Gideon’s army from 32,000 men to a mere 300 men that the Lord is able to turn his “I can’t” into an “I can”. Before Gideon could experience God’s blessing, he had to learn that what God really wants from us is a frank confession of our weakness.

The Apostle Paul explains in his second letter to the Corinthians that he was forced to learn the same lesson himself. He talks about a ‘thorn in his flesh’ that caused him many troubles. It may have been a demon. It may have been an area of sin that proved particularly hard for Paul to overcome.  We don’t know for sure, but what we do know is that it made him lose his joy as a Christian and that he pleaded three times for the Lord to take it away. Paul didn’t want to be a Christian weakling. He wanted to become a spiritual warrior. That’s when Jesus appeared to him in a vision and reassured him that “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Yesterday we talked about the things that make us lose our joy as Christians. When we suffer sin and spiritual setbacks, it is all too easy for us to become discouraged and to feel like we have somehow failed the Lord. But this isn’t the Good News as Jesus proclaimed it at the synagogue in Nazareth. Jesus talked about freedom and God’s favour. He declared that the Gospel is given to the poor, not to the rich, and to the weak, not to the strong. Sometimes the Lord allows us to suffer setbacks so that we are forced to face up to our own inability to please him on our own. He throws us hard against Jesus, because he loves us enough to expose our own weaknesses to us.

It was when Paul realised that the Gospel is all about admitting our weakness and our need of God that he finally came through to joy and freedom. He tells the Corinthians that “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me … For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
1)   Can you identify with Paul’s struggle with a ‘thorn in your flesh’? What areas of sin, or what spiritual struggles, routinely rob you of your joy in God and your happiness in Jesus?

2)   What do you think the Lord means when he tells Paul that the ‘thorn in his flesh’ was a gift from the Lord?

3)   How do you think the Lord wants to use your ‘thorn in the flesh’ to remind you of your weakness so that you can enjoy his ‘perfect power in your weakness’?

4)  What would it look like for you to ‘boast in your weakness’? How can you do that today?
Father God, I thank you that you are not looking for me to be strong. You are looking for me to admit my weakness. Instead of feeling condemned about my weaknesses, I resolve to rejoice in those weaknesses instead. Thank you that all of my flaws and my failures constantly throw me onto Jesus, where I can find your perfect power every day. Amen.
If you have time, consider carrying on your conversation with God using one of our helpful Prayer Pathways.
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