When I am powerless,then I am powerful. His strength is made perfect in our reliance on Him. That is the paradox of Christian Power that we are celebrating today in Baptism.
I love the symbol of Baptism, especially the symbolism of a full emersion baptism; It’s a symbol of cleaning and renewing and life; but it is also profoundly a symbol of dying to ourselves and living to God. It’s a symbolic action of giving up control of our lives and handing over control of our lives to Jesus. It is a decision for a great destiny. Because God made us to live in partnership with him.
I want to talk about 3 paradoxes today. When I am weak then I am strong. When I give up my life, then I find my life. When I die then I come alive.
When I am powerless, then I am powerful. What Paul means by this is that when I come to the end of my own resources. When I call out to God in faith, and I place my reliance in Him then I am at my most useful to him, and my most powerful. I’m not talking about manipulating God, just when you come to end of yourself and I call on God’s resources then you are at your strongest. When I am powerless – then I am at my most powerful. The word is Dynamis from which we get the dynamite. When I have done my best, when I have used all my physical strength, and called on all my contacts, and run to the end of my financial resources – and all I have got left is prayer. Then prayer is all I need. Then I am at my most dangerous, or powerful; because when prayer is all you have left – prayer is everything. It’s the power of God to change, circumstances, lives and hearts. Jesus said he who finds his life will loose it; but she who gives up her life for me will find it. Mt 10.39 That means giving over direction of our lives to Jesus. Giving over control. I want to live a life of plenty and pleasure; but instead I will give my life to your plan Jesus. And in Jesus’ plan we truly find ourselves. Again Jesus said I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. Jn11.25 There is an eternal aspect to what we are symbolising today. When we give our lives over to Jesus he promises us eternal life.
Insecond Corinthians the early Church leader Paul, gives us an example of this paradox of power at work in his life. He describes having a thorn in his flesh. It’s a metaphor, and let’s look at the metaphor first. We’ve got some very spikey plants at our house. And I remember getting one of those thorns in my hand once. It was there for what seemed like a week, I couldn’t get it out, it stung like poison, and it just affected my whole life. It made me grumpy and tense and unpleasant. But you known what! It didn’t make me grumpy and tense and unpleasant, I allowed myself to react that way in response to it. It’s horrible but true, character grows out of pressure or even pain. O the relief when I finally dug it out! Hallelujah. But Paul’s thorn stayed.
So what was Paul referring to? There are lots of possibilities, he might have been referring to an opponent someone who just managed to get under his skin. He might have been referring to self-doubt, guilt at his former persecution of Christians, perhaps it was inappropriate sexual desire, It’s quite possible he was referring to a mental illness like anxiety or depression, or it could have been a physical illness like malaria, epilepsy or difficulty with his vision – he often got people to write his letters for him. I think God has left the question unanswered to allow us to read ourselves and our struggles into the text. Whatever it was, it was a real and present problem to Paul. Do you have a thorn in your flesh?
The next thing to notice is Paul prays for it to go away. There is nothing wrong with praying for problems to go away. And not just once, multiple times. But then he hears a word from God to him about this affliction. Not some busy body pastor, not some pious Christian sister – he hears it from God himself. My Grace is sufficient for you – my power is made perfect in your weakness. Wow. Imagine hearing God say that to you. Heights and depths all at once. You’ve got to just live with this – ahh. But I will help me through – ahhhh.
I think this is a Christian definition of peace. Its not the absence of conflict, It’s not perfect quiet and harmony around us; it’s the grace of God to be peaceful in the midst of great stress. To allow God to bleed our anxiety away. A lot of people drink or use Drugs to blot out the pain; God wants us to turn to him to absorb the pain, to bleed away the anxiety, to provide comfort and inner strength.
Andhere is that paradox at work, Paul believed that God worked through his weakness. Our strengths are great, but it’s where we run out of ourselves that God is greater. He’s not talking about being pathetic or weak in a cowardly way. He’s talking about the humility we find when we run out of our own strength. Our weakness might be in an area where we just don’t seem to have any skill – that God transforms. Evidently Paul didn’t think of himself as much of a speaker – but he ended up speaking at the centre of the Greek Philosophical world at Mars Hill.
Or our weakness might be where we are at the top of our game; but we just run out of our own ability. I was reading recently about Eliza McCartney and how she struggled with self-doubt, with mental blocks as an athlete. Sometimes God’s grace might be where you are incredibly good, but you just don’t have that last 5%. And that is where you run out of yourself and you run into God. And he supplies what you do not have. I don’t think that Paul was talking about Gods strength being made perfect in an area he was hopeless, but in an area where he had run out of his own strength. I’ve written the best speech, I’ve trained my body to its limit, I’ve composed the most beautiful song, I’ve studied as hard as I can; I’ve given my last full measure of devotion. And there God Grace is sufficient. Of course God has been with me in all my activity, but then he takes me beyond that I can do in my own strength. And there God for God’s purpose takes us over the line.
My grace is sufficient for you. When I am powerless, then I am at my most powerful. When I give up my life to your plan, then I find myself. When I die to my own desire I come alive to your future. Give yourself to God and he can do exceedingly more with your life than you might ever dream. Christian faith starts with trust, trusting that God loves you and wants to be our friend; it moves to forgiveness – discovering that Jesus died on the cross to remove our sins – doing for us something we could never do for ourselves; and it grows with faith – trusting that God has a plan for our lives and giving ourselves to his plan.
Paul was a small time Jewish nobody; but when he gave his life to Jesus he became pivotal in a movement that changed the world, and his name adorns one of the greatest Cathedrals in the world. I’m not promising that sort of fame, but when we give our lives to Christ he does extraordinary things through us. Baptism – as we go down into the water giving over our lives and giving up our power, we come out of the water alive in him and filled with his power.