January brims with possibility: an untouched year filled with ambition! A fresh 52 weeks, chock full of hope! Another 365 days overflowing with possibilities! The turn of the calendar presents a chance for a fresh start. Perhaps you’ve turned over that new leaf. You may have bought that gym membership, determined to shed 20 pounds. Or you’ve resolved to pay off your debt and get your finances in better shape. Or maybe your commitment is to improve your marriage, reconcile with an estranged family member, or learn a new hobby.
New Year’s resolutions aren’t necessarily a bad thing–sometimes, the beginning of a New Year is just the incentive we need to make a much-needed change. Unfortunately, by February, many of those resolutions end up discarded like yesterday’s newspaper. Why? One of the reasons is that we often seek change by working out of our strength. We strengthen our resolve, and build up our courage. We pull up our bootstraps, and muster up our grit and determination. We bolster our own self-discipline to curb our temper, ego, selfishness, or whatever vice that plagues us.
For a while, this march towards self-improvement feels invigorating, as you progress towards your goals. But sooner or later, this parade towards perfection becomes oppressive. You can’t stop comparing yourself to others: Your Facebook friends appear to have better jobs and better families. You visit a friend for coffee, and you have that nagging sense that their home is more organized than yours and their children are better-behaved than your own. Surprisingly, you also catch yourself secretly looking down on others. “I may not be perfect, but at least I don’t scream at my husband in public like she does!” we whisper to ourselves. “At least I spend time in prayer most days!” we assure ourselves.
It’s time to stop this. Working towards maturity in our own strength is a resolution destined for failure. Throughout the bible, we find an astonishing trend: God works best through the weak. God gives overconfident Jacob a limp as a way to teach him that blessing comes through weakness. God chooses weak and ill-equipped Gideon to command an army to overcome Israel’s enemy. Paul begged God to remove a thorn that made his life difficult – and God said no, choosing to let Paul grapple with his weakness.
This underscores the shape of our life with Christ: as Christians, we ought to specialize in weakness. If the gospel indeed proclaims a God who empties himself to the weakness of the cross, who triumphs through defeat, and who wins by losing, our life with him ought to follow that pattern. It is God who takes our limps, and through his supernatural power, allows us to “run and not be weary, to walk, and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
What does this mean for you in this new year and beyond? I have three suggestions.
In all likelihood, you already know your weakness. It may be an addiction you struggle to master, or it may be your need to be right all the time. Perhaps your limp is the fact that you yell at your kids at the smallest provocation. You are argumentative, or insecure. Your limp might even be a physical ailment–an illness, or a struggle with body image. There are a million other possibilities: habits you want to overcome, sins that crouch near your heart, virtues that you lack. Learn to view this part of your life as a weakness through which God desires to channel his grace and strength. A limp reminds us that we are broken–and as much as we want to hide our brokenness behind a facade of strength, our brokenness and weakness ought instead be a constant reminder that we need the grace that only God can give us.
As a Christian, walking with a limp means drawing upon the infinite resources of Jesus in the midst of our weakness. Paul learned, after pleading with God three times for his hardship to be removed, that God’s “power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12). If your limp is your temper, God may well be reminding you of your need to ask Him for patience. If every time you look in the mirror, you are tempted to loathe the image you see, God may be reminding you of your need to shape your image on your identity in Christ. If worry over money is your constant companion, God may be teaching you about what it means to trust His provision. In short, whenever you are faced with your weakness, don’t brush it aside, but instead seize that moment to seek God’s supernatural grace.
In a self-help, quick-fix world, we may be led to believe that we can quickly fix whatever we struggle with. This is not so; there are some “limps” that we will walk with until Jesus returns. God’s answer to Paul’s plea to be free from his weakness was a gentle but firm no; “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” As Christians, learn to see the weakness you struggle with each day as a daily reminder of God’s provision for you. In the midst of poor health; in the midst of a in imperfect marriage; in those moments of parenting failures; when sin seems more powerful than we are; in any case, we are God’s precious children, limping one step closer each day to glory. Thank God that his power is perfected in our weakness!
Dr. Robert Ritzema
Rev. Joel Vande Werken