When you’re faced with something that feels too big for you, what is one of the first prayers on your lips? Ins’t it, “God, give me strength!” or “Father, empower me for this task before me.”? This was – for instance – Sampson’s prayer as he stood between the two pillars in Judges 16:28, or Nehemiah’s “arrow” prayer as he was about to answer the king in Nehemiah 2:4.
In the past few months, as I’ve faced difficult transitions in my family and my church, this has certainly been my prayer as well. I look at all that’s ahead of me and – rightly so – I cry out to the One who I believe can strengthen me to lead through those changes.
Asking for weakness?
But my guess is, there are not many of us who would ask God in those same circumstances to weaken us for the task ahead. Why would anyone ask for weakness when the thing we so desperately need is strength? “People are counting on me.” “People are looking to me to be strong.” “People need physical and emotional help all around me.” And so, like always, I cry out to God for strength.
Imagine my surprise, then, to see that the way God answered my prayer for strength, was, instead, to make me feel weaker than I’ve ever felt in my life! Physically: to get sick and feel exhausted most days. Emotionally: to feel depressed, melancholy, and overwhelmed a great deal of the time. Rather than strengthened and empowered, I feel weaker and more fearful than ever.
What is God doing? Why isn’t He answering my prayer the way I need Him to?
I can’t count the times anymore now, however, where I am reading a kid’s bible with my daughters at breakfast – intending to minster to them – and felt God’s Spirit speak powerfully to me. And in this moment of incomprehensible weakness, God led us a few mornings ago to the story of Gideon in Judges 7. Twice in this chapter, God tells Gideon, basically, “You have too many men in your army to defeat the Midianites.” And you read that and – like Gideon – you think, “Wait, what?! Too many men to defeat them?”
But you see, God had an intentional purpose in reducing the size of Gideon’s army. God had a prescribed weakness in mind for Gideon that had the intent of removing illusions of strength, and bringing the glory for the victory to Himself alone.
And it was in reading that account of Gideon to my kids, that I heard God say so plainly and tenderly, “I’m doing the same thing right now in you my child! You think what you need so badly right now is strength to lead; strength to minister; strength to help and support. But what you really need right now is an even deeper sense of your dependance on Me to accomplish any of those things!”
God was saying, “I don’t need you to be strong for Me, I just need you to be obedient to Me and to trust in Me. That way, when I do carry you through all these changes and transitions causing you so much fear and panic right now, you’ll know it was all because of Me and My grace to you, and not your superior leadership skills.”
How often when we pray for strength, are we really asking, “God, make these circumstances such that my own strength will be enough to overcome/endure/be victorious.”?
Paul tells us in 2 Cor. 4:7 “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” He writes later in chapter 12:9, after pleading with God that He might remove his thorn in the flesh, that when God tells him, ““My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” his conclusion is that he will now boast all the more in his weaknesses. For he sees now that, “When I am weak , then I am strong.“
Whatever it is that God has called you to in this life, don’t be surprised if, from time to time, you see the hand of God reducing the size of your “army.” His word assures us He has not abandoned us, and His purpose may be simply to help you re-learn your utter dependance on Him.
When seen that way, our prayer can truly be:
O God, weaken me for Your service, that I might give all glory to You alone and discover the only place my strength is truly found!
“… the Spirit help us in our weakness.” Rom. 8:26