Weakness and Suffering Can Be a Bridge to Mission

As a disabled pastor in the Middle East, I’ve seen the Lord use my weakness to show that the Lord has to literally provide strength for me on a daily basis. But appreciating this work of God doesn’t come naturally. We admire strength and success. We praise people for standing strong in times of adversity. We are proud of winners and put images of the most talented athletes on the covers of magazines. Weakness is looked down upon as unnatural and subpar. It’s not something to be exalted, but to be rejected.

However, in God’s way of doing things this couldn’t be further from the truth. In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul writes:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Cor. 4:7–10)

What an astounding truth! Paul had just spent the previous verses talking about the glorious good news of the gospel. He tells us this is our greatest treasure—“the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Christ died to save sinners. Yes, we have this amazing treasure, but we carry it in jars of clay—our frail and broken bodies. Paul contrasts this gospel treasure with the weakness of those who carry it. The two are very different. The gospel is beautiful, unbreakable, of infinite worth, and powerful. Jars of clay are easily breakable and inexpensive. Our bodies are the same way—easily hurt and subject to disease and decay. Powerless.

One interesting thing about these jars of clay—our bodies— is that they are no accident. Our frail bodies are not a mistake. Our frailty is not a surprise to God and is not without purpose. The fall brought disease and death, but through our weakness, God shows off his all-surpassing power to us and to the world. And that’s where we have an important opportunity and ministry. It’s with this frailty that we are to go out into the world in mission. It’s not in spite of our weakness, but through our weakness that Christ is made manifest in the world.

It’s not in spite of our weakness, but through our weakness that Christ is made manifest in the world. @davefurman

When we think of the Apostle Paul we may wonder how his ministry could have been if he didn’t suffer with that thorn in his flesh. On at least three occasions Paul begged God to remove the thorn, but he did not remove it. It remained not as a hindrance to God’s mission through Paul, but as part of the means by which God was accomplishing his mission. God didn’t use Paul to proclaim the gospel among the nations in spite of his thorn but through his thorn.

It’s incredibly encouraging for those of us who suffer that the Lord can and will use our pain as a bridge to mission. I’ve seen how my physical disability has opened up opportunities for me to point people to God who sustains me. We can suffer well before the watching world showing to all that Jesus is more important to us than our health.

When we are weak, we can boast in our weaknesses. It sounds like a paradox to boast in weakness, but we do it because it reveals the strength of God. One of my favorite examples of this is my wife Gloria’s reaction to adversity while she was in college. In her last year of studies she suffered a horrific eye injury. She was working at a construction site on a mission trip, and a nail mis-hit by a carpenter pierced her right eye. It left her blind in the eye until a major surgery restored much of her sight and saved the eye.

One of the surprising missional opportunities Gloria had was to simply walk around wearing her pirate patch telling people about Jesus. Her reaction to the injury and perseverance in trial was a bright light for the gospel. And she later glorified God in her weakness by putting a picture of the inside of her eye on the wall of her university campus office. That picture captured everyone’s attention when they walked into her office, and Gloria had a clear opportunity to talk to people about her hope in God. She didn’t waste her weakness.

Our response to pain and suffering can be a powerful evangelistic witness to the watching world. @davefurman

Our response to pain and suffering can be a powerful evangelistic witness to the watching world. Have you ever considered that? Your weakness is a part of God’s glorious plan for your life. No one can mistake the jar of clay for producing or having anything to do with the treasure inside it. It is the pleasure of the jar to hold within it the great treasure, but the glory is not the jar. God wants to make it abundantly clear that the power is not from inside us but from outside of us.

If we were steel vessels without blemish or weakness, we might be tempted to think we have no need for God. However, God uses weakness to show our need for dependence upon him. And by us holding out our weaknesses to the world, we have new opportunities for mission we may never have dreamed about.

*Adapted from Dave Furman’s new book: Kiss the Wave: Embracing God in Your Trials.

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