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Success is a Tricky Business

February 24th, 2009 · 2 Comments

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

I was on the phone with my buddy John last week and he mentioned something Jesus said in 2 Corinthians. Being the red letter expert I am, I informed him that Jesus didn’t say anything in 2 Corinthians; Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, long after Jesus returned to heaven. As the words came out of my mouth I heard a hint of arrogance. I’m sure he did too.

When I came into my office the next morning, my Bible was open to 2 Corinthians 12. The Bible I keep on my desk is a large print edition Zondervan NIV Study Bible. It’s got a hard cardboard cover, like a book; not leather or ‘leatherette’. It came with a college class – ‘Old Testament Survey.’ That was a long time ago. The spine broke loose from the binding a while back, then the front cover fell off, but the Bible stuck to me.

I like the NIV fine. Yeah, I know it may have a few problems, but I’m not really a translation worshiper. I like the NIV. I like the ESV, I like the KJV; there’s not really a translation I have that I hate (I don’t have the ‘one-world-gender-neutral-universalist’ translation – I’d probably hate that one.). When it comes to brass tacks, I go back to Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic. I figure that the most reliable way to understand the word a guy put down when he first wrote it is to understand the word the guy first wrote.

Anyway, the NIV sits on my desk because it’s been there a while, and I’ve got lots and lots of underlines and highlights and little notes scribbled in the margins. And it’s large print – that, somehow, became more relevant over the last twenty years.

Back to my story – My old coverless Bible is open to 2 Corinthians 12. How did my Bible come to be open to 2 Corinthians 12 and sitting in the middle of my desk that morning? Beats me. I’m not really surprised at that kind of stuff any more. God keeps me on a short leash.

Verse 9 is highlighted with a yellow marker. Well, I’ll be … red letters. Sorry John, my bad. Arrogance and stupidity are a poor mix, but a combination for which I have a knack.

So what do the red letters in 2 Corinthians say? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” If I ever decide to get a tattoo, that’ll be a candidate.

I beat myself up a lot. But there’s good reason for that. Things don’t happen as quickly as I expect them to. I don’t get enough work done. The day is over and I’m whipped before I’ve finished half the things on my list. The work I do get done takes too long and doesn’t pay off fast enough. Forward progress isn’t that forward or that progressive. I’m not as good as I think I should be. I know I could do better. God knows how ill-equipped I am for this job. I’ve gone over this a few times with Him.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Some days I feel like I’m running along at a pretty good pace. Just burning up the track … then my right toe catches my left foot and ‘oof’ …I’m face-down in my own dust. Can I not get this right? Why can’t I just power out of this slump? Surely I’d be better off as a super-hero than a super-dud. I’ve been a student of success for a long time and this doesn’t feel very successful.

“… my power is made perfect in weakness.”

*****

Each of us has been given his (or her) own pack to carry. Each pack has its own unique contents. There are some pretty cool things in there: talents, abilities, insights, gifts. The pack also has a few rocks slipped inside.

The apostle Paul had substantial talent and he’d been given some remarkable gifts; he’d been allowed to ‘peek behind the scenes’ – see some things mortal man wasn’t privy to.  He had a super-human task in front of him and he needed equipping, but all of this talent and all these gifts and insights weren’t allowed him so he could be God’s superman. It was just part of the pack he was given.

Paul’s pack also had a few rocks slipped inside – a ‘thorn in his flesh.’ We don’t exactly know what that means; most people believe it was a disease or physical handicap like malaria or poor eyesight. Whatever it was, it kept Paul from performing at 100% at times. It was the toe to the heel that tripped him up.

Paul didn’t kid around; he was serious about performing his mission. This ‘thorn in his flesh’ was slowing him down. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.”

What was Christ’s answer? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Here’s a paradox. We’re equipped to perform the mission God has set aside for us. We’re also equipped to sometimes fail.

Why is that?

The problem with me living inside of me is that when I look out I see everything from my own perspective.

Here’s a little experiment: go outside, stand in an open space and close your eyes. Then open your eyes and slowly turn to your right, keep going until you’ve turned 360 degrees and you’re back facing the direction you started in. Standing in one place and turning in a circle, watching the world go round as you turn almost makes you feel like you’re at the center of it all, doesn’t it?

You’re not. You just think you are because you’re looking out from behind your own skull as the world passes by.

You have a mission, a purpose in life, a destiny to fulfill. It’s yours and yours alone. Not ‘yours’ as in ‘you own it,’ or ‘you created it’ or ‘you chose it’. It’s ‘yours’ as in ‘it was given to you to fulfill’. Same goes for your talents, gifts, abilities and situation in life. All those goodies weren’t bestowed on you to make you feel special about yourself. They’re just tools – stuff you’ll need to fulfill your purpose.

God’s power isn’t perfected in our strengths; it’s perfected in our weaknesses. Lest we or anyone else should get the wrong idea about where that power comes from.

After a long week of beating myself up, Paul helped me with my perspective. “That’s 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 12:10)

Boy, do I have a lot to learn about success.

Tags: success · suffering

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Elaine // Apr 13, 2009 at 9:19 am

    Dear Steve,

    I “sort of” had a meltdown about this topic last week. I do believe that achievers struggle with this on a daily basis. What more could I be doing for the Kingdom? How can my life serve Him more?

    How can I really love my neighbor as myself when I sometimes do not like my neighbor?

    But, it is amazing how you regularly seem to respond to my own struggles when you send out your words of encouragement and enlightenment. The hand of God is truly upon you, dear friend. I thank God for your ministry regularly.

    The book by David Pawson is excellent. My husband was really liking the part about the chart regarding the Kings of Israel/Judah. Sometimes that is really difficult to segregate in our thinking. We are enjoying this book on a daily basis. It is a must have reference for everyone’s home.

    God bless you,
    Elaine

  • 2 Roger // Apr 13, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Thank you so much for opening your heart. Seems that only when we knowingly reach our limitations are we in a position to hopefully take advantage of what God is extending to us. This humility can in reality become pliability. Thus, we find ourselves truly living by faith through faith in Him. The product then becomes His will not ours. Only God knows how many times I have arrived at that point only to do an about face and flee but, thanks be to Him when I occasionally come to my senses and return because I discover He is right when I saw Him last!
    You have done an outstanding job with this letter! Keep up the Good work.
    Thanks be to God for guiding you to deliver this to my home on my birthday.

    Y.B.I.C.
    Roger

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