|Highlands Hammock State Park - picture courtesy of|
In his letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 12:1-10), the Apostle Paul tells his readers about his experience of being caught up into the third heaven. It was a marvelous revelation too great for words to describe. While Paul could have easily spent time boasting on this unusual and privileged experience, he instead points out that he would much rather boast of his weaknesses. This is a different take for someone who proclaimed the Gospel as Paul did. Today, there are many pastors who would spend their time touting this experience rather than pointing to the God of our salvation. In fact, many people base their Christian faith on their personal experiences rather than the solid Word of God. This leads to heartache down the road when they realize that life is hard, demanding, painful and unfair. Building our faith on feelings and emotions is like trying to run a train with the caboose instead of the engine which is God's Word.
Paul goes on to describe what happened to him after this revelation of the third heaven in verses 7-10: "So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." These are profound words that fly in the face of modern day culture. Here is a man boasting about his weaknesses. Many would say he is not an overcomer! He has failed to be free from this thorn in the flesh; therefore, he must not have much faith. Otherwise, God would deliver him from it.
Now contrast this picture of Paul with a modern day preacher of a mega church, Joel Osteen. I recently read an article which contained links to a Youtube presentation given by Joel Osteen at an Oprah Lifeclass. Watching the Lifeclass discussion was eye opening. Pastor Osteen told the audience:
"You'll never rise any higher than you see yourself." Sounded like a business conference where we are told to see ourselves as a success in order to make it to the top. Then, he later instructed the audience to make positive declarations about themselves. He told them that negative confessions would weigh them down (he has written a book on making positive statements about ourselves); so he led them, at Oprah's bidding, to have the audience stand and make some of these positive declarations. These are some of the things he had them proclaim: "I am strong, I am healthy, I am confident, I am secure, I am talented, I am creative, I am disciplined, I am focused, I am beautiful, I am valuable, I am blessed, I am excited about my future, I am victorious." ( Joel Osteen on Oprah's Lifeclass ). No where in all the declarations do we hear the words "in Christ" I am strong or "in Christ" I have victory. Instead, we are led to believe that if we just repeat these declarations over and over again we will become these things. What? In our own power? Apart from Christ?
If we look into the Bible, we have a different picture. There we learn that we are born into sin (Psalm 51:5; Psalm 58:3) and are slaves to sin (John 8:34; Titus 3:3; Romans 6:6,16-17,19-20). We also learn that the heart of a man/woman who does not belong to Christ is hostile towards God (John 3:20; Romans 8:7-8; Isaiah 64:6; Ephesians 2:3). With these thoughts in mind, does it sound like we can just reach down deep within ourselves and proclaim ourselves strong, focused, victorious, blessed, and confident? Unless we are "god", we do not have the power or ability to speak things into existence. This is a heresy rampant among "prosperity" preachers today. No, our strength, our life, our victory are in Christ as Paul so well articulated.
Carl Trueman writing for Reformation 21 blog (An Important But Neglected Distinction, July 22, 2013) summarizes it well as he describes the difference between childishness and childlikeness: " Growth in Christian maturity should manifest itself in numerous ways. One of them is that we should become less and less enamoured with the myths we tell ourselves of how unique we are as individuals, of how we have limitless potential, of how we really do have the last word on everything. In short, we should become less childish. Instead, we should become more conscious of how we are really just like everyone else - limited, dependent, finite, fallen. We should also learn more and more to find our fulfillment in resting in the simple biblical, catechetical faith which describes who we are, what we need, and how we can find it in submitting in humble and reverent faith to Christ. In other words, we should become less childish and more childlike." To his evaluation, I say "Amen". May we, like the Apostle Paul, boast only in our Lord Jesus Christ for we are weak but He is strong. God's grace is really sufficient for us no matter what our trial, illness or other human frailty for His power is made perfect in weakness. Selah!