I was a freshman Young Life leader at Amherst H.S. when Mike left me alone. He and I were the only leaders in that club, and he was leaving for a month for staff training. He deputized me with the words “You’re in charge while I’m gone.” It was the month of January, so taking the reins of Amherst Young Life involved going to basketball games, hanging out with kids, and leading Campaigners. As I look back, there wasn’t much to it. But as a new leader I felt an inordinate amount of responsibility for the ministry that would take place that month.
Something great happened that month: I failed. Campaigners meetings didn’t go as I had hoped. My car broke down and I couldn’t get to games. I lacked boldness in contact work. I had great hopes for my month of being in charge, and I ran into road blocks at every turn. I remember journaling during this time, pouring my discouragement and disappointments out on the pages of my notebook. That’s when I ran across these words from the Apostle Paul:
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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is 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 12:9 (NIV)
“My grace is sufficient for you,” is Jesus Christ’s answer to Paul’s desperate requests to take his mysterious “thorn in the flesh” away, and it was Jesus Christ’s answer to me in the midst of my discouragement. I didn’t want weakness and failure, but weakness and failure are what I had. Jesus and Paul were telling me not to hide or despise my weaknesses, but to be content with them and even “delight” in them. What if my worst fears were true and I actually was the worst Young Life leader ever? This spiritual secret reminded me that I was still greatly loved by God, and he had called me into ministry. It was his power, not mine, that would do the work.
I’ve learned over the years that this tendency to discouragement is one of my “thorns in the flesh.” I have been blessed with great friends and mentors who have helped me to discover my strengths and the gifts that God has given me, but my experience from many Januaries ago continues to repeat itself. I have experienced victories and success over time, but my heart still searches out and finds the failures. When it does find them, I have learned that despair over failure pushes me away from Jesus. God’s Word teaches me to repent of sin if appropriate, and then trust that God’s power does indeed work best “in weakness.” My need to trust that this paradox is true keeps me clinging to love and power of Jesus Christ.