This past Sunday, I preached a message from Judges 7 entitled “Strength Into Weakness,” looking at the story of Gideon to see how God’s agenda for our lives is often to weaken us. God only uses weakness, I said. Our strengths are actually liabilities, and it’s our inability and insufficiency where his glory shines, I said. His grace is made perfect in our weakness; our emptiness and need is a vessel for his fullness. He wants us weak and desperate, so that he can get glory and we can get grace.
Apparently I need to listen to my own sermons more. Because here’s a little peek behind the scenes of my sermon prep that week:
On the Monday before the message, I confidently stated, “This is an easy sermon. I’ve got this in the bag.”
Yes, I really did say that. What I meant, of course, was that the exegesis and outline of the text was fairly straightforward, with clear application. Yet my pride and self-sufficiency was exposed. Ironically, in preparing to preach a sermon on weakness, I was confident in my own strength.
Now, in these moments of delusion and self-aggrandizement (which come quite frequently), God is very kind to me. The worst thing that could possibly happen in a situation like this would be for God to let me succeed– to allow me to successfully prepare and deliver a sermon in my own strength, out of my own gifting and ability and cleverness. The last thing I need is more reason to think I can go it alone.
Thankfully, he loves me too much to let that happen. I desperately need to be delivered from the soul sickness of pride, and the Good Physician is always faithfully on hand with medicine.
What was that gracious medicine? Failure. My sermon prep, which I had expected to be easy sailing (thanks to my “superior” expository skills), crashed to a halt about me. I spent the rest of the week banging my head against the text, not getting anywhere with the message.
Was that enough to teach me the lesson that self-sufficiency is a liability, and that weakness is true power?
By Saturday afternoon, I gave up and decided to wake up at 5 AM on Sunday morning to finish the message. I went to bed early so that I could be well-rested (still relying on my own resources). And what happened next? I lay awake, unable to fall asleep until 2 AM. God will wield insomnia or any other trial in his gracious quest to humble and weaken us. He’s that committed to his glory and to my good.
So there I was at 5 AM on Sunday morning, with three hours of sleep and three hours until I needed to be at church. At last, I was out of resources. My strength had run out. I was empty.
Exactly where God wanted me.
“Lord, you’ve promised to provide. I need food for your people,” I prayed desperately. I sat down at the computer, finally bereft of pride in my ability.
And now that I was stripped of my self-confidence, the sermon came. Exactly when it needed to come, with exactly the power it needed.
Of course it did. Because God is faithful to provide food for his people. And weakness for his pastors.
I’m so thankful that he does.
“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. -2 Corinthians 12:8-9