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On Weakness

There are two dimensions of discipleship. One is the learning of habits and the forming of character, the shaping of commitments and the inscribing of rhythms, the training in disciplines and the facing of sacrifices. Some people speak as if that were the only part. But the other dimension is perhaps even more important. It is the acknowledgment of weakness, the asking for help, the naming of failure, the request for forgiveness, the desire for reconciliation, and the longing for restoration.

If we knew the truth about one another we would talk a lot more about the second than the first. But while the first inspires a confident proclamation, the second needs a tender application. The person seeking to articulate the Christian gospel in the face of fear must expect that God will be at least as visible and tangible in weakness as in strength—if not more so. For all the widespread insistence that the church has a difference message than the world, this conviction—that God is made known in weakness more than in strength—is perhaps the sharpest daily distinction.

And yet it is one Christian congregations find hard so hard to believe, to embody, to anticipate. Things will go wrong—faith will falter, clarity will fog, pastors will have feet of clay, congregation members will quarrel, long and sad periods will descend, relationships will fail, children will go astray, temptation will sometimes prove irresistible. The Bible is full of such things. So is the church. So should any account of the gospel be. These need not be moments when discipleship ends. They may be the moments when it begins.

— Samuel Wells, Be Not Afraid: Facing Fear with Faith

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. mike #

    yes…Yes! I Love this Ragamuffin Gospel.

    June 23, 2015
    • mike #

      …and thanks for the lead on Samuel Wells 🙂

      June 23, 2015
  2. Paul Johnston #

    ” Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” 1 Corinthians 16:13 NRSV

    ….”all that you do be done in love”…I struggle with this one often. Forgive me, my friend. :)….

    Christ has died. Christ has risen. Has not perfect love driven out fear? Why are we still afraid then?

    Introspection and self absorption are a sign of the times. A sign of the old creation. Are we not being made perfect as our Father is perfect. Peace and joy ought to be our disposition. If not then our love needs to be made more perfect. Perfect love drives out fear. If fear is pervasive, we must look around ourselves not inside ourselves. Look around. A neighbor needs you. Someone needs our love. Love them, through their fear, through their weakness. Share God’s love in return.

    If some are not strong in the faith, who will help the weak? If we who say we are committed believers are not strong, who is?

    So I will remain committed to the first proposition articulated here. The first dimension of discipleship. If I be put to the test and require the second dimension, God and good disciples will abound.

    That is all I need to know about fear.

    Fear and all it’s toxic outcomes held sway with me for too long in my life. Fuck fear. It is not from God.

    June 24, 2015
    • I don’t read this quote as an affirmation of fear. It is simply an acknowledgment that while the kingdom has come it has not yet come in fullness. We await the consummation and final realization of the victory that has been inaugurated. And in this now/not yet time, our experience is mixed. We are ever striving to become more at home in Christ and his kingdom. But there are still shadows, still valleys, still struggles to grow through. This, too, is part of how Christ is formed in us.

      June 24, 2015
      • Paul Johnston #

        No, not an affirmation of fear, per se. But an affirmation of weakness. Fear abides in weakness. If the author makes the distinction later in his book that weakness is a call to faith, that only faith trumps fear, then he gets it right. 🙂

        No doubt God will abide and triumph over weakness and fear for He already has. This victory was won at the Cross. The Kingdoms full potentials have been released since the Cross, Resurrection and Pentecost events occurred.

        Faithlessness, grounded in fear, holds it back.

        Ste. Therese of Liseaux , the “Little Flower” once said, ” For those who have faith, everything is blessing for everything comes from God”…. “Everything”…. Not the opinion of a heartless dilettante. The opinion of a chronically ill young woman who died in her early 20’s…..”Everything is blessing”….

        We are called to work; to alleviate suffering. It is the call of righteousness. In faith we must accept that when suffering does occur righteousness abides all the more.

        “Everything is Blessing” if we have faith enough to believe it.

        June 25, 2015
      • I haven’t read the rest of the book yet, so I can’t say where Wells will land. The subtitle—”Facing Fear with Faith”—would seem promising.

        I appreciate the example of Therese of Liseaux. It is an inspiring and convicting picture of faith. I worry, though, about the default response that seems to locate the experience of a somehow less-than-always-triumphant Christian-life in a failure of faith. I have seen too many people of deep and settled faith who have experienced struggle and fear as part of their journey. I refuse to impugn the quality or strength of their faith because their experience is not always of a sufficiently triumphant or victorious character.

        Does faithlessness, grounded in fear, hold back the advance of the kingdom of God? Yes, I think it does. Is this always the only answer to the mixed experience of faith as we await the kingdom in its fullness? No, I don’t think so. Not at all.

        June 25, 2015
  3. mike #

    I hear you, Paul, and I agree with and appreciate what your saying. But at the same time I know that there needs to be someone from Gods kingdom stationed on the front lines to minister to those who are still in the midst of their personal suffering, whatever form that suffering might be. I know sometimes I just need for someone to acknowledge my struggle as I work my way through to Victory(hopefully:) Ryan does an Outstanding job of being present for others in trying times, I’ve never once felt judged or spoken down to, or condemned for anything I’ve said here, only Compassionate understanding. I think this guy might be the real-deal… very rare.

    When I read this the first time I immediately thought of Ryan and his ministry:

    “….God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. ….” (a prayer of Cardinal John Henry Newman)

    June 24, 2015
    • Thank you, Mike. I don’t really know what else to say. It is so moving to read this, and I am very grateful. And I will save this quote for future use. It speaks truth and hope to me today.

      June 24, 2015
    • Paul Johnston #

      I share your sentiments here, Mike. Ryan is the “real deal”. My faith journey would seem incomplete without this space. Ryan authors a form through which the Spirit moves. God honors this space. He is present to it.

      Separating ego from Spirit, is always the challenge. Deeper faith is always the answer.

      God Bless you both.

      June 25, 2015
      • Thank you, Paul. I can think of few higher ambitions and hopes for a blog than this: “God honours this space. He is present to it.”

        June 25, 2015
  4. Paul Johnston #

    Ha ha….you could have had some good fun with me over my missing the subtitle…Hey wait a minute maybe you already did! ….Well played subtle master, well played!…What can I say, I’m a fan of Ryan Dueck’s writing. This other guy not so much lol…..

    I do not mean to offer a default position that would impugn the faith of another. I in no way subscribe to the opinion that suffering is a consequence of faithlessness. Suffering WILL come. Comes to us all. In turn we shed tears or dry tears. Seek consolation or give consolation. Through it all we stand or fall together, united by the love of Christ through faith. We must always remember though that “fall” is a worldly illusion. Powerful but false. The cross proves to us that in actuality “fall” is redemption. We must have faith, courage and the comforts of one another, through Christ. If we do these things, we shall overcome. 🙂

    So what next? Firstly we as Christians must, must, must, must…one more MUST…. 🙂 reconcile and begin living communally as we best believe Christians should. This is simply non negotiable.

    We are not of Christ, we are liars if we put other ethical, political, cultural or even biological imperatives before our faith. Yes they have influence, yes they are context but through faith they can and should be made subordinate. Christ is transcendence. He calls us to transcendence. If we remain flesh determined by the experiences of material existence alone, we die.

    If we become flesh determined by the Holy Spirit through material existence, we live.

    That’s all I want to say for now. It is enough. 🙂

    June 26, 2015
    • Through it all we stand or fall together, united by the love of Christ through faith.

      Thank you, Paul.

      June 26, 2015

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