I was a kid when the Prayer of Jabez craze hit the US and a teenager when I started paying attention in seminars for pastors and church leaders about growing a bigger, better, hopefully-one-day-mega church (‘cause that’s just what we PKs do!). Basically, the message goes, your purpose-driven-revolutionary-one-best-life-now life is a life in which no limits constrain you and every horizon is bright and expanding. Whether in material blessings, church numbers, or opportunities for headline-catching acts of service, the prayer of Jabez seems appropriate for every situation: “increase my borders”!
Dragging my way through Deuteronomy and the second half of Joshua, on my way to the more lively exploits in Judges, I noticed something I hadn’t before. As God gives Israel a fruitful, bountiful land, He’s very specific about the borders, the people to be conquered. Not all of their borders are to expand, there are limits.
It reminded me of a conversation a group of us had in college. One guy remarked with a frustrated sigh, “I sometimes pray that God would give me more spiritual gifts. Like… why does He only give us a few? Couldn’t we serve Him so much better if we had all of the gifts?”
Our group paused in reverent silence at the holiness of such a thought.
Then someone else spoke up, “Yea, but what about the body? If we had every gift, wouldn’t we be tempted to do ministry alone as if we didn’t need each other? Isn’t the whole point of the body that we each play a different role and therefore need others?”
It was quite the thought for a group raised on the hopes of ever increasing talents, abilities, opportunities, borders. Could it really be true that a limit had been imposed so that we could serve God well? Was there really a design in place meant to put us more in need of others than in a place of self-actualization and independent success?
I imagine that Paul had a similar reaction to God’s message related in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul, after all, had been trained up in a competitive environment where you were always straining to go beyond the minimum standard, to be the best, the brightest, the most successful. To Paul, it would seem natural that God would want to remove any hindrance to His messenger being able to work forcefully, successfully. Instead, God tells Paul, My power is made perfect in weakness.
I imagine Paul, somewhat shocked, assimilating this information. A border has been reached, a point of expansion or success to which God has said no – for the purpose that Paul could serve Him well, allowing God’s strength to pour out through the cracks of his weakness.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for hard work done well and there’s a certain level of success that grows from diligence. But I do question our laser focus on borderless, limitless, powerful lives, ministries, churches, and influence. What if God’s power is made more perfect through the small local church than the self-sufficient mega-church? What if God’s power is made more perfect through lives that chose to flourish within their limits than by constantly pushing for more? What if God’s power is made more perfect in people that constantly acknowledge their inabilities and throw themselves back on His grace and the communion of the body of believers?
In short – what if God was serious when He said that His strength is perfected in weakness?