I remember, as a teenager, being invited to a friend’s church for a special “crusade” one evening. A group of Christian body builders, known as the Power Team, had rolled into town. They had come to flash their chiseled forearms, flex their six-pack abs, pull refrigerators across the stage with their bleached-white teeth, and bust through brick walls with their bare foreheads – all in the name of Jesus. They reminded me of a Christian version of Hans and Franz, from Saturday Night Live, promising to “pump you up” with the power of God. They were incredible athletes, each with their own story of how God had saved them and how, through faith in God, anyone – “even you” – could break a baseball bat over their head and live to praise Jesus. The spectacle was a bit too much, even for a sixteen year old.
The Apostle Paul had his own Power Team to contend with. He called them “hyper-Christians,” and they were trying to convince the church at Corinth (while Paul was away planting other churches) that “real” faith was evidenced through supernatural things, like miracles, visions, and ecstatic experiences. Because so few Christians could boast of such dramatic experiences in their life, these super-Christians had captured the spotlight.
So Paul sent word to his church at Corinth, reminding the people that those “supernatural” experiences prove very little in the grand scheme of things. Paul said that our faith is much more down-to-earth than that. In 2 Corinthians 12, he tells them about the “thorn” in his life – an illness, perhaps, or a handicap, a person, or a personal struggle (we don’t know for sure what it was) – that God had placed in his life in order to save Paul from self-righteous folly. All those ecstatic experiences, he says, have a subtle way of stealing the spotlight away from God and shining it on ourselves. The power of God, he confesses, is proven through our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities, and our humanness – all of which leave enough room for God’s grace. And in the end, it’s that grace that will always be sufficient for us.
While many Christians are looking to get pumped up these days, Paul challenges us to get our heads out of our holy clouds, to let the air out of our egos, and to wait on the Lord, who came down to earth to transform the thorns of our lives into the holy relics of our salvation.
Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds