The human race disdains weakness. We try to hide our shortcomings from others so that others think of us as capable. We ONLY want to paint ourselves in the most positive light so that we will feel worthy of others’ admiration and love.
Dane Ortlund puts it this way: “There is an entire psychological substructure that, due to the Fall, is a near-constant emission of relational-leveraging, fear-stuffing, nervous score-keeping, neurotic-controlling, and anxiety-festering silliness that is not something I say or even think so much as something I breathe. You can smell this on people, though some of us are good at hiding it.”
We try to keep on top of life, striving to prove to others and to ourselves that we really are in control.
The problem is we really aren’t in control. God is, and while we can be so consumed with moving forward to prove ourselves strong and capable, God is often content to allow us to actually go backwards in life in order to make us truly strong.
That’s why God’s math is fuzzy. He often adds to our lives by subtracting things from our lives (like our pride, capability, ingenuity, health, etc. ) so that we can see that He is all the strength we really need.
There are multiple examples of this in the Bible. The Psalmist in Psalm 119:67 wrote:
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.”
He is literally saying here that he went astray (he sinned against God) and as a result of that he was afflicted (we don’t know how, maybe a guilty conscience or sickness or depression), but as a result of going backwards (astray) NOW I keep Your word.
John Mark (author of the Gospel of Mark) as a young man went on missionary journeys with Paul and Barnabas. On a later journey Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them again, but Paul became angry because Mark had abandoned them and went back to Jerusalem (see Acts 15:36-38).
Yet later, apparently Mark had learned his lesson of turning away because Paul said of him in 2 Timothy 4:11-“Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.”
Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends, was a brash, self-confident man who frequently spoke before he even knew what he was saying. Shortly before Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples that they would all turn away from Him. He said, 31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
To this Peter replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me” Luke 22.
Peter was a conceited person who believed that he had the strength to follow Jesus through anything, but Jesus had to show him how weak he truly was. He said that Satan had requested to have Peter so that he might “sift” him. Satan wanted to destroy Peter, but Jesus wouldn’t allow it.
Jesus would allow Peter’s courage to fail; He would allow his self-sufficiency to fail; He would allow Peter’s pride to take a major hit.
Yet, He would not allow Peter’s FAITH to fall. In spite of the fact that God was allowing Peter to go backwards regarding Peter’s pride, He would not allow his faith to fall away. Peter still believed in Jesus even though in his fear he denied knowing Him.
But look at the glorious nature of God’s fuzzy math—Jesus said to Peter, “when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” God was going to allow Peter to be humbled, but with the humility came the source of Peter’s real strength—God Himself. Peter, when he returned from eating humble pie, would be much more useful in the hands of God to help strengthen other people by grace rather than by foolish, prideful self-effort.
God Sometimes Produces Spiritual Growth in His People by Allowing Them to Crash Against the Rocks of Their Own Self-Sufficiency.
Do you feel like you’re going backwards today? Maybe you’re just going deeper in to who you are in Christ so that you can go much further ahead than you ever imagined you could go.