2 Corinthians 12:8–10 (ESV)
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “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. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
When I was going through seminary I held down a part time job working for Grainger Industrial Supply. I worked in a branch office doing a lot of different tasks from helping customers to sweeping floors. Mostly, I worked in the warehouse loading and unloading trailers, stocking shelves, and managing inventory. The Lord was really good to us through that job. I was paid well and had full medical coverage. The people I worked with were great. I really genuinely liked them, and I think they liked me too.
The truth is, I was the low man on the ladder while I worked there. Everyone knew I was in seminary, and that I was a short timer in the company. I was never going to climb the ladder or push anybody out of a job. We all knew that when lay-offs came, I was the first one gone. (It’s true. It happened to me twice in 5 years, but my bosses always found a way to get me back or keep me working at another branch. I always appreciated that.)
I always enjoy talking about my Christianity. I enjoy good philosophical discussions and the occasional romp into politics, but I’ve never been one who wore his Christianity on his sleeve. I think people have always known I am a Christian, but I never wanted to be the guy who was telling non-Christians about all the ways they were displeasing to God devoid of any humility or acknowledgement of my own sin. I would rather season my interactions with a bit of compassion before we get down to the true and ugly stuff. I would rather just be myself as I try to follow Christ in the little things, and let the Holy Spirit work our the details.
Here’s the thing…the Holy Spirit did work out the details for me to minister to those around me. The fact that I was in the weakest position in the branch meant that I was also the safest person to talk to. I was a threat to nobody. I was just a guy doing a job. This opened up all kinds of ministry opportunities for me.
I was working away in the warehouse one day, sweating in the Texas heat – I still hate that heat – and my manager, Mike, comes to find me. He says, “Hey, are you busy? I need you in my office for few minutes.” We get in his office and he closes the door. This is sort of unusual. He pulls out this notebook and says, “I’m doing this Bible study as a favor to my neighbor, and I have no idea how to answer some of these questions.”
Turns out that Mike’s neighbor was a Presbyterian minister who was writing a Bible study curriculum for the Gospel of Matthew. He asked Mike to work through it and give him feedback on what he thought of it. Now, I suspect that this minister was doing a little more than just looking for feedback, and the Holy Spirit was moving the two of us to talk to Mike about the Gospel.
The first question: “What does it mean when Matthew says that Jesus is the son of Abraham and the son of David?” Talk about serving up a pitch to get hit out of the park! There it was, an opportunity to share the gospel with my boss, and it fell right out of the “sky” into my sweaty lap.
I had many chances like this to spread the seeds of the gospel, and only once did I go looking for the conversation. Most of the time, my co-workers came to me.
I’m not telling you this to take credit that is not mine. Just the opposite. I was – and not because I wanted to be – a nobody. I was in the weakest position. I was a threat to no one, and that made me safe. If it was up to me, I would’ve gladly had a bit more security, better pay, and more clout.
As I look around at our polarized society, I wonder if other’s see Christians as the least. I doubt it seriously. We like to fashion ourselves as being the last in society, but that really isn’t true.
I wonder too if we are willing to give up a place of privilege in order to be more useful to the gospel. We are quite powerful, but we are losing influence over our culture, if we ever really had it to begin with.
Is it possible that we have lost gospel influence precisely because we have sought worldly power with such passion? I know that seems crazy, and it is paradoxical, but it is also Christ. In the Kingdom of God, the first will be last, and the last will be first. Scripture tells us that it is only when we are weak that we are truly strong. The gospel is carried forward in the lives of struggling people.
The whole time I worked for Grainger, I was thinking about the day I wouldn’t have to sweep that warehouse floor or count another fluorescent light bulb. 3v477. I still remember the stock number of our most popular bi-pin, 4 ft fluorescent tube. In hindsight, sweeping that floor was exactly where God wanted me, and I have not had nearly as affective ministry among non-Christians since leaving that place.
I ask then, are we willing to be last? Are we willing to take a back seat so that Jesus can be clearly seen in our lives. I suspect we will likely thrash about and become angry at the prospect of losing what we believe is ours by right. Some of us will be afraid, certain that doom is upon us. And yet…and yet…when we are weak, we are strong. When we are actually forced to walk in the path of the marginalized Christ, we will find true strength. When we lose earthly power, we will gain real Kingdom influence. This is the way God has always worked, and we will be exactly where he wants us.