THE LEANING HEART IS THE HEART THAT’S GLAD IN INFIRMITIES
In 2 Corinthians 12:1, Paul says, “It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast” (2 Cor. 12:1). He says, “I don’t want to make a case for why you should listen to me, but I need to do that a little. This is stupid that I have to prove that I’m authentic to my own children in the Lord.” That’s what he means right there.
THE HEART THAT REJOICES IN ITS OWN WEAKNESS
He says, “Let’s go to visions and revelations. Let’s start with the big stuff. I know a man in Christ fourteen years ago—whether in the body I don’t know, or out of the body I don’t know—only God knows. Such a man was caught up to the third heavens, and I know such a man” (2 Cor. 12:2, paraphrased). He says again, because he’s still bewildered, “Whether in the body or out I really don’t know. I think I was in, but I’m not sure; only God knows” (v. 3, paraphrased). “He was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible words, which are not lawful for man to utter. Of such a one I will boast. I’ll talk about that man” (2 Cor. 12:4-5, paraphrased). He’s talking about himself. He says, “Yet of myself I don’t like to boast, except in my infirmities” (v. 5b, paraphrased). That’s what we’ll look at. The leaning heart is the heart that’s glad in infirmities.
I’m not glad in infirmities. I’ve seen it a little. Mostly infirmities look negative. But the leaning heart of the bride coming up from the wilderness is a heart rejoicing in her weakness. This is a stunning revelation that’s out of my full reach. I don’t walk in this in the way I can preach it, but I long for it, and I touch it every now and then.
Look at verse 6: “For though I might desire to boast…” (2 Cor. 12:6). He says, “There’s a temptation in me to make my case. I do have a desire to boast, but that would be foolish.” He says, “I refrain lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be” (ibid).
“And lest I should be exalted above measure…” (2 Cor. 12:7). The NASB says, “Unless I should exalt myself…” I think that’s the right interpretation. He says, “Lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me”—and he repeats it again—“lest I be exalted above measure” (2 Cor. 12:7)—meaning, “so that I don’t exalt myself.”
Here’s my point. If Paul the apostle, a mature apostle, has the temptation to exalt himself, where are you and I? Here’s a mature apostle, and he says, “I’ll be honest: I’m tempted to exalt myself. I’m very honest about it.” He says, “Most people aren’t honest. They exalt themselves and they come up with reasons why they’re not. I’m being very honest, and I do find that temptation sometimes.”
If a mature apostle has that temptation, do you think you and I still have that temptation? My point is, let’s not be surprised.
A man comes to me and he says, “I need tell you something that’s really wrong with you. I don’t want you to get mad.”
I say, “Stop. I live under the presupposition that there are dozens of wrong things. This isn’t some shocking new concept that I do things wrong, so just relax.” Maybe they were referring to some other time when they were talking to me and I didn’t treat them rightly. We all have things in our lives that shouldn’t shock us, but Paul the apostle was the least surprised of all.
“Now concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me” (2 Cor. 12:8, paraphrased). When Paul is pleading three times for this thorn, for this messenger, to depart, he doesn’t mean three prayers one afternoon. He means three seasons of concerted prayer and fasting. He means three intense times of seeking. I’m just adding the words, “prayer and fasting.” He means three seasons of earnestly pressing in.
“MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR YOU”
Then one day, the Lord speaks to him (2 Cor. 12:9). Let’s make it dramatic: let’s imagine that the Lord has appeared to him, because He did appear to him in Corinth once. If you read the record in Acts 18, the Lord stood in front of him and spoke to him. Let’s say it’s there. Perhaps the Lord is standing there in front of him. He says, “Paul, let Me tell you something.” This is the absolutely stunning truth that will change our lives if we buy into it. It’s stunning! He’s standing before him, possibly right there in His resurrected body. This is Song of Solomon 8:5 right here. “Paul, I have a new doctrine right here.” It’s straight from the mouth of Jesus. “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9). You can use the word enough—“My grace is enough for you.”
He talks about two things: His grace and His strength. It’s made perfect in your weakness. “When you have weakness, My strength is perfectly displayed in you to the degree that I have called you.”
Beloved, that’s a stunning reality. If we believe that the fullness of what God has ordained for our lives comes to fullness when we embrace weakness, we won’t resist weakness. It’s the only place where the seal of love has its full reign in our lives, in voluntary weakness.
Paul says, “Therefore since the Son of God stood before me and told me this face to face, I’m glad. As a matter of fact, my boast is in my infirmities so that the power of God will flow towards me, and a new, fresh anointing will operate in my life” (2 Cor. 12:10). What we want is a new anointing, but no weakness. When the weakness knocks on our doors, we resist it while we’re pursuing the new anointing. You can’t have the new anointing apart from embracing weakness; it’s impossible. When Paul settled it, he got happy. He became happy in the weakness.
I’m theoretically happy in the weakness. I have it clear enough, and I have preached this a few times over the years. I’ve studied it, looked at it, and prayed over it where it’s real on paper. I say, “I know this is the way into the power of God. I know it in my mind. OK, got that, I know it.”
Then the Lord says, “Enter into it.”
PLEASURE IN INFIRMITIES, PERSECUTIONS, AND INSULTS
Look at verse 10; this is unthinkable: “Therefore I take pleasures in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions” (2 Cor. 12:10). Underline that word pleasure. Look at this: “In reproaches.” In almost every other translation of the Bible—the NIV, the NASB—the word reproaches is rendered, “I take pleasure in insults.” He says, “The insults sting me. The sting drives me to reality with God. The power of God is new in my life when I don’t answer back. I’m glad that they do that. I take pleasure in needs, in persecutions, and distresses.” Distresses are all the difficulties in life. Why? When I’m weak, there’s a new flow of the power of God.
CRUCIFIED IN WEAKNESS, ALIVE BY THE POWER OF GOD
“For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God” (2 Cor. 13:4). What a sentence! Here it is: Jesus was crucified because of weakness. The fact that the uncreated God is human is weakness. The fact that He’s walking in flesh and blood: even though there’s no sin in it, we’re talking about the transcendent God walking in a clay body. That’s weakness. When He’s judged on the cross, that’s weakness beyond measure, but He lives in the realm of power. He lives by power.
Look at this next sentence. This is one of the strangest sentences Paul ever says: “For we also are weak in Him” (2 Cor. 13:4b). We always talk about being strong in Him. We’re weak because we follow the wooing of Jesus to stay in the wilderness in weakness like He did. We’re weak in our life with Him. In our intimacy with Him we find a resolve to embrace weakness like He did. That’s what it means. We all know the verse about being strong in Him. We’re weak in our intimacy with the risen Lord. We find a resolve to embrace weakness. We’re weak in Him, but also we live in power as He does. Wow!
“We are glad when we are weak” (2 Cor. 13:9). What a sentence!
GOD PROTECTS HIS ANOINTED SERVANTS WITH PROBLEMS
Verse 7: there’s a God-orchestrated weakness on the people God places an unusual anointing upon. I’m going to say it again. There’s an undeniable God-orchestrated weakness. I’ll say it the way Paul Cain says it. He says, “There’s a God-orchestrated stigma upon any man or woman upon whom there’s an unusual anointing. It’s God-orchestrated. You can’t pray and fast your way out of it. If you pray and fast, you fall into it more.”
Beloved, there’s a God-orchestrated weakness for the anointed of the Lord. Why? That’s what verse 7 is saying, and I’m going to ask why. Here’s the principle: it’s because God protects His anointed servants with problems. God will protect you with problems. We look at problems as our enemies. Problems are what God uses to protect the anointed of the Lord. That’s how He protected Paul. He protected Paul from pride. He protected Paul from establishing people in error. What do I mean by establishing people in error? When you can raise the dead, the people look to you in a wrong way and it establishes them in error. Even the most well-meaning man can’t turn the people away in a right way. Then it all comes out at the judgment seat. The Lord says, “Paul, you don’t have the ability to raise people from the dead and keep the people out of error. They’ll look at you inappropriately, and it will hurt their lives. You can’t raise the dead and keep the people out of error. They’ll look at you inappropriately.”
“I have a problem…”
God says, “I have a solution. I’m going to protect you with problems. I’m going to protect your pride, and I’m going to protect the people from error that you’re trying to teach. What do you think, Paul?”
Paul says, “Is there any other way to do this?”
“No, Paul, because you’ll exalt yourself if I show you great things” (2 Cor. 12:7, paraphrased). The most mature apostle becomes proud at seeing the heavens. The most mature man or woman in the Holy Spirit, when they’re in the anointing, can’t turn the people away from them, so God exhibits the people as weak. He says, “I’ll help you. You don’t have the power to pull this off, so I will take care of it for you.” Weakness is the highest way God has to protect the power of God, which He has placed in your life to protect you in the power. It’s God’s wisdom to protect you. It’s God’s love to protect the anointing and to protect you. It isn’t just the anointing, but you in the anointing through problems.
The wilderness of Song of Solomon 8:5 is a lifelong reality. We come from the wilderness with a heart burning with love. There’s a weakness all the way around us as we come out leaning with a meek heart. The only word Jesus ever used is strength under perfect control, meekness, leaning.
FIVE CATEGORIES OF WEAKNESS
What is weakness? We have two categories. I want to give you two categories of weakness, and there are five each. You know them anyway. You’ll say, “Oh, of course.” But some of you are teachers and you like to have them 1, 2, 3. The two categories of weakness that both operate here are voluntary and involuntary. Both of them are in my life and in your life. The voluntary weakness we can shun. But if we shun it, we will never, ever find God with the seal on our heart in the way we’re longing for. The reason I’m doing all of this now is because the Lord is calling me to a voluntary weakness. It’s kind of counterproductive to tell you, but you’re like my team or something. Meaning, I’m not trying to be heroic, but I’m working through this, and this is the passage. The Lord says, “This is good for you. I will deliver you through the acknowledgement of your own errors to yourself and then to others.”
I’m not trying to do something about me. I’m trying to give you the courage, the theology, and the wherewithal to do this in your life. It’s the way forward. It truly is.
SOCIAL AND RELATIONAL WEAKNESS
There are five categories of weakness I’m going to look at, voluntary and involuntary. I’ll give you two on each one. Social weakness is voluntary; there are two types. You can refuse to defend yourself. The most powerful urge in the human spirit is to defend ourselves. It’s the silence before false accusations. There’s no greater urge in your being than the urge to speak when you’re falsely accused. That’s voluntary weakness, refusing to speak.
But they both have two dimensions, and the second is speaking. It’s speaking to declare your faults, acknowledging them and making them known. It’s voluntary. You go to the people, your prayer teams and your home groups; you look them right in the eyes and you say, “I’m selfish when I do that. I’m defensive, and I don’t listen to you when you talk to me.” That’s weakness. That’s a part of leaning.
I’ve heard this a number of times: they come to you on the worship team and say, “You’re off beat, you sing badly, and you talk too much.” You know what I’m talking about. The involuntary part of social, or you can call it “relational weakness,” is when they tell deliberate lies and rumors about you. It’s called persecution. Or maybe you’re just misunderstood by your friends. You have no control over it. They have a mindset and they don’t understand you. They’re locked in the idea that you’re just off. That’s an involuntary part of weakness. The deliberate lies are like an attack against you. As some of you get released in the ministry more, you’ll have attacks against your ministry. Some of you had it in your businesses or in your families.
Physical weakness is the second category; I’ll give you an A and a B: fasting from food and sleep. Fasting from food and fasting from sleep. That’s what the Night Watch is. I don’t care how we say after it; not sleeping is brutal to your body clock. It’s a form of voluntary weakness. It’s a form of fasting. Your emotions are crazy when you go without food and sleep. It’s a voluntary weakness. I don’t mean to take it to an extreme and do funny things, but fasting is a form of weakness.
Hard work and serving people in the ministry: Paul said, “I toil more than you all,” and he didn’t get anything for it. He says, “I work long hours to fix you and I don’t get a thing for it.” That was a part of physical labor. It wore him out; it was hard work in the kingdom of God.
The involuntary aspect of physical weakness is physical persecution, prisoner beatings, or physical sickness. No one voluntarily wants to be sick. Both dimensions, voluntary and involuntary, make your body weak.
EXTRAVAGANT GIVING IS VOLUNTARY WEAKNESS
Economics: extravagant giving is voluntary weakness in the realm of money. When you give your money to the kingdom of God, you’re making yourself economically weak. The difference is that God releases more back, but you make yourself weak in that regard.
There are involuntary ways. People steal money or commit injustice. There are all kinds of ways. I don’t want to go into it now for time’s sake. I’m talking about the involuntary ones more than any in ministry. There’s a God-ordained time of hiddenness in ministry. You could do it right now, but God says, “I want you hidden like Moses in the wilderness.” You could do it. You could make a name, but by the Word of God He says, “Don’t,” and you stay hidden.
Another way of ministry weakness is that because of obedience to the Lord you refuse promotions. I have refused several promotions that were wide open to me, and a number of you in this room have, too. When we refuse a promotion in ministry because of obedience, when we refuse profile and economics for the sake of obedience, that’s voluntary weakness you’re embracing. If you do it in the will, of God there’s a dimension of the anointing related to it spiritually.
Hiding your righteousness. In Matthew 6. Jesus says, “When you fast, when you give, when you work hard and do righteous acts and charitable deeds, don’t tell anyone. Hide your righteousness” (Mt. 6:1-4, paraphrased).
“If I hide it, how will anyone know?” Doing this in a hidden way is a form of weakness. Even more severe is hiding your revelation. “If I go to heaven and don’t tell anyone, how will they know that I went to heaven? How will I get credit for it?” It’s weakness. Obviously there’s a place to tell your revelation and there’s a place to hide it.
For time’s sake I have skipped the involuntary ones. The voluntary dimensions of weakness are social, which is refusing to defend ourselves. It’s silence before our accusers. Secondly, it’s confession of our faults, which is speaking instead of blame-shifting. That’s tough. The physical weakness is fasting food and sleep or hard work in the kingdom. Your body is worn out in the work of the kingdom in the will of God. I’m not talking about stepping over the line.
Thirdly, it’s weakness in the economics: giving extravagantly or accepting a role in the kingdom where you lose your economic opportunity that was well within your reach. The Lord sees that. That’s weakness.
Fourthly, in ministry you live in hiddenness that’s God-ordained. Or you refuse a ministry opportunity because God has given you an assignment that’s smaller. That’s weakness.
Fifthly, spiritually hiding your righteousness or hiding your revelation. I don’t mean all of it, but in the appropriate way. Most people, when they get revelation, can’t hide it. The ability to get honor from it is too enticing. They have to tell it. I have to tell it. You have to tell it. We all tell it. Paul was leaking it out a little too much. The Lord said, “Paul, this isn’t working too well. You’re exalting yourself, and the people are looking at you in an inappropriate way. This isn’t good.”
WEAKNESS IS LOOKING WEAK TO PEOPLE
What is weakness? Let’s sum it up. Weakness is looking weak to people. I don’t mean trying to overdo it, but it involves looking weak to people.
“Oh, I don’t like it!” You and I want to look strong to people. I want to be prepared. I want to be this; I want to be that. I want to be strong. When we look weak, it chafes us, but that’s where strength is.
Some people do that funny little thing with their appearance. They get as dirty and scroungy as they can, but really they’re just trying to get attention. They’re trying to look strong in the sense of, “I don’t care what anyone
thinks.” They’re still living in the realm of people looking at them and thinking they’re awesome. They’re just doing it in the scroungy way instead of the Saks Fifth Avenue way.
“Looking weak to people, ouch!” “Oh, I don’t like to look weak to people.” I’m just summing up the others: weakening our power position. We give our money away. We don’t take the promotions; we don’t take the positions. We lose our power base.
What’s worse than looking weak and losing our power base? The third one is actually being weak. It isn’t just looking weak, but actually being weak inwardly, through fasting, giving, bearing insults, the pain, and standing up for righteousness when people are against you; inwardly knowing the fear and the trembling of our weak frames. Being weak is another reality, and not just looking weak.
“MY STRENGTH IS MADE PERFECT IN WEAKNESS”
In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Jesus says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Strength is harnessed. God puts this strong horse in a bit and a bridle. Strength is harnessed when we say yes to weakness. What kind of strength? Natural strength is harnessed, but so is the anointing.
The Lord says, “Mike, I want to anoint you more, but here’s what I want you to do. I want to harness you with weakness. I want you fasting. I want you giving your money away. I want you silent when people speak against you. I want you admitting your errors all the time. I want you working long and hard hours. I want you to be last in line. I want you to not have a power base, but I want to put more anointing on you. What do you think?”
“Why don’t I use my anointing to prove that I’m right, to make more money, to get a sense of security, and to make people afraid of me? That sounds better.”
He says, “No, I want to give you strength, but I want to harness it with weakness. I’ll start with voluntary weakness, but then I’ll do the involuntary. You might have a prison stay. I’ll raise up a controversy against you. I’ll allow sickness to touch you and a demon to touch you for a season. I want you weak. I want you harnessed. Do you want the anointing?”
“Yes, I think. I mean, of course.”
“OK, I want you giving your money away. I want you to spend more time in prayer and fasting, working harder, and admitting your errors more than ever.”
Paul was receiving revelation that weakness was the highest method God uses to release perfected power. Look at that: “power is perfected.” Wow! The same God who planned Jesus’ crucifixion is planning yours.
The same God who planned Jesus’ crucifixion—not who is planning it, but who planned it—is planning yours as well. He wants you leaning in the wilderness on your Beloved. I want to yield to it. I want to yield faster and more. Here’s the problem. Well, it’s good; it’s really not a problem. You can’t counterfeit this thing. It isn’t the kind of thing you preach on and it’s done. It isn’t the kind of thing where you convince your best friend that you’re doing it and it’s done. It can’t be counterfeited, because God is the only realm that it operates in.
THE POWER TO BE A LOVER IS REWARD ENOUGH
Here’s what the Lord tells him in verse 9: He says, “My grace is sufficient.” Here’s what He means: three things. “My grace is sufficient”: instead of the word sufficient, put the word enough. “My grace is enough”: it’s enough reward. The power to be a lover is reward enough. It’s enough right now. You may never get the breakthrough in ministry. “My anointing on your heart is enough. Is it enough?”
“Yes, it is.”
The reward is enough. The people are all speaking against you.
The Lord says, “The anointing on your heart is sufficient. It’s enough, isn’t it? For Me to be near you, is that enough? Is it enough that you’re Mine?” It’s sufficient. It’s enough. It’s enough reward. Secondly, it’s enough power. “My anointing on your heart, though everyone comes against you, though the demons rise against you and sickness racks your body, is enough to keep your heart in victory. It’s enough power to keep your heart in victory on the inside. It’s sufficient for you.”
Thirdly, it’s enough impact. “Well, Lord, if I’m all broken down, scatterbrained and dorky, I’ll not influence anyone. I have to look good and be sharp.”
The Lord says, “My anointing is enough. You can be a little rough on the edges because you can’t pull it together. It’s enough. I’ll change hearts through you. My anointing is enough reward. My anointing is enough power to sustain your heart. It’s enough anointing to change hearts, even though you’re rough around the edges and you won’t look slick.”
Here’s the last point. In verse 10, Paul said, “Therefore I take pleasure in insults” (2 Cor. 12:10, paraphrased). Look at this: in the middle of verse 9 he says, “Therefore most gladly…” (v. 9, NKJV). Then he says, “Therefore I take pleasure…” (v. 10). “For we are glad when we are weak” (2 Cor. 13:9). He boasts in his infirmities!