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The Empowered Christian Life, by J. I. Packer

Weakness and Strength

Finally, a few words about what I call “the power scenario.” The power scenario is that God perfects his strength in our weakness. And therefore, I would say, the more conscious we are of that weakness, the better.

Think again of Paul and his thorn in the flesh (II Cor. 12:7-10). We do not know, of course, exactly what the “thorn” was. But whatever it was, it was surely something painful or he wouldn’t have called it a thorn, and it was surely something in his own makeup or he wouldn’t have called it a thorn “in his flesh.”

Paul went to the Lord Jesus in solemn seasons of prayer three times over. He went to the Lord Jesus because Jesus was the healer, and this was something that needed the healer’s touch. He prayed that the thorn might depart from him, but the Lord said no. He said, “I have something better in view for you, Paul.” (God always reserves the right to answer our prayers in a better way than we ask them.) “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do,” the Lord said. “I’m going to make my strength perfect in your continuing weakness so that all the things you fear—the end of your ministry, the diminution of your ministry, the enfeebling of your ministry, the discredit of your ministry—will be avoided. Your ministry will go on in power and in strength as it has done, but it will also go on in weakness. You will carry that thorn in the flesh around with you as long as you live. But my strength will be made perfect in that weakness.”

This pattern is likely to be worked out repeatedly in your life and in mine. The Lord first makes us conscious of our weakness, so that our heart cries out, “I can’t handle this.” We go to the Lord, telling him, “I can’t handle this. Please take it away!” And the Lord replies, “In my strength you can handle this, and in answer to your prayer, I will strengthen you to handle it.” Thus in the end your testimony, like Paul’s, will be, “I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). That, I believe, is the fullest expression of the empowered Christian life.


Some Scripture quotations are direct translations by the authors and contributors. Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers). All italicized words and phrases in Scripture quotations are added by the authors for emphasis and clarification.

This chapter is adapted from a paper which was presented to the 1991 conference of Allies for Faith Renewal, on “Repentance, Holiness, and Power” and included in Gary S. Greig and Kevin N. Springer, eds., The Kingdom and the Power: Are Healing and the Spiritual Gifts Used by Jesus and the Early Church Meant for the Church Today? A Biblical Look at How to Bring the Gospel to the World with Power (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1993). Used with permission.

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Category: Living the Faith, Pneuma Review, Winter 2008

About the Author: James I. Packer is a British-born Canadian Christian theologian. He currently serves as the Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. He received a Ph.D. (Philosophy) from the University of Oxford, Oxford, England. As an Anglican theologian, Dr. Packer has played a major role in British and North American evangelicalism. He has written numerous books and scholarly articles, including the best-selling book, Knowing God.

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