Nothing is worse than feeling helpless in the face of danger, but what if God had a very specific plan for us in the moments when we’re powerless.
One cold evening, my friend and I walked out of the theater, laughing about some scene in Thor: Ragnarok and then paused at the sight of blue and red flashing lights down the street.
“Wonder what all the police are doing, blocking the road,” my friend said.
Glancing at each other, we shrugged and took a different walk back to our car. More police cruisers blocked streets, but if anyone spotted us, they didn’t try to stop us. We hopped in the car and drove down a strangely quiet boulevard. After I’d dropped her off at her house and made it home myself, my phone lit up with news reports.
In the casino hotel across the street from where my friend and I had walked, a shooter had decided he was going to mimic the Las Vegas massacre that had taken place only a month before.
Apparently, he’d fired at pedestrians while my friend and I were grabbing our coats during the end credits, the gun shots unheard over the music inside the theater.
Turning off my phone, I stood the dark hallway for a long time.
The Unbreakable Peace of Brokenness
There are moments where we are suddenly reminded of how fragile we are, not just our lives but our entire being. The car is spinning on black ice, or it’s the split second after a bad fall when we realize our arm isn’t bending the right way.
Sometimes the fragility simply comes from realizing how messed up the world is; we said that thing that we swore we’d never say again; our resolve to do something broke for the umpteenth time; a person we love is hurting. Our hearts and minds are just as fragile as our bodies, perhaps more so.
Maybe we just woke up feeling brittle.
These are the more honest moments in our hearts when we acknowledge the truth of God’s words to Isaiah, “…people are like the grass. Their beauty fades as quickly as the flowers in a field. The grass withers and the flowers fade…” (Isaiah 40:6-7 NLT).
Carter Conlon, senior pastor of Times Square Church and World Challenge board member, pointed out that this weakness is necessary for passionate believers.
“The fallen nature of mankind wants to be as God is, wants to boast in itself…Paul knew there was a strength available to humankind that had nothing of intellect or effort could even begin to touch. There is a strength available to you and I, but it only comes when we are out of the way,” he explained.
“It’s the ultimate irony, in a sense. When we become weak, we become strong. You know, it’s so contrary to so much of what has been taught, even in the body of Christ for the last two decades. It’s been all about us, about increasing ourselves, increasing our ‘strength,’ but Paul knew this strength was not available to the proud. It wasn’t available to the self-satisfied and those who tried to take over what God alone could do.”
When we look at ourselves and see the thin glass of our bodies and all the little broken pieces of our souls, then the most important prayers can be prayed, the deepest growth may be experienced, the most unbreakable peace is obtained.
What about when we’re actually struck down, though, by crises and calamities?
Trusting the Divine Orchestration
Andrew Shanks, who suffered a stroke when he was only 33 years old, wrote about the moment it happened and what he later realized in reflection. “In the doctoral seminar I was attending when this trouble began, we had been discussing spiritual warfare. The enemy hates the advance of the gospel and will use all means at his disposal to stop it. Sometimes, these means include physical attacks.”
He added mildly, “I hadn’t thought, at the time, that I was about to become Exhibit A.”
This evidence of his own mortality, however, wasn’t something that he felt should make him feel chronically anxious. His life was no more fragile after the unanticipated hospital visit than it was before.
What’s more, he concluded, “…while it is eminently possible that my stroke was an attack from Satan, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that Satan is powerless apart from the permission of God. He cannot attack Job without God’s permission (see Job 1–2). He cannot attack Peter without God’s permission (see Luke 22:31). The enemy may snarl and snap and sometimes even bite, but he does so as a mongrel on a chain.”
Our own fragility not only reminds us that we must rely on God to sustain us but also that he regulates what evils are allowed into our lives.
This reminder of how much we are truly at the mercy of our Father’s plans and power is uncomfortable. No one enjoys being forced to acknowledge how little we actually control, and it’s an uneasy subtext in the prayer, “Lord, give me strength…”
This is not to say that there aren’t moments when we need to throw everything we have into the fight and pour all of our God-given creativity and intellect into solving a problem or making a plan. Our fragility isn’t a ticket to apathy or passivity. It’s an invitation to trust in the sovereignty and divine orchestration of a loving God in the face of forces we would never withstand alone.
The Fire of God’s Presence
Standing in the dark with the scent of theater popcorn still clinging to my coat, realizing I’d unknowingly run across the street where people had been shot at minutes before, I felt shock and then a fizzle of fear.
What followed, though, was an overwhelming sense of purpose—not my own—driving my life forward.
God had different plans for my future and my friend’s, so he steered us out of the path of this particular tragedy while we waited for the post-credits scene, texting friends who had already seen the movie. Others he led into that moment, for reasons perhaps only he could know.
In the future, he might also lead me into a frightening, painful situation, but it would be for a good reason. He might not ever tell me why this side of heaven, but I could trust his heart and plans.
In a devotional on feeling fragile, John Piper mused, “…God says in Zechariah 2:5, ‘I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord.’ Yes. That’s it. That is the promise. The ‘I will’ of God. That is what I need. And if it is true for the vulnerable villages of Jerusalem, it is true for me, a child of God. God will be ‘a wall of fire all around’ me. Yes. He will. He has been. And he will be.
“And it gets better. Inside that fiery wall of protection he says, ‘And I will be the glory in her midst.’ God is never content to give us the protection of his fire; he will give us the pleasure of his presence.”
The peace of this presence is what will allow us to keep walking forward, even in our vulnerable weaknesses.