Do not be surprised when your weakness increases. And don’t be tempted to conclude God has left you when you experience it. As Packer notes, “Paul went unhealed, though not abandoned.” In fact, he says, the opposite of abandonment was true: Paul’s weakness was the result of God’s deliberate, loving, fatherly work in his life for a purpose.
In his little book Weakness Is the Way, J.I. Packer, someone who grappled with feeling weak throughout his life, focuses on passages in 2 Corinthians, a book where Paul puts his weakness on full display for his readers and concludes, “[Jesus] has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness’…. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9–10).
As Packer explains, this isn’t just true for Paul; it’s the way of life for the Christian: “For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11). Our weakness changes us, makes us more like him; and our dependence on him brings him glory. This is the way for us.
We may, I think, take it as certain that Paul was not by nature or upbringing weakness-conscious in the way that he came to be after putting himself in Christ’s hands on the Damascus road and setting out at Christ’s command on his apostolic travels. And we should recognize that the fierce and somewhat disabling pain with which Christ in due course required him to live, and which he clearly accepted as a weakness that would be with him to his dying day, had in view less the enriching of his ministry than the furthering of his sanctification.