Do you have a "handicap"? In the most technical sense, a handicap is any disadvantage which makes it harder to be successful. In this sense, I think we ALL have some handicap or another! In another sense, a handicap is some form of weight, time, or distance placed on someone in order to "equalize" the advantages / disadvantages of all who run in a race. For example, if you bowl really well and are being placed in a league with others who don't bowl as well, they might get a few points "handicap" to even things out from the get-go. This gives everyone a "fair chance" of winning. Sometimes, our "handicap" is given for quite another reason.
Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn't get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan's angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn't think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, 'My grace is enough; it's all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.' Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 The Message)
Paul's specific handicap is not known, but many believe it was his "disability" of poor vision. In the time of his ministry, he had to rely upon "scribes" to take down the details of his messages to the churches simply because he could not see well enough to do it himself. Regardless of his specific handicap, we see some interesting things in this passage:
1. His handicap was "given" to him. In fact, the purpose of it was to keep him in "constant touch" with his limitations. Now, I ask you, is this really necessary? Most of us know our limitations - we don't want anything "magnifying" them! If we look back at our definition of a "handicap", we might see this as the "disadvantage" which made it harder for Paul to be successful with his undertakings. The truth is, what others see as my "handicap" is really something which God uses to keep me in constant touch with him. Paul says Satan tried to get him down - but he used the "limitations" of his handicap as the motivation to go to his knees more frequently - relying upon God to do through him what he could not do himself.
2. We don't think of our handicap as much of a gift. In the most technical sense, a gift is something given which was not earned by the one receiving it. So, Paul is saying he did not "earn" this handicap, but it was given freely to him. Do I hear someone saying, "Well, no thank you, God"? Perhaps this was not your "out-loud" voice saying this, but it was definitely your "in-side" voice! In fact, most of us would resist anything which made it more difficult to be successful - not viewing it as a gift, but as a curse! Step back a minute. Is it possible we ask God to remove the very thing which he intends for our greatness?
3. Paul gives us the key to understanding our "handicap" - prayer. In conversations with God, he is given revelation into the purpose of his "handicap". It is not to crush him, but to cause God to be glorified more in his life than he would have been if it was not there! Think of a runner who gets a 20 pound pack added to his back for the 20 kilometer marathon. Now, 20 pounds doesn't seem like much, does it? In fact, it puts pressure on your entire skeletal system - far in excess of 20 pounds of force. Some have said one pound of weight equates to about 5-10 pounds of force on the skeletal system. As a runner, I'd want as little on my body as possible. But...if given the pack, I'd find I might need help a few times along the way to bear up under its weight! Perhaps this is what Paul is saying - what "seemed" manageable when he was not running the race set out before him became something he had to continually go to God about when he was running!
4. It is when we change our focus that we realize the depth of God's grace to deal with our handicap. Instead of seeing it as a handicap, we begin to see it as a gift. A gift which drives us closer to Jesus and keeps us there! Now, all things considered, that is quite some gift! The most awesome part of the transformation which occurred is God coming into Paul's weakness and in so doing, he changed the way he "walked". In our handicap, we falter a lot. When our weakness is in the hands of God, we focus less on the weakness and more on the capabilities possible when he is in control. He learned to take limitations in stride. I wonder if we do the same? Or do we complain bitterly about our limitations? My "stride" in the physical sense is limited due to my arthritis. In the spiritual sense, my "stride" is at a full gallop! The "weaker" I get, the stronger Christ gets in me! I wonder what possibilities God has in store for you today if you'd find yourself welcoming him into your weakness instead of challenging him because you have been given it?
Paul sums it all up in the words, "I just let Christ take over"! There is nothing more liberating than when Christ enters the scene of our misery. Perhaps it is time for us to have a change of focus as it applies to what we have labeled as a "handicap" in our lives. In examining it a little closer, we might just come to realize what a blessing our "handicap" has been! Instead of seeing it as something which makes it difficult to succeed, we might such see it as something which gives us an advantage we did not realize! The advantage - getting closer to Christ than we would be without it!