Socrates is famously recorded as having said, “Know Thyself”. Self-awareness is one of the most important pieces of knowledge a person can have; possessing accurate information in this area bears incalculable fruit in personal and professional life. It is astounding that we can be with ourselves all the time (brilliant!) and yet often be ignorant of things others plainly observe about us. To the end of gaining self-awareness, perhaps you have taken one of the many assessments available today—Meyers Briggs, MCORE, Strength Finders, Spiritual Gifts assessments, Emotional IQ tests. I recommend these and encourage people to seek to understand themselves. As we more accurately identify our gifting, we can more easily recognize the way God uses our strengths and our weaknesses.

The apostle Paul was acutely aware of his weakness in 2 Corinthians 12. He describes himself as suffering under an affliction, which he refers to as his “thorn” (2 Corinthians 12:7). We do not know if this was a physical ailment or some kind of unrelenting emotional or mental stress, but it clearly diminished Paul’s perceived ability to execute the work he wanted to do. Paul pleads to have this pain removed, and God tells him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). God rejects the request to remove this thorn. Now knowing the purpose of his hardship, Paul responds, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (1 Corinthians 12:9-10). The remarkable application from this passage is that our weakness can be a great avenue through which God works in our lives. So far from being a liability, this passage teaches our inadequacy is precisely the area that God’s activity and help in our life shows through.

One noteworthy corollary of this principle is that our strengths and weaknesses are often interrelated. The man who can really talk also gets into the most trouble with his mouth. The creativity of the innovative genius can thwart their best ideas. A person who patiently waits for the right time may wait too long. This leads to two key applications: first, we should not be proud of our strength, because there is probably a corresponding weakness. Secondly, we should not be discouraged because of our weakness, because it likely conceals a corresponding strength.

Considering our strengths, we have much reason to be humble. It is usually in the areas we assume we have little need for growth or introspection that our most grievous errors tend to crop up. If I assume that the backyard of my house is pristine, and thus never tend to it, I should not be shocked to come and find it overgrown and covered with weeds. A failure to humbly seek God’s perspective on our strengths may make us blind to issues hidden in plain sight.

On the other hand, we should be encouraged that our weaknesses oftentimes hide strengths of which we were not aware. The tentative person in a group meeting who feels they have nothing to offer may have several valuable ideas or insights they need to share. The person who feels they are not innovative may, by an orderly mind, have incredible aptitude for execution of creative ideas. Our weaknesses can, by God’s grace, reveal an unexpected strength.

In all things, we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), and all of our strengths and weaknesses are given by His design (1 Corinthians 4:7)—not for our harm, but for our good. So we can humbly rejoice in our strengths and hopefully trust through our weaknesses—and thereby make the contributions for which we have been fashioned by God.