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Posts Tagged ‘strength’

I cannot really strengthen my inner being on my own. About the only thing I can do with that part of myself is work toward discovery. This place is where the Holy Spirit joins with my own personal spirit. And that kind of strength within is a gift.

Ephesians 3:16
I [Paul] pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, . . .

Because I have such a terrible tendency to start projects and peter out, I’m much more tentative about long term commitments than I used to be. I know myself that much. I have started and stopped diets, exercise programs, methodical housecleaning, vegetable gardening, interior decorating, and a score of hobbies. In most cases, I go great guns for awhile and then, eventually, the enthusiasm dwindles and I am stuck with half-done projects or worse, I am further back than I started (one step forward, two steps back).

Fortunately, my prayer life and time with God has held a certain amount of consistency that heretofore has been missing. It’s not perfect, but it’s one of the more stable uses of my time and energy. All the same, this relative success has come from a certain determination along with a greater imparting of grace from God.

I believe I will need something more now to step up to the next level, to integrate and implement the truths I have uncovered these past three years, I will need a different kind of strength and power from within. I don’t believe that more prayer or more reading (as in physical exercise) will necessarily give me the power/strength I seek or require. It would be an error on my part to think I can pull myself up to this next stage of devotion and submission to Christ.

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What is my weakness? Is it my besetting sins or lack of will power? Is my weakness in my aging body that can no longer do what it used to do? Is it my fears? Is it my lack of resolve? Does it matter?

II Corinthians 12:9a, 12b
But he [Jesus] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”. . . when I [Paul] am weak, then I am strong.

Another enigma to chew on today. What is weakness and what is strength? Why is weakness held up to be a good thing? Isn’t it weakness that opens a door to people hurting me, either physically or emotionally? Won’t people take advantage of me if I am weak? Won’t I be chastened for not carrying my share of the burden?

Who proclaims weakness as a good thing? That’s crazy!

Or is it? How many times have my “strengths” gotten me in more difficult circumstances? How many times has my confidence become pride? How often have I tripped while running too fast, like a little kid at the pool?

St. Paul was a natural in the “strength” department. At least, that’s how he started out. He had money, power, education, and ambition. He was a “Pharisee of Pharisees.” He was undoubtedly being groomed for great things.

When he was called into the ministry of Christ, these attributes of his had to be shed in order for him to experience more fully the power and strength of Jesus–a different kind of strength. Not Paul’s way but the way of Jesus, the way of paradox, the unexpected path, the narrow road.

We are not called to be like Paul. We are called to be like Jesus. And what does that mean for each person . . . for me?

The appearance of strength is not strength; nor is the appearance of confidence, the real thing. Underneath all of the bluster is weakness. It’s not like I have to “become” weak to be strong in Christ. I already am. I just have to be willing to reveal it.

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For those who read my meditations regularly, you know I am intrigued by the sweep of paradox in scripture. Strength in weakness is one of the most difficult concepts to put my head around since the display of strength is my security blanket.

II Corinthians 11:30-31
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying.

Back in the day, I worked with a small group of friends to build an avant garde dance theatre company in New York City. These types of projects are always a bit “hand to mouth” and poorly funded. It can be very stressful. I was in charge of the finances (using mostly my personal funds) and the administration of the company in addition to working full time and going to school. After a year of this, I was at the breaking point. At one of our meetings, I confessed, I was falling apart inside and I couldn’t continue to be the rock anymore. They would not allow it. “You have to be strong. We depend on you to be strong.”

And then I knew we had, all of us, put our confidence in the wrong thing: my strength and confidence That kind of strength is an illusion.

It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. [Psalm 18:32]
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. [Psalm 46:1]

But God cannot arm me with strength or “be” my strength as long as I continue in the “world’s strongest woman competition.” I have to believe in the promise. I have to be willing to reveal my weakness and only then will God’s strength be visible. My strength is a mere veil to the real thing.

Some of the tools:

  • Be willing to say, “I don’t know.”
  • Choose silence.
  • Acknowledge the successes of others.
  • Accept mistakes.
  • Forgo the praise of others.
  • Relinquish control.
  • Embrace the feelings.
  • Open the heart.
  • Submit to outside circumstances.
  • Build trust.
  • Pray.
  • Respond to the Holy Spirit.

It is one thing to talk about paradox but it’s another to actually live it. This takes a great leap of faith. It’s time to jump.

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There’s probably not a pastor or Christian fund raiser who hasn’t used the phrase, “it is more blessed to give than receive,” but it seems everyone has focused on the monetary piece of this and missed some other crucial possibilities. Giving is not limited to dollars and cents.

Acts 20:35
In everything I [Paul] did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ “

To be honest, I can’t even find a place where Jesus actually said this phrase in the gospels. That’s a bit problematic for me but for argument’s sake, let’s assume Paul wouldn’t make that part up.

But what else is he saying? I hear him emphasize the importance of hard work and how he and his followers met their own needs and still had enough to also meet some of the needs of others.

Paul gave what he had and in this case, I’m thinking it was his strength, his knowledge, his dauntless faith, as well as the fruit of his labors. As a former Pharisee, he was probably a good student. He knew what it meant to study and then to teach. He was smart. He was committed. He was zealous. When he became a follower of Jesus, he practiced and worked as a tent maker. He worked.

In Paul’s time, some people could not work. Some people were sick (both physically & mentally) and could not help themselves. Widows and orphans were alone in the world and needed support. People were caught in the cycle and web of poverty and despair. Any different from today?

Paul believed that those who can work, must work and share with those who cannot. But, again, it’s not just the money, it’s the work itself… the labor, the strength to do what must be done.

I am a high energy person. I know this. I can usually get a lot done in a day. My parents, my mother in particular, brought me up with a strong work ethic. I have worked at some kind of a paying job since I was fourteen when I lied about my age and washed test tubes and urine bottles in a medical lab (back in the day). Since then, I have been a candy salesman, a waitress (several times over), a bookkeeper, a bartender, a filing clerk, an office temp, a secretary, an administrative assistant, a toy salesman, a Realtor, a teacher, an actress, a model, a spokesperson, a mascot, a director, a playwright, a magazine writer, a director of a nonprofit agency, a manager of a dance company, a manager of a theater company, a speaker, a trainer, a photographer, an entrepreneur, a web master, a librarian, and a branch manager.

But work is not just physical labor, there is also the work of my mind and my spirit. Writing is work. Speaking is work. Thinking is work. Planning is work. Problem solving is work.

And then there are other non-paying jobs like washing dishes, mowing a lawn, cleaning a house, photographing an event, planting a garden, driving a car, cooking a meal, and raising children.

If I am capable of doing any of this work, then I am capable of giving from the fruit of this work (money) or I can give the work itself. There is even more power in giving my self and my time. I can be present. My spirit, my time, my strength, and my energy are probably my most precious commodities… even more so than the dollars I make with my knowledge and labor.

Yes, it is more blessed to give… of oneself… that to receive… of another. Here I am Lord, send me [Isaiah 6:8].

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Romans 8:11
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

Yesterday, Pastor Craig gave a powerful message for Easter calling us to strength, calling us to engage that same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead to raise us from our own crucifixions. When we face our most difficult trials, we must look to the One who can teach us, who can show us, who can uphold us from within.

Like all of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), strength is like them and comes from within; it, too, is an attribute of the Kingdom of God within us (Luke 17:20-21).

There is a tension between our own way and the way of Jesus. There is a tension between our own ways and the ways of the kingdom of God. We must surrender to this Way daily (… your Kingdom come, Your will be done in Earth as it is in heaven…). Note, I have changed “on earth” to “in earth” because I also think of Earth as my body… the flesh, the three-dimensional self and then the three-dimensional world/environment around me. “For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)

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    Today, as part of my daily devotion, I read Mark’s account of the crucifixion and these verses stuck out to me: “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

    And I was confounded… having for so many years thought there were only 3-4 women at the cross, but now I think there were many more women “disciples” than men. And the thing that kept them there was their FAITH! Their faith despite the circumstances… their faith despite the pain and disappointment… their faith despite the loss. This is my goal: steadfastness. [Special thanks to Chris Gollon for the use of his painting, Stations of the Cross VIII, Jesus speaks to the Women of Jerusalem, used by permission.]

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