Your Strength Isn’t Strong Enough

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of hosts.”
(Zechariah 4:6)

 Do you remember the Daily Affirmations by Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live?  Poor Stuart suffered from “stinkin thinkin”, negative thoughts that just brought him down.  He’d try to encourage himself, and those who came on his show, helping them to think positive.  And always, his mantra was, say it with me…

“I am good enough.  I am smart enough.  And doggone it, people like me.”

Now, not to be one who contradicts such sound philosophy, but there are times in our lives when, unfortunately we are not good enough, we are not smart enough, and doggone it, nobody likes us.  There are times when it seems the rug has been pulled out from underneath us, when conventional wisdom fails us, and our strength isn’t strong enough.  We face trials and persecution from the things we thought would bring us security; our jobs, our friends, our family; our world seems upside down.  The things we counted on for strength fail us, the people we trust let us down.  We find we are weak, we are tired, and we want to give up.  No amount of daily affirmation, no power of positive thinking, can get us out of this mess.

This is why we walk in faith.  We see from the very beginning of the story of Scripture that man was created to be dependent upon God.  We were designed to be in relationship with God, depending on Him, trusting in Him, walking with Him.  The Lord’s Prayer is so basic, yet so revolutionary, because it reminds us, restores us to this absolute dependency upon God.  We are taught to come to God for our daily bread, to turn to God for deliverance from evil, to seek God for forgiveness as we forgive others, and ultimately, to seek God’s glory and His kingdom and His will rather than our own.

Too often, though, we forget our dependency.  We buy the delusion of our success, get drunk in our own power, and we rest in our own accomplishments.  This was what God warned the Israelites about in Deuteronomy, knowing that when the people had success, they would take all the credit, saying, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth” (Deut. 8:17).  No, the Lord reminded them, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,  but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut. 7:7–8).

Friends, the truth of the matter is, so often we begin to rely on our own strength, to believe our own press (which we’ve probably printed), and have forgotten that our strength is in the Lord alone that truly the cross we carry becomes too heavy and begins to crush us.  It seems defeating, overwhelming, and humiliating; but even then the cross has purpose.

John Calvin wrote of the purpose of our cross saying,

When we are humbled, we are taught to rely on God alone, and we shall not stumble or sink down in despair.  For it is not small profit to be robbed of our blind self-love so that we become fully award of our weakness; to have such an understanding of our weakness that we distrust ourselves; to distrust ourselves to such an extent that we put all our trust in God; to depend with such boundless confidence on God that we rely entirely on his help, so that we may victoriously persevere to then end; to continue in his grace that we may know he is true and faithful in his promises; and to experience the certainty of his promises so that our hope may become firmer.

When your cross is too much to carry, find your strength in the one who carried the cross for you.  Learn to trust less in yourself, and to trust more in His grace and mercy.  Let his strength be made perfect in your weakness.  And remember it is “not by might, nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”


Out of the Water

There was a story told (probably apocryphal) in seminary about how crusaders, as they were preparing for battle, would be baptized with thier sword hand out of the water.  The soldiers would march through the water, with the water washing over thier heads, but their hands held high out of of the water.  They didn’t want to baptize the hand that would be used to kill their enemy.   Everything else had been consecrated and set apart for God, but their hand was their own, to do with as they please.

While this may seem rediculous to us today, its surprising how many of us still think this way.  We come to God and say, “Lord, here I am.  You can have everything I am, except for ________ (you fill in the blank).” 

Maybe it’s your playlist on your iPod.  Maybe it’s your wallet and the way you spend you money.  Maybe it’s your conversations (I knew one man who’s daily conversation was so riddled with “colorful metaphors” that I wondered if he had stuck his tongue out at baptism).  Maybe it’s your world view, your relationships, your career, you lifestyle. 

We’re afraid to let these things go.  Like an old pair of jeans, we’re comfortable with these things just the way they are – they provide physical and emotional security.  We’re afraid of the change that might come in our lives if everything came under the authority of Christ.  We’re afraid of how we might change, how other people’s consideration of us might change, if we give ourselves over entirely to the Lordship of Christ.  We’re afraid that Jesus might just say to us, “Lay down that sin – that pride, that promiscuity, that temper, that greed, that ungodliness – lay it down, let it be washed away.  Let me clothe you in righteousness and peace.”  And so we march on with our sin held high out of the water.

What are you keeping out of the water?  These unconfessed sins are actually keeping you from the fullness of joy that God has intended for you in Christ the Lord.  We struggle under the weight of these sins, clinging to them desperately, fearing the pain and uncertainty of letting go, when in reality, Christ’s “yoke is easy, and [his] burden is light.”

We aren’t meant to go through this life fragmented and disconjointed – this part of my life I will live for God, but my way of thinking or speaking or living I will choose what is best.  Everything we have, all that we are, ought to fall under His sovereign reign.  Eugene Peterson’s The Message summarizes the direction of a maturing Christian life so well, by saying that we to to fit “every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.”

Brothers and sisters, lay that burden down – let it go.  “Lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1).  Let Christ wash you, all of you, by the water and the word (Eph. 5:26), that you might be holy and blameless before Him.