Tagged ‘Strength‘

Finding strength through weakness

Most of you know I began a writing sabbatical back in November of last year. I was excited to have the time to work on the book that I believe God has led me to write. I was hopeful I could finish the book and get some rest as well. Over the past couple of years I have grown weary of being on the road, and the time at home seemed like a welcome respite. What has surprised me is how difficult it has been to find the creative space to write, and how I still feel worn out after four months off the road. This morning I was talking with God about all of it, and I want to share with you what I believe he is sharing with me.

I think I am beginning to understand how weak I really am, and that is a very good thing. I know that sounds odd, but let me explain.

I finished the rough draft of the book around the end of January. I was encouraged by the progress I had made. But then the distractions began to pile up, and I have been unable to finish the first rewrite. I have put off taking care of some physical issues. Now I am juggling doctor appointments and physical therapy appointments, working through several problems at the same time. At the same time, my Florida home has been a bed and breakfast with family and friends coming and going. I am also an Elder in my home church, and during the time that I have been on sabbatical, God led our church to permanently join forces with another great church in the area – an exciting move of God for sure, but an area that has required a great deal of work and focus. I also love my neighbors, and since I have been home it seems the needs around me have grown. At one point I even took in a homeless, elderly, widow lady who had been evicted from her home. I moved all of her possessions into my garage. She spent one night sleeping on my couch, and then I was able to find a Christian organization that would care for her. As I write this, her belongings are still stacked to the ceiling in my garage. What I thought was going to be a restful sabbatical has been exhausting. And always in the background, I hear this voice in my head telling me I am a failure for not finishing the book.

Which leads me to this morning. As the morning sun began to lighten the sky, I sat in my chair overlooking the back yard with a cup of coffee in hand and talked with God.

“God,” I said, “I don’t know what to do. I feel like such a failure. I guess I thought I could do this thing, this book project, and I am beginning to see how weak I really am. I just can’t seem to get it finished.”

In the stillness of that moment, God spoke to my spirit. “Tim, I never intended for you to be strong. It is not in your strength that you will accomplish my will. It is in recognizing how weak you are that my power is revealed in you. My power is made perfect in weakness, not strength.”

I was reminded of Paul’s words in the second letter he wrote to the church in Corinth. God had used Paul in powerful ways. But in his physical life, he was struggling. Three times he pleaded with God for healing, but each time the answer was “No.” In the end, this is what Paul had to say about being weak:

“But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses…” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV).

Paul was content with being weak. He realized that the grace of God was sufficient for his moment of weakness. He understood that the power of God was displayed in his weaknesses, not his strengths. I am beginning to understand the same thing.

Here, then, is the challenge. When I see God at work in my life, I tend to think, “Wow, this is exciting! Look what God is doing. This is what I was created to do. This is my place in the body of Christ. I’m going to serve God and use the abilities he has given me for the sake of the kingdom.” And then, because I am a type-A personality, I go for it, giving all I can for the kingdom of God. Sounds great. But is this really what God intended? I’m not so sure.

God gives each of us abilities and expects us to use those abilities for the kingdom of God. But he is the power that enables those abilities to be used. He is the hand. I am simply the glove. We don’t have the power in ourselves to do anything for the cause of Christ. He alone is our strength. I needed to be reminded of that truth today.

I do believe God will help me to finish the book when it is time. But I also know that God wants me to understand how weak I really am. Oddly enough, there is a peace that comes when I understand I cannot accomplish the work of God through my human effort. I am pitifully weak. But God is powerful beyond my comprehension. Because I believe he is in control of every event that comes into my life, I believe he has orchestrated these past few weeks and months to bring me to this understanding. Once I understand that being weak is really what God prefers, I can let go of the desire to be strong for him. I can also let go of the self-condemning voice that whispers, “You’re a failure.” After all, it is in the failing that I realize how weak I really am. And that, my friends, is actually a very good place to be. I find strength when I understand my weakness.

Friend, where are you at in your relationship with God today? Are you weak? God understands. It may be that he is bringing you to the understanding that his power is revealed in your weakness. Can you be content with that? I pray that you will. Consider these verses:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26, ESV).

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses…” (2 Corinthians 12:9,10, ESV).

As you read these words today, you may find yourself in a place where you feel helpless to do anything. Your weakness is staring you in the face and mocking you with reminders of your personal failures. In the stillness, you’ve reached a point where you don’t know what to do. Perhaps you need to have a talk with God over a cup of coffee. May I suggest a simple prayer for you?

“God, today I am weary. I am weak. I don’t know what to do. But I believe you understand my weakness. I believe you have orchestrated the circumstances of my life to bring me to this place. I come to you today in my weakness asking that you would help me to be content in you alone. Your grace is enough for me. I will rest in that understanding today.”

Friend, God never intended for you to be strong. It is not in your strength that you will accomplish his will. It is in recognizing how weak you are that his power is revealed in you. His power is revealed in your weakness, not strength. My prayer is that someday we would all be able to say with Paul, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses.”

He is the hand. I am simply the glove. But I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

This article was originally published in the April 2014 Newsletter.

His name is ‘I am the Lord’

What do you do when you are following God, but nothing seems to be working out right? Sometimes we think that if we are following God and being obedient to what he has led us to do, it will all turn out well. But that is not always the case. What do you do when it doesn’t work out the way you hoped? What do you do when the relationship fails and ends in divorce? What do you do when there is not enough money left at the end of the month to pay the bills? What do you do when the home you’ve invested your heart and soul into goes into foreclosure? What do you do when a loved one dies unexpectedly? What do you do when life doesn’t seem fair? What do you do?

Gratefully, God gives us many examples in Scripture of others who have struggled with these same questions. I have recently been reading the story of Moses leading the nation of Israel out of Egypt. The account is fascinating because it is loaded with scenes in which God directs and then Moses obeys, but chaos follows.

In Exodus, Chapter 5, we find Moses deeply frustrated with God. He ends the chapter with this lament to God:

“O LORD, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all” (Exodus 5:22-23, ESV).

Can you hear the frustration in his voice? Personally, I appreciate Moses’ candor with God. I am grateful that he expresses his frustrations because sometimes I do the same. Sometimes I don’t understand what God is doing. I don’t think it disrespects God when we humbly come to him and admit our humanity. Sometimes I say to God, “God, I don’t get you. I don’t understand what you are doing. It just doesn’t make sense to me.” In those moments I am not expressing arrogance. I am expressing my humanity. I am humbly coming to God and acknowledging that I am not God. I do not think like God thinks. I think like a man thinks. But gratefully, God understands my humanity.

What follows in Chapter 6 is a fascinating word from God. It is a long passage, but bear with me as I share it with you.

God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’” Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery. (Exodus 6:2-9, ESV)

I love the way God responds to Moses. God graciously explains to Moses the greater plan he has in mind for the Israelites. Up until this point, God had not appeared to the nation as a whole. He had appeared individually to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty. But even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob didn’t know God in the way he was about to reveal himself. God was about to introduce himself to the entire nation in a way that was different from anything he had done before. And when he does, the name he will use is “I AM THE LORD”. They are about to experience God in a whole new way. God is about to amaze them with the display of his lordship over every aspect of their lives. But it would not come easily. In fact, it would be some of the most difficult days of their lives.

God instructs Moses to speak a direct word from God to the people. Interestingly, everything Moses is instructed to say is contained within two identical phrases. They are like bookends on each end of the comments. “I am the LORD,” he says. It is as if he is saying, “From the beginning to the end and everything in between, I am in control. I am over all. I am aware. I know your situation. I am God over all.”

Allow me to summarize the phrases God uses in this exchange with Moses. Because I believe if you can hear what God is saying, you will find a great deal to encourage you in whatever situation you may be facing today. Here is what he said:

“I am the LORD. I will bring you out. I will deliver you. I will redeem you with my arms outstretched to you and with great demonstrations of my power. I will take you to be mine. I will be your God. You will know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under your burdens. I will fulfill my promise to you. I am the LORD.”

Friend, where do you find yourself today? Are you burdened with cares? Does life seem unfair? Have you found yourself saying, “God, I just don’t get it”? If so, I believe this word is for you. God is Lord over your situation. He knows everything you are experiencing. He has heard your cries. He is at work, even when you cannot see it. He is Lord. It is as if he comes to us in the trial and says, “Let me introduce myself to you in a way you’ve never known me before. I am the Lord over every situation you may face. I was Lord before your difficulty began, I am the Lord in the midst of your problem, and I will be Lord after it is over.”

He is Lord when you lose your job. He is Lord when your divorce is final. He is Lord when your loved one dies. He is Lord when your family is in chaos. He is Lord when you are physically sick. He is Lord when the car dies. In all and through all, He is Lord. Period. End of sentence.

On a final note, one of the most interesting aspects to the lengthy passage I quoted earlier is the final thought at the end of the paragraph. It says, “Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery” (Exodus 6:9, ESV). My heart felt heavy when I read that phrase. I felt for those people who had endured so many trials. They were so completely broken in spirit that the encouraging words of Moses couldn’t reach their hearts. They just couldn’t bear any more, and they couldn’t even hear the encouragement God was speaking to them. But God was Lord, even in their inability to hear him speaking to them. He understood their weakness. He felt the burden they had been carrying. His promise to deliver them would be fulfilled not because they trusted him, but because he cared for them.

Some of you today are broken in spirit. You may not even be able to hear the words of encouragement God is offering to you today. It is okay. God understands. His love for you is not dependent upon your ability to respond to his love. His promises remain. He will be faithful. He knows the times our knees falter. He knows when weakness overtakes us. He is the Lord, even in that.

He is our God, and his name is I AM THE LORD.

This article was originally published in the March 2014 Newsletter.

When You Are Weary

This article was originally published in the September 2013 Newsletter.

What do you do when you feel weary? We all get there at some point. Jobs wear us down, family issues pick away at our peace, or financial troubles squeeze both ends of the month like a vice. At some point, you become weary of it all. At that point, what do you do?

It may surprise you to know that I have to deal with being weary as well. I rarely speak about it except to my closest friends, but I do understand what it means to be weary.

Something changed in my mindset a couple of years ago. I really can’t tell you the day it happened, but at some point I started to become weary of being on the road, being gone for weeks at a time doing ministry. I’ve talked about it with my board members, seeking their counsel and advice. I’ve talked with pastor friends of mine, seeking their encouragement and wisdom. I’ve prayed about it countless times. Weariness. God help me. Please. There is a subtle pressure in being in a public ministry. It is possibly self-imposed, but it is there none the less, this expectation that I need to be “on” when I am with others, to be the encourager, to share my faith, to be the example. But sometimes, honestly, I get weary of it and just want to crawl away and hide.

So what do we do when we feel weary? For me, I take refuge in my relationship with God. The moment I realize I am becoming weary is the moment I pull back. I pull back from the work of ministry and focus simply on my relationship with God. It always comes back to the relationship with God. I spend more time talking with him than I normally would. I spend more time reading his word than I normally do. I focus on the relationship that matters most.

God is the strong one. I am the weak one. It is helpful to remember that. I am at my strongest when I understand how pitifully weak I really am. But God does not grow weary! He is strong beyond measure. The key then is to learn to wait on him. Consider what Isaiah wrote:

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:28-31, ESV, emphasis added).

It is a familiar passage to many of us, but please don’t miss the significance of what the prophet Isaiah wrote. Running ahead of God accomplishes nothing. It is those who have learned to wait for him who find the strength they need.

Why is it so difficult to wait? It is because we are prone to try and fix it on our own. We believe if we just work harder surely we can fix the situation. Our tendency is to focus on what we can do instead of focusing on what God can do. It seems so silly to just wait on God. But waiting on God is the key. The promise of strength is to those who are willing to wait.

Gratefully, Christ also gave us an example and encouragement to not grow weary. The writer of Hebrews wrote:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:1-3, ESV, emphasis added).

When we understand how much Jesus loves us and how much he was willing to endure on our behalf, then we can focus on him in the midst of our trial. He has gone before us. He understands our weakness. He knows what it means to endure. We remind ourselves of these truths so that we may not grow weary.

Allow me to share with you one final verse that has been a great encouragement to me personally. It is from the writer of the book of Hebrews again.

“God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do” (Hebrews 6:10, ESV).

I’ve meditated on this verse countless times. I’m grateful God understands my humanity, my tendency to become weary in well doing. I’m humbled that he is “not so unjust as to overlook” the small sacrifices I’ve made that sometimes lead me to becoming weary. And I’m grateful that Jesus has set the example of what it means to give all for the sake of love. He is my friend, my companion, my love.

Perhaps you are reading this today and you can relate to the feeling of being weary. Maybe right now life is kicking you hard. I feel for you. I pray that you will be encouraged in your relationship with God. Find your refuge in him. Spend more time talking with him than you normally would. Tell him how you feel. Spend more time reading his word than you normally would. Wait on God. Focus on Jesus. Find your rest in him.

When you are weary, wait.