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Monday, January 6, 2014

Just a bolt of material?

Strength - something we strive for, hold onto for dear life, and which often seems to evade us in the moments we need it most.  For most, the first thing which comes to mind when we think of strength is the brute force by which we can do some things.  In fact, we probably have all passed around a jar of some condiment or pickles at one time or another, each taking turns trying to get the lid undone so we might enjoy what is inside.  It goes from person to person, until someone in their wisdom takes a tact of hitting the lid ever so squarely on the side of the sink, allowing the seal to be broken, then gingerly uncaps the jar.  What most of us did was rely upon our physical strength, but what the last one did was to rely upon their brain strength to figure out the solution to the problem!  So, we have both mental and physical strength - both sometimes evading us more than we'd desire to admit!  But...there is another type of strength which sometimes evades us just as much - we might call it moral strength, or perhaps spiritual strength.  Some might think of this as courage, or the ability to withstand all manner of attack.  I daresay, this may be the hardest kind of "strength" to develop and one which seems to elude us most when we need it.

God makes his people strong.  God gives his people peace.  (Psalm 29:11 MSG)

As if to set us straight on this matter of where this "moral" or "spiritual" strength really comes from, the psalmist simply states:  God makes his people strong.  Don't miss the word "makes" in this passage.  It isn't God "developing" strength in us because we exercise some spiritual muscle or moral fibers.  It is him "making" us strong through a variety of means - none of which we can take credit for when it is all said and done.  Go to the gymnasium and engage in isotonic and isometric exercise and you might develop some pretty substantial physical muscles.  You did the work - the muscles are a result of your efforts.  Read some books, apply the knowledge contained within, and you might just develop some mental strength - the ability to figure out tough stuff.  You did the work - the mental ability came because you applied the knowledge, battled through the mess of wrong answers, until you got to the place where you figured out the solution to the problem.  On the other hand, spiritual strength is really a result of what we stop doing in order to gain it!

Spiritual strength comes not from us taking control of the situation and showing our "might", but it comes in laying down our control and seeing God's might displayed through us.  It is in a submissive act where spiritual strength is developed - not in a resistive action!  Physical and mental strength come because we resist something.  In going after physical strength, we apply resistance to our muscles to see them stretched and built up.  In the pursuit of mental strength, we try this solution and that one until we come to a place of getting it right each and every time we attempt a similar problem.  We resist the urge to give up until we find the right answer.  In the development of spiritual strength, it is God who "makes" us strong - not because we employ the tactic of resistance, but because we employ the attitude of submission.

In the most literal sense, strength is the capacity to manifest energy, to endure, and to resist.  The strength God gives to us provides a tremendous amount of spiritual energy - to keep us going when we find the circumstances too difficult to endure any longer in our own ability.  To "make" implies you change the "material" of something in order to "make" it into something else. For example, if you have a flat piece of material, you don't just drape that around your body and call it a garment.  Instead, you carefully cut out several pieces, fashioning it into a shirt complete with two arms, a couple of pockets, some buttons to hold it closed, and a collar to give it some style.  You "made" it from the materials at hand, but you added to it what it lacked in its original form.  You gave it new structure by adding in the thread and buttons.  You may have added a little sizing to give the collar a little firmness.  In essence, you could have worn the material and called it a shirt, but when you cut away at the material and sewed it into the new garment, you made it become a shirt!

God "makes" us strong in much the same way.  We are like unformed material.  We serve a purpose as material - but we serve a divine purpose once his hands fashion our material into something still very recognizable as the "basic" material, but quite well "pieced together" to form something not previously recognizable in the "flatness" of our unformed material.  God's strength comes as we "lay down" our desire to be unformed material and begin to allow his hands to fashion us into what it is he designs for us.  Just sayin!