In my previous blog we examined how Paul, though suffering in a dark, death-filled dungeon, was able to write “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
I wrote about how how this verse is more often than not ripped out of context and made to say the opposite of what it really says. I also emphasized that Christ alone is our strength; not our abilities + Jesus, but only Jesus.
In this, the second part based on two sermons I preached in my home church, I want to look at the practicality of how Christ strengthens us. In other words, what does Christ’s strengthening look like in the life of the believer?
Through suffering. If you read the Bible, this is one of the most obvious. It’s not something we prefer to think about, sometimes we even deny it, but Jesus strengthens us through suffering:
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:8-10).
The God-ordained trials and tribulations of this life actually serve to strengthen us.
Isaiah 48:10 says “I have refined you, but not as silver is refined. Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.”
Napoleon Hill once wrote: “The strongest oak tree of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun.”
It’s important that we look at our circumstances as Paul did: as an opportunity to show Christ’s strength in our weakness. God uses suffering to strengthen us. How oxymoronic does this seem to us? That God would use suffering to make us stronger? God’s ways are not ours, and his word is clear that he strengthens us through suffering.
Through temptations and trials. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
James said that the trials and temptations of this life produce strength. He even called for us to consider our trials and temptations as “pure joy.” The facing of trials should bring us to the place where we recognize that in Christ we are more than conquerors.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35-37).
A.W. Tozer once said: “Elijah faced a sulking King Ahab and stared him down in the name of Jehovah, but we must remember that his courage to stand before kings was the result of years spent in standing before the King of kings. Christ stood silent in the presence of Pilate and for our sake went calmly out to die. He could endure the anguish of the cross because He had suffered the pains of Gethsemane the night before; there was a direct relationship between the two experiences. One served as a preparation for the other.”
Temptations and trials in our lives will be there – they’re a given. It’s important that we abandon our escapist mentality and accept it. God’s “escape plan” if you will, most of the time is that we learn to be content in it in our trials, for they produce strength. Trails and temptations are a means that Jesus uses to “train” us, the produce strength and endurance. Jesus uses trials and temptations to bring us to the end of ourselves, so that, like Paul, we can say that Jesus is our strength.
Through discipline. Hebrews 12:1-12 is a sermon unto itself. However, a few basic points need to be made:
- God’s discipline is not malicious punishment. Discipline means to teach or to set straight.
- God’s discipline is an act of love (v. 6).
- The point of discipline is to strengthen us in holiness (v 10-12).
Through the Gospel. “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Romans 16:25-27).
God uses his Gospel to strengthen believers so that they will indeed persevere in the obedience of faith and draw all attention to the glory of God. What is the gospel? It is the Good News that Jesus is everything. It is the “power of God.” The Good News that Jesus has come, lived, died, and ascended is something that we are in constant need of reminder! The Gospel strengthens us in our faith, in our hope, in our love, and in our passion for Jesus. The Gospel strengthens us in every aspect of our lives.
No matter what your situation or circumstance, not matter where you are, no matter how down and out or up and above you are, Christ is our strength, and he is strengthening us though suffering, trials, discipline, and the gospel. Recognizing these things, we can say with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”