Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Weakness is Our Greatest Strength

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10 ESV) 

            I have been told that I am strong. They say I am strong because of the hardships that I’ve faced, and yet I continue to head in a good direction and make good choices for the most part. They say I’m strong because I've never stayed down for very long. They say I'm good at picking myself back up whenever I fall. And… I agree with them. I am strong, in the same way that my parents and friends are strong. We are strong because when life gets hard, we endure it and then persevere through it until life gets better.

            But quite honestly, I’m tired of being strong. I actually resent that word now because I don’t want to be strong any more. I know I can. I feel like I can keep going, but it’s very hard and exhausting and I just want someone who can help me. I have asked for help from many people who are close to me, and they’ve been helping me in the best ways they can, but I still feel like it’s not enough. I still feel like I have to find my own inner strength to keep myself on my feet, but I just want someone else to be strong for me, so that I don’t have to anymore.

“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 40:29-31 ESV)

            I guess that’s where God comes in. I have read that we turn to Him when every other option has failed us. My big problem is that I’ve never known how to find strength in God. I pray and read the Bible daily. I attend Bible study every other week, but I still don’t know how to draw strength from God’s endless supply. It baffles me. I talked to someone about this who I consider to have a personal relationship with God, but his answers didn’t help me. He told me to pray, read the Bible, and be in community with other Christians. I already do all those things, and though they are helpful, it’s just doesn’t seem like enough.

            I truly believe that we should turn to God for every hardship, thank Him for every triumph, and praise Him for giving us life. He is our strength, but understanding what that means takes more than just a few good Bible verses. It’s important to first ask, “what is strength?” How can we know how to have strength in God if we don’t even know what strength is? Umar Zulqarnain with the Huntington Post has a very nice answer:
“Strength is not drawn from hiding [your] wounds. Strength is not drawn from repression… Strength is not in offence, or defense. Strength is not tied to our ego… Strength has to do with vulnerability. Strength is in weakness… Strength is the internalization of our humility before God. It is the ability to let go of those wounds. It is acceptance. It is fearless but fearful… It is to know that strength is in God and is not acquired but provided… Strength is, ultimately, in love.”

            Then what does it mean and look like to have strength in God? I think the most important part of that answer is the ability to be vulnerable, and we are the most vulnerable when we feel the most helpless. That’s usually around the time we turn to God. We turn to God for different reasons – either we think we should because of religious obligation, everything and everyone else has failed us, or we have genuinely learned to put our trust and faith in Him because experience has shown us how reliable He is. When we have genuine faith and trust is when we fully know how to lean on God for strength, and there is a process for what this looks like. 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6 ESV)

            John Piper, who served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church for 33 years, explains that when we are searching for strength in God, we should use A.P.T.A.T., which means, “Admit, Pray, Trust, Act, Think.” When you face a hardship, first, Admit that you can do nothing.” Then, Pray for God’s help.” Trust a particular promise of God’s help.” In faith, Act by doing something to move forward. Finally, Thank God for the help received.” Piper stresses that the most important part of this process is trusting in God, and that most people usually skip from prayer to action. Remind yourself of the promises God has made us, such as how He will never forsake us, but instead hold us up and give us strength. Piper says that if you have trouble trusting in God, this is a good prayer: “I believe you, help my unbelief. Increase my faith in this promise. I’m trusting you, Lord, here I go.”

            In Whitney Hopler’s article, “How to Find Strength in Tough Times,” she explains a different process for finding strength in God that isn’t so step-by-step. When you’re struggling with something, she says, “Keep in mind that God is more interested in making your life holy than He is in making your life happy, because holiness has eternal value.” She doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want us to be happy, but instead that it’s more important to God that we become more Christ-like. To get closer to this ideal, she adds, “Instead of trying to avoid suffering, ask God to use it to accomplish good purposes in your life. Ask God to help you view your hardship from the perspective of how it advances God’s purposes for you.” Reframing how you see your struggle can be very liberating, and even help you to move past it.

            Hopler says another good thing to do during a hardship is to ask God “how you can best respond to the hardship you’re facing,” instead of why it is happening to you. The answer to the “why” may not be a reason you can understand yet. The answer to the “how” is more useful to you. Also, it’s a lot of wasted energy trying to discover God’s will for you, which is part of the “why” question. Hopler says we already know God’s will for us, which is, “to grow into a closer relationship with Him that translates into displaying Christ-like behavior regardless of your circumstances.” 

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. “ (2 Timothy 1:7 ESV) 

            God gives us strength and He has made us to be resilient. Often, I’m surprised by my own resilience. There are times when I feel so strong and like I can face whatever lies in front of me. Yet at other times, I feel fragile, weak, and broken. It’s then I wish someone would put me back together. With the support of my loved ones, I always bounce back and feel okay and strong again. I don’t understand how we as people can be capable of enduring so much pain, and then be happy again, Our ability to endure and persevere is a truly amazing quality.

            There are people, like Deborah Blum, who research resilience and have interviewed people from the most horrific backgrounds, and follow them throughout their lives to see what they choose to become. She found that, “About one-third of poor, neglected, abused children are capably building better lives by the time they are teenagers, according to all resilience studies. They are doing well in school, working toward careers, often helping to support their siblings.” Another study conducted on Hawaiians born into poverty and abusive homes discovered, “More than half had fallen, as teenagers, into petty crime. Of that group, only 10 percent of the females and one-fourth of males still had criminal records in their thirties. The majority had struggled, but had moved on.” Most of the time, the older we grow, the more resilience and strength we acquire to live better lives.

“Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4 ESV)

            Resilience research shows, “There is no timeline, no set period, for finding strength, resilient behaviors and coping skills.” Though more people seem to acquire it as they get older, everyone does it on their own time and in their own way. I think that for a lot of people, the will to keep going and make a change in your life happens at your lowest point. I also believe that this is where people are most open and vulnerable to God, because that’s all they have left, even if they don’t know it.

            I think everyone has strength in them, it’s just been brought out more in some than in others. And everyone has different types of strength. Research says that focusing on your strengths and believing in yourself can help you overcome your obstacles. Psychologist Ernestine Brown, Ph.D, explains, “You pick yourself up, give yourself value… If you can't change a bad situation, you can at least nurture yourself.” Even though there are a lot of things that are out of your control, find what is in your control, which is yourself. How you react to and handle different situations is important to whether you’re lifting yourself up or keeping yourself down.

            One way that you can lift yourself up is through faith, which is a big factor in people who transcend past their hardships. It doesn’t necessarily have to be faith in God, or in your own religion. It could be the faith in knowing there are things greater than yourself, or faith that the future will be okay. This faith leads to the “ability to perceive bad times as temporary,” which is an essential quality for being resilient and having strength.

            When your own strength and faith in yourself isn't enough, resilient people also have the very important quality of being able to ask for help. Blum says that those who can bounce back don’t even try to do it alone. “People who cope well with adversity, if they don't have a strong family support system, are able to ask for help or recruit others to help them,” she explains. I don’t think God has ever intended for us to do anything on our own, yet so many people believe that they have to, and that it’s weak to ask for help. On the contrary, research shows that strong people ask for help. Further, the main element in getting through a struggle is not having to do it alone.

“And call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Psalm 50:15 ESV)

            Sadly, when it comes to religion, a study has found that “people almost unanimously said that they had received little help from people in the church -- 56 percent said they had no one to talk to -- but that they held to the idea of guardian angels or a God who, as one man puts it, ‘will always love me and forgive me.’” Though it is incredibly important to ask other people for help, a sad truth is that they cannot always help us. Sometimes it’s that they don’t know what to do, and other times it’s hard to find people who understand and care. Yet, there is always a God who loves us and who will always be there for us.

            God renews our strength, but I think a lot of people misinterpret the term, "made new in Christ." I take "made new" to mean that we are different, better, and more Christ-like after using God's strength to overcome something. It doesn't mean that we are without scratches or dents. In a study based on interviews with forty adults who identified as growing up in traumatic family situations, it was found that, “Not one person in [the] study said that they had left their childhood unscarred.”  In fact, “Eleven percent said they considered themselves bare survivors, but an astonishing 83 percent said they had moved past, were transcending their childhood, building an adult life they could be proud of.” Steve Wolin sums up, “These are people who have struggled mightily and who have wounds to show for it. No one's story is a clean one; we are all a checkerboard of strengths and scars.”

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV)

            God made us to be resilient because He will always give us strength to get through any struggle that we don’t feel strong enough to get through alone. He’ll place someone in your life who will help you. He’ll talk to you through a sermon or a book. He’ll find any way that you’re open to receive, but my question is still, “how do I receive God’s strength? What do I do when I just don’t feel strong enough to continue?"

            You admit weakness. You humble yourself before God. And then you ask for help. Know that you cannot do it on your own, and that you do not have to be strong. It’s okay if you’re not strong enough, or if it’s too hard for you to keep going. You can let go of the idea that you have to overcome any obstacle through your own strength, because when you truly believe in God, you don’t have to. You can tell God, “I am not strong enough to get through this. Please lend me your strength.” And when you trust in Him, which can be incredibly scary to do, He will be strong for you.

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10 ESV)

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1 comment:

  1. I found this very enlightening and powerful. Thank you so much for sharing such wise words and profound realizations on strength. keep up your writing!