Strength (unabridged)

How is your strength holding up? Do you feel like you have reserves left to draw upon, or do you feel your resources waning as the race progresses?

I flipped on the TV last night and caught the last few minutes of Rocky IV. Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) was fighting the monstrous, Russian heavyweight, Ivan Drago. As Rocky gasps for air between rounds, his eyes bleeding and swollen, his trainer keeps telling him, “No pain. You’re feeling no pain.”

Let’s face it, Rocky was in pain. But like any great fantasy, suspense was created as the end approached and I swelled with anticipation that Rocky’s mental focus would summon enough strength to prevail in the final round.

I identify. Life is like a great fairy tale.

On the one hand I am assaulted by demons, darkness, and a dragon of incredible proportion, Satan. On the other hand, I walk in light, am indwelled by the Spirit of God, have everything necessary to live a conquering life, and am assured of ultimate victory.

On my “good” days, or when I’m in the public eye, or composed enough to give you the edited version of my life, I hear myself talking like a champion: “No pain, Pres. You are feeling no pain. You are victorious, a noble warrior.”

But at other times, usually in quieter, darker moments, when I look in the mirror of myself and see my bloody, swollen eyes, I wonder how much I have left. What is the status of my reserve? How much strength do I really have? And more importantly, although I rarely give the question a voice: Is the strength I have left enough?

In addition to the comfort and courage generated through your prayers, we have also returned time and again to Ephesians 6:10 and the verses following. This is Paul’s amazing passage on spiritual warfare. And not surprisingly, it begins with a profound declaration: “Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might.”

As I contemplate this—also in my quieter moments, and often dark times—I note that the Scriptures do not exhort me to become strong or tap into my strength. Nothing seems to imply that I should assess the level of my reserves in order to project victory. The verse simply makes a declaration that I must adopt: Pres, be strong in your Father’s mighty strength.

Taking inventory of my strength as a person tempts me with two alternatives.

On the one hand, if I conclude I have the world on a string and life by the throat, I am tempted to be proud of my prowess, savvy, and astute giftedness. However, if the opposite appears to be the case, and I’m scrambling to keep my nose above water, I am tempted to believe I am beaten and weak, that the world has won, and that while God may win the war He has lost the battle in my life.

Such is the deceptive nature of evaluating the eventual outcome based upon personal strength. We are strong, not because of our strength, but our Father’s.

In light of being strong in the Lord’s strength, we are exhorted to manage ourselves as strong people.

As people who follow Christ Jesus, we are to put on the armor of God, stand firm, and pray at all times in the Spirit. As Paul penned this passage of Scripture recorded in Ephesians he was in prison, but he does not ask that the Ephesians pray for his release. He asks that they pray for the advancement of the gospel through his imprisonment (6:18-20).

This is indicative of strength, certainly of Paul’s strength, but ours as well. Last week, I wrote about prayer.

When I ask you to pray for me, I am not asking you to pray that I will be removed from the stress of the battle, but that I will honor Christ and advance His cause in the midst of the battle. This is how I pray for you. As strong warriors, why should we pray for each other otherwise?

Isn’t this a picture of spiritual warfare and the army of God? We are strong in His strength and we pray at all times for each other (6:10, 18).

Upon closer evaluation, our reserves of strength are infinite. Our encouragement and the proliferation of the gospel advances on intercessory prayer.