Pacing bear at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Strong

I think of myself as a strong person. I’m independent and self-reliant, almost to a fault, and I hate asking for help. The way I look at it, if it’s something I have to ask help in completing, maybe it’s something I don’t need to worry about doing. Many times, I’d rather not do it if I can’t do it alone.

But that’s a silly, prideful way to live because nobody is really strong enough to make it through life alone. The older I get, the more I begin to understand exactly what it costs to be that strong, and the more I learn that I really don’t understand strength at all.

Pacing bear at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Pacing bear at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Chronicles 16:11.

Search for the Lord and for his strength;
    continually seek him.

I blogged on this verse earlier this year, focusing on how it says we’re supposed to seek God. Continually. But this morning, something else stood out to me that I hadn’t really seen before.

This verse is nestled in a song David sang as his armies were in the process of moving the Ark of the Covenant (the symbol of God’s presence on Earth in the Old Testament) back to Jerusalem. He sang this as they reached the city, if I have my timeline right. It’s a long song, and you can find it in 1 Chronicles 16.

This statement is in between lyrics about praising God for what He’s done and remembering the greatness of His deeds. But what struck me this morning wasn’t the bit about continually seeking God. That’s important because it’s easy for us to lose focus. What hit me as I read this verse today was the statement that we need to be searching for the Lord and for His strength.

Really?

It’s not surprising to me that we need to search for God’s strength, I guess. I’m not strong enough to make it alone; I get that. But what does God’s strength look like? Have you ever wondered? Ask yourself what that means.

God’s strength.

Strength has many definitions and connotations. There are many different kinds of strength, and I think we need to be clear about which one God is talking about.

Are we talking about the strength to create a universe out of nothing? Are we talking about the strength to part the Red Sea and leave it gaping open long enough for millions of people to cross over on dry land? Are we talking about the strength to stop the sun in the sky?

God did all of those things for the Israelites, and all of those things demonstrate that God is very strong. But is that the strength we’re supposed to search for? I don’t think so. Because that kind of strength is unattainable for us. I don’t think God would tell us to seek something if it were something we could never achieve.

So what kind of strength does God possess that we can achieve? What kind of strength can we learn from Him? Well, this is my personal opinion, but it makes sense to me.

It takes more strength to be patient and to wait for God to answer a prayer than it does to get up and try to do it myself. Action is easy; waiting is difficult.

I think it takes more strength to love people truly than it does to ignore them. Indifference is easy; love is difficult.

I think it takes more strength to get up the second time I’ve fallen down than it does to stand up before I fall the first time. The first try is easy; the second and third tries are difficult.

Real strength is facing those difficult moments in life without hesitation because it’s what God has called us to do, because it’s the right thing to do. That is the kind of strength God has, and that is the kind of strength He wants us to seek.

God is patient, especially with us. God loves, even when it hurts Him. God never gives up on us, even when we give Him every reason in the book to turn away and never look back. And it takes a strength far beyond the physical to do all of that. So maybe we can’t physically have the strength of God, but we can mimic His strength in the way we live and in the way we treat each other.

What does it mean to seek His strength? Well, as much as I hate to admit it, just like in Wal-Mart or Sears, the best way to find something you’re looking for is to ask for directions. So ask Him for it. Life isn’t one big scavenger hunt with God giggling about our failures from the sky. It’s more like a treasure hunt, and He’s waiting for us to ask Him for the map.

Lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

God gives His people strength

Tired yet? It’s only Tuesday, and my feet are already dragging.  Judgement House, the outreach drama my church puts on every October, is an amazing ministry. There is no other ministry I love being a part of more; however, I can tell you there’s no other ministry that exhausts me more.

We finished on Sunday, and now I’m trying to remember how to live a normal life again, without spending every waking moment ensuring that tour groups have a guide to lead them every ten minutes.

Like so many other people who volunteer for Judgement House, I work a full-time job. And it’s not just a job; it’s a very stressful job. I love it, and I’m thankful for it. But it’s fast paced, high tension, and 100 percent necessary to be able to think on my toes. All of the above are difficult when I’m physically, mentally, and emotionally worn out.

So where do I get the strength to make it through the week? How can I get the strength I need to do not only what is necessary but also what God expects of me? How do I accomplish that, and how do I stop worrying about it?

Lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 29:11.

The Lord gives his people strength.
    The Lord blesses them with peace.

I love the Bible. Seriously, any question you have, it has an answer. Like this. Where do you get strength? Ask God.

God strengthens His people.

Think about that. If you follow Christ, you are one of God’s people. And God will give his people strength when they need it.

I will admit: I almost didn’t use this verse today. Why? Well, it’s obvious. Isn’t it? Of course, we get our strength from God. Of course, God gives us peace. Where else would we get it from? Granted, we can look for it elsewhere, but we won’t find it. And if you’ve been following Christ for any amount of time, you’ll know that nothing else satisfies like He does.

Honestly, this verse didn’t grab me until I read the whole Psalm. Yes, God gives his people strength. But what does that mean? How can we wrap our minds around the kind of strength that God is offering to us? That’s what the rest of the Psalm is about. This is a wonderful verse, but it’s impossible to grasp the immensity of this promise until you read the rest of it.

Psalm 29

Honor the Lord, you heavenly beings;
honor the Lord for his glory and strength.
Honor the Lord for the glory of his name.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.

The voice of the Lord echoes above the sea.
The God of glory thunders.
The Lord thunders over the mighty sea.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord splits the mighty cedars;
the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon’s mountains skip like a calf;
he makes Mount Hermon leap like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes
with bolts of lightning.
The voice of the Lord makes the barren wilderness quake;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord twists mighty oaks
and strips the forests bare.
In his Temple everyone shouts, “Glory!”

The Lord rules over the floodwaters.
The Lord reigns as king forever.
The Lord gives his people strength.
The Lord blesses them with peace.

Do you see? Do you get it? God’s voice alone can split the sky, tear massive trees apart, and cause mighty mountains to tremble. Literally. That’s just His voice.  Imagine what the rest of Him can do. And He offers that strength to us.

So if you’re tired today, whether you volunteered at NewSpring’s Judgement House or not, know that it’s all right to be tired. We’re all human. We all run out of steam. But we don’t have to stay exhausted. God is standing by waiting for us to ask for His help.

God has offered His strength to us. And I, for one, intend to take Him up on it. Because coffee, though wonderful, can only accomplish so much. To get through a day when I’m tired to my soul, I need strength that doesn’t come from me. And thanks to Jesus, all I have to do to get it is ask for it.

Q'eqchi School on the hill

Being tough and stubborn only wears you out

I’m pretty tough. And I’m really stubborn. A friend once told me he could outlast me in stubbornness because he was Irish. I had to inform him that I was Irish and Scottish, so he was doomed. And I have had many friends tell me they wished they could be tough, but let me tell you, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. And when you throw stubbornness and pride into the mix too, it’s a recipe for disaster.
 
There isn’t much I can’t handle on my own. I don’t say it to be proud. It’s just the truth. But that means I grow accustomed to walking in my own strength and relying on my ability to understand things. So when the days come (and they have come) that I can’t handle something, I falter.
Q'eqchi School on the hill

Q'eqchi School on the hill - Esfuerzo II, Peten, Guatemala

 The most difficult physical circumstance I’ve ever experienced was my trip to Guatemala in 2011. I have posted my journal about the trip, and the two others I’ve taken, here on this blog. Please understand I’ve been on a lot of rough trips, and I wasn’t worried or scared. But I was acclimated to an office job.

Our goal was a little Q’eqchi village deep in wilderness area, called Esfuerzo II. We had to ride a four-wheel-drive vehicle to get to the beginning of the path, and then the only way there was hiking or on horseback.

So when we hit the road and started hiking (because I refused to ride a horse), I didn’t anticipate how quickly I would dehydrate. I’d drank all my water and still couldn’t start sweating again, and we were only halfway there. I knew I was in trouble, but I thought I could keep going. Why? Because I’m tough. And I’m stubborn. And I should have stopped right then and asked for a horse. I thought about it. But I don’t like horses, and I don’t feel comfortable with them. And I figured I would cause more trouble if I tried riding one. So I pushed on and didn’t say anything.

Well, I didn’t push on long. I was so fried I could hardly walk, and I’m thankful I had someone on the trip with me who’s more stubborn than I am (yes, Colonel, I’m talking about you). I ended up on a horse for the rest of the way (I would never have made it otherwise), and then the village found some gringo-size horses for us to ride back. And they got the biggest kick of watching me trying to mount a horse on a plastic chair. Probably the best entertainment they’d had in months.

I remembered this story when I read today’s verse, Philippians 4:13.

“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

It’s a common verse, one just about every Christian knows. But I think we know it so well that we think we don’t have to live it. Or it’s one of those verses that falls to the backs of our minds because we’ve heard it so many times.

What if we could really live like that? What if we could actually live every moment in Christ’s strength instead of our own? I know people who do, and I want to get there. Because living in my own strength, I’m limited. In my own strength, there are things I can’t accomplish, and I don’t to miss an opportunity to do something amazing for God just because I was too stubborn to accept His strength and tried to achieve it on my own.

I’m not saying that Christ is going to give people strength to climb on horses and ride around in the jungle with no water. I mean, He could if He wanted to. But generally, you have to work up the physical ability and the tolerances for things like that.

But what about loving people? What about being bold? What about having courage to do something no one expects from you? What about stepping outside the box? Shoot, what about burning the box? Most of those things are more frightening than dying of dehydration in a jungle, as far as I’m concerned.

If you’re living in Christ’s strength, nothing is impossible. There’s nothing He can’t do through you. You just have to let go. Being tough and stubborn about it, isn’t worth it.

God never abandons us; we just stop listening to Him.

It’s good to remember that God is faithful to us. I really just don’t know why He loves us the way He does. It’s beyond me. Because He is so great, and we are so much trouble. And way past being trouble, we only care about ourselevs. And even after He gives us everything we need and most everything we want, we still aren’t happy and we still don’t thank Him the way we should. We’re just selfish.

But He is faithful. He’s faithful to us, especially when we aren’t faithful to Him.

It’s a kind of love that I don’t understand. He never gives up on us.

Today’s verse is 2 Thessalonians 3:3.

3 But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.

One thing is certain and that is God is faithful. He says it over and over and over again, and in other verses He promises to lead us and protect us and never leave us. So what does that mean when you feel lost and vulnerable and alone? Does that mean that He’s left you?

No. Because God is faithful. But just becuase He’s faithful doesn’t mean that He always has to talk to us. Sometime we need to learn to be content with the silence. And sometimes silence is an indication that something is wrong.

God remains faithful to us no matter what, but we are cold-hearted, selfish people. And we rarely remain faithful to anyone but ourselves. I think so much of “being faithful” as far as God goes depends on our perspective. I think that’s why people believe that He leaves us or that He abandons us. I think sometimes people get to the point where they only want what they want and  if God tells them that what they want will hurt them, they don’t listen. And they do it any way. And so when they are dealing with the ramifications of their actions, they feel like God has abandoned them. And that’s not true. God never abandons us. We just don’t want to follow Him or do what He tells us to do, so we stop looking for Him.

And that’s the idiocy of humanity: We whine about God forsaking us when we aren’t really looking for Him in the first place.

If we are in that place in our lives — that blind place where we only see the things we want and only do the things we want — even if God materialized right in front of us and ask that we follow Him, I don’t think we would do it. People are just like that. Given a choice, they will usually do the things that are bad for them.

 3 But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.

How many of you read that and wondered why it wasn’t true in your life? Obviously, I don’t know your circumstances. I just know my own. And I know that I have struggled with this so many times that it can’t just be me who feels this way.

How many of you feel like God isn’t faithful? How many of you feel like God hasn’t strengthened you or guarded you from evil?

The first thing you need to find out is if you want God to be faithful to you. Because part of God being faithful is protecting you and keeping you from doing things that you shouldn’t be doing, things that will hurt you, things that will destroy your testimony, things that will destroy your life and the lives of the people around you. So how can God strengthen you if you don’t want to be strong? How can God guard you from evil if you keep looking for it?

Granted, God will be faithful to you no matter whether you want it or not, but if you aren’t listening He won’t change you and you’ll keep living your life as you always have.

I want God to be faithful to me. I want Him by my side every day. I want Him to keep me strong and keep me on the right track. I want to listen to Him and learn what He has to tell me about life and about myself and about the future. It’s a desire that I struggle with on a daily basis because the dark part of me doesn’t want it. That dark, evil part of my nature is suffocating sometimes and overpowering at other times, but God has given us all the strength to overcome our old natures. We just have to do it.

What’s amazing to me about God’s faithfulness is that it truly is eternal and uncompromising. He loves us. He always has. He always will. And He is always waiting for us to get our heads on straight and come to Him. And when the day finally comes that we get it through our thick skulls that we can’t live without Him, He rejoices and runs to meet us, like we were the only ones He was looking for. And no matter what we have done or where we have been, He welcomes us with open arms because He loves us. And because He is always faithful, most especially when we aren’t faithful to Him.

God’s strength gives us grace

We get a lot of deer out where I live, not so many at this time of year, but around November is when they really start popping out of everywhere. That’s when you really have to start watching the road because they tend to jump out in front of you without any notice. They’re incredibly graceful creatures, though. They have amazing balance, and they can jump over fences with ease. And if they’re incredible in the Plains, they’re even more incredible in the mountains.

Deer have a lot of confidence while jumping from rock to rock. They are coordinated and strong and balanced and graceful and swift.

That was what I thought about when I read today’s verse, Habakkuk 3:19.

19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
      He makes me as surefooted as a deer,[a]
      able to tread upon the heights.

People don’t read Habakkuk like they should, I don’t think. It’s one of my favorite books in the Bible, and it’s a lot of fun to say over and over again (kind of like Humperdink).

It’s kind of funny if you think about what this verse is saying. To me, it says that God’s strength gives us grace. And that is very true. God is strong enough to forgive us, to give us things we don’t deserve. That’s the very definition of grace.

One of the reasons I love the Bible. Double meanings. The same fact means two different things.

God’s strength gives us grace in that it provides us with the balance we need to survive the trials of life without falling. To really grasp what it’s saying, let me include the same verse out of the Amplified Bible.

19The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]!

Deer are graceful creatures, able to leap from rock to rock without difficulty. What this verse is saying is that by putting our confidence in God, He will give us the same ability to work through our troubles.

When we are confronted by life’s many problems, it’s really easy just to stop. The easiest thing to do is to stand still and stop trying, especially because it feels like everything you do just makes it worse. And while it is definitely a good idea to be still on occasion, it’s never a good idea to give up. And if you think about it from a deer’s perspective, if they stand still long enough, they’re going to get shot. And besides, watching a deer stand still is no fun; I like to watch a deer move. Because then I can marvel at God’s creativity in making such an amazing creature.

It’s the same with us. When we face troubles without giving up, it gives others a chance to see the grace and balance and strength of God through us.

So even though they’re a pain, I will try to welcome troubles when they come my way. Because the more opportunities I have to trust God, the closer I’ll get to Him. And the more troubles I go through, the better other people can see Him through me.