Who was strong? The wise man who built his house upon the rock!

Becoming Strong

“What does God’s strength actually mean?” I recently began to ask myself again and again. Is strength physical? Spiritual? Available? Is it even a promise? Strength is all over the Bible, a common theme in worship music, and used to encourage. A struggle with a fatigue had awoken me to the fact that, not only do I not understand the strength of God, but that I actually doubt it. Doubt is never a good place to be in, but it is dangerously easy to fall into during times of weakness. Hungry for truth to combat and answer my doubts and questions, I am turning intensively to Scripture to see what the LORD had to say about His strength. An intriguing passage on the subject is found in Jesus’ well-known Sermon on the Mount:

  

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. 48 He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” (Luke 6:47-50). 

Here Jesus describe two different people with two different outcomes. The first is obviously a man of wisdom; when he hears Jesus’ words he puts them into practice. The result? His house was built on a foundation of such security that floods and torrents could not shake it. Because he did as Jesus said his house was stronger than anything the physical world could throw at him.

            The second man had a starkly different outcome. He heard Jesus’ words but didn’t take them any further than that. The result? His house had no foundation. Other versions of this story say he built his house upon the sand. The same storms that the first man’s house withstood devastated this man’s house. Jesus goes so far as to say “its destruction was complete.”

            Two things about this analogy speak clearly into strength. First, the storms of life affect everyone, for The Father “sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:45b). The flood and torrents Jesus described hit the first and second man equally. The first man’s wisdom did not stop the storm from hitting his house just as the second man’s foolishness did not cause the storm. The difference lies in what the storm was able to accomplish in each case. For the first man, the storm hit his home with the force of all its torrents but could not shake it. This powerful storm could do no damage! Why? The man had built his life on the words of God by believing them and practicing them. A life of strength begins with taking the Word of God deep into our heart and then living it out in real and practical ways. Doing this is not going to keep storms at bay. We are not going to ward off heartache, disease, tragedy, or any other unpleasantness. We are going to be able to withstand it unscathed. Consider this promise,

“But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, 
   whose confidence is in him. 
8 He will be like a tree planted by the water 
   that sends out its roots by the stream. 
It does not fear when heat comes; 
   its leaves are always green. 
It has no worries in a year of drought 
   and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

 

For the righteous man in the parable, that year of drought came. The heat came. But, like a well-watered plant, his leaves remained green and vibrant; he did not wither or fade under trial. Consider another promise of God,

When you pass through the waters, 
   I will be with you; 
and when you pass through the rivers, 
   they will not sweep over you. 
When you walk through the fire, 
   you will not be burned; 
   the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:2

 

Here again we see God’s children walking through fire and deep water, but emerging victorious and strong. This is what living in the strength of God looks like. It is not God using his sovereignty and power to shield us from hardship. It is continuing to take in and then live out the words of this God even when trials press upon us. This practice, though painful at times, produces in us that steadfastness that testifies of strength. A person with a complete faith characterized by hearing and doing, no matter what comes, is strong in the LORD. Storms that shake others do not shake them because they are standing on the only thing that cannot change, the LORD God Almighty.

So, we become strong by hearing the words of the LORD and putting them into practice. The second crucial lesson from this passage comes from the second man, the man whose foundationless home was destroyed by the storm. Looking carefully at his description, a shocking truth emerges. It is easy just to think of this man as foolish and ignorant. Foolish he may have been, but ignorant he was not! Jesus says, “But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation.” The second man in the story was not ignorant about the words of God; he had actually heard them! He knew what God had said; we could even take the liberty of implying that he knew the Bible. His house fell even though he knew the words of God, because he failed to take a vital step: putting those words into practice. If we are brutally honest, we will see much of ourselves in this man. How often do we go to church, listen to Christian music, read our daily chapter of the Bible but fail to carry out what we have heard? I had an experience through music that brought this lesson to life.

One night I was in our living room crying out to God over a sin issue I had been struggling with. As I was praying, music from a random song on the radio kept floating through my head. I decided to play it as I continued in prayer. However, I also chose to pull up the lyrics and read them as I listened. Doing this brought me to my knees and more tears to my eyes as I realized for the first time the truth the song conveyed. The song’s music is beautiful; I had listened to it many times and been moved simply by that even apart from the words. Each time I would hear it I would catch lovely phrases such as “Oh what mercy has been granted me,” and “our God of strength, our deliverer.” But, as I listened to the song in its fullness and entirety that night, the powerful words around those scattered phrases I had previously caught penetrated my heart with new understanding. The first verse goes,

 

O what mercy has been granted me 
for the filthy rags I’ve worn 
clothed in sacrifice too great to speak 
and of new life reborn 
still my darkness veils all the victories 
that you’ve seen me through 
the prisons I have counted each 
a wall of sin so high I cannot reach 
Jesus Christ who died for me 
gave his life so that I could be free 
he gave his life so that I could be free.

 

The song was about so much more than I had realized when I was “half-listening.” It was only when I gave the song my full attention that the lessons of God’s truth penetrated my heart in a way that changed the way I thought and lived.

 

How much more so are we with the words of God? It is not enough to read them or listen to them half-heartedly as I had done with The Hymn. It is not enough just to go to church and listen to a sermon. It is not even enough to just read the Bible. We must take in His Words in such a way that we become convinced and determined to live them out. Putting the Word into practice is our only hope of withstanding life’s storms; it is God’s prescription for strength! We must live by his words for “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes out of the mouth of God.” And, we can only live strongly by God’s words when we know them. If we do not know, how then can we act? Knowing God’s Word is a journey, not something we fully acquire overnight, but a continual and joyful return to the wellspring of life. To live as Christians of strength we must first hear the words of God and then put them into practice.

 

 

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Where is God when [we’re tired]?

How many of us admit to being tired more often than we’d like? I sure do! There is so much these days that taxes a woman’s energy: working full or part time, kids (working with kids!), cooking creatively and healthfully, keeping the house clean for our families, etc. All our obligations require an input of energy to perform well and thus draw from our reserves. Fatigue is often the result. I know that in my own life when I am tired I feel that I am weak and need to be stronger.

I also struggle with being constantly tired, which has led me to often feel that I am feeble: not living in the strength of the Lord. It has led me to doubt that the Lord really does give strength to his people. I feel at times that I don’t know what strength even means!

Have you ever felt like that? Thrown into doubt in the midst of a trial that challenges your understanding of the Lord? This is not an uncommon experience; in fact, it’s so common that the Bible speaks into it again and again. As I just said, I was recently thrown into confusion over what the strength of the Lord actually meant as I began to doubt that he was willing to give me strength [in the way that I expected and in my own time frame, of course!].

Being tired complicates all tasks, simple and difficult. It’s also hard to get rid of when life doesn’t allow that highly desired time-out! It can become quite an annoying presence. Everyone knows that when you are tired the last things you want to do, or feel that you can do, are the ones that actually need to be done: working, cleaning the house, paying bills, cooking meals, etc.

For me, all these complications are really minor when I compare them to my attitude towards God that arises from unrelieved tiredness. Fatigue often leads me to doubt God’s ability to give me physical energy and to feel “in the dark” about His Word’s promises of strength. “What does God’s strength actually mean?” I have asked myself time and time again.

A recent, low-energy day sent my mind spinning again with these questions and doubts. It was another one of those days, those tired days, when I could feel the weight of each step and each minute of the clock counting down to the work day’s end. I was fed up and on the brink of tears, “God, I’m SO tired of being tired!” I cried out to him, following it up multiple times with my usual prayer in this type of situation, “Please give me energy!”

As usual (although there have been exceptions) that physical energy didn’t come. I wondered again what the strength of the LORD actually was, and what it meant for me as His child. I doubted his goodness and that he would ever choose to send strength. This of course did anything but comfort my spirit; obviously something was amiss in my understanding of the LORD.

In response to these questions, I began a deep, investigative look at the strength of God as revealed in Scripture. I wanted to understand God’s strength for his people; this strength that has been their rock for thousands of years. I want my view of His strength to be “mature and complete, not lacking in anything,” to use the words of James 1:4.

Early in the journey I sensed God calling me to let go of distress over tiredness that caused me to doubt his power. I heard him whisper, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Somehow, His strength increases as ours decreases. I have to admit that at first when I heard the Lord whisper this verse I entertained an absurd image of a powerful God cruelly enjoying himself growing stronger and stronger as his people shrivel in weakness. Ridiculous? Yes! But the experience of having that completely unbiblical, although fleeting, thought showed me just how much more I needed to be grounded in God’s truth. His strength in the midst of our weakness is a promise.

Paul, whom the Lord spoke these words to long ago, responded to that truth in this way:

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Wait a second, was I really to rejoice in tiredness rather than just trying to pray (or grumble) it away? Was it really a weakness that God’s power could turn into a greater strength than could be imagined? Yes! I don’t completely understand how, God’s Word is infallible truth. If we cannot trust that, what do we have left to stand on? There is comfort in His Promises, even if we don’t understand them entirely.

A sermon at church in one of the following weeks brought it all into a crystal clear light. The speaker was discussing David’s cries to God as recorded in the Psalms. One of his main points was that David turned to God even though he felt that God was far off and that God had let him down. Not only is David’s honesty encouraging to us as believers, but the direction in which he turned in the midst of trial is key. He turned to God. As the speaker was expounding upon this, I realized something very important. David’s faith was strong. Regardless of how he felt, he was able to turn to the God he knew was true and unchanging. His faith was not built on emotions. It was built on truth

Here is the heart of this matter: if our faith is built on emotions, then we will confuse God with those emotions. If our understanding of God’s promises is built upon our feelings of whether or not he is being true to them, then we will confuse our experience with God’s workings. With a faith built on emotion we will think that God is weak and distant if we ever feel weak and alone. We so desperately need to build our faith on what his Word says: the promises and truth it proclaims. In weakness, we must look to our Solid Rock who is unchanged by our own shifting shadows.

I know that our answer to doubting God’s promises is to turn our gaze away from our deceptive circumstances and onto his glorious truth. Life is full of things that would pull our attention elsewhere, but we must fight this! Strong faith is not built upon emotion and it is not built upon us; it is built upon God’s Word. Be like the man in Jesus’ parable who heard God’s Word, put it into practice and became like one with a house built upon the rocks instead of the sand.

We can be confident that God gives wisdom generously to all who ask without finding fault. When we ask for understanding, he has promised to provide. If we can face our troubling trials with these beautiful and unsearchable truths, I know God will be glorified. And that is enough.  Image

Miniature-evangelism

Psalm 8:1-2 “you have set your glory above the heavens, from the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise.”

I’d like to take you into a very colorful, creative, often noisy but very precious room. It’s the 4-year-old kindergarten classroom at the Elementary School where I am privileged to work. This classroom was an answer to prayer even before I stepped into it for the first time. After spending 5 years in college becoming a Registered Dietitian, I was eager to finally start working a real job. But, that job never came. I interviewed and applied over and over, but each time the rejection was the same. During this time, the Lord began confirming my passion for working with children rather than with. At the end of June, I ended up being hired at this small, rural school and beginning a journey that has readily proved itself to be a rich blessing. Even as I write, I know I have only seen the beginning of it! The richest blessing so far came out of the mouth of a tiny girl in my class a couple months ago.

It was snack time one Thursday afternoon. Everyone was seated at a snack spot munching away on muffins, spraying crumbs everywhere. I was meandering around the room fulfilling my snack time duty: talk to the kids, stop them from spitting milk at each other, and encourage those who forgot that their wrappers belong in the garbage to take them there! Out of the general buzz, I suddenly heard Lia’s crystal clear little voice ringing out above the rest, which was about to have a huge impact on my life,

“God is real! I know God is real because he loves me! And he loves YOU! And Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins. I know God is real, I just know he is. He is love.”

I watched in amazement as she continued to witness with all her might. Her face was earnest and her voice rich with simple and unashamed conviction. My heart squeezed. I curiously watched for her classmates’ reactions, which were unremarkable. Reese, staring blankly, simply replied,

“Santa is real.”

“Santa is NOT real! Only Jesus is.” Lia shot back, standing up again for her God.

Is Santa real, Mrs. Werner?” Reese asked, turning around to face me, the first grown up he saw. Suppressing a smile, I replied,

“I’ll let you figure that one out for yourself.” This was not the time to expose the great Santa façade, nor was I interested in continuing the Santa-direction of the conversation; I wanted Lia to get back to Jesus! She was a student at the school and free to share her faith without bounds; I was staff and could not exercise the same freedom without consequences. The conversation reverted back to the muffins in front of them, so I turned away to allow myself a moment to fully comprehend the situation. This powerful display of witnessing had happened so fast that my mind was whirling trying to keep up, oh, to have the faith of a child!

No wonder Jesus exhorted us to enter the Kingdom of God with a childlike faith. He says in Mark 10:14, “Let the little children come unto me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Lia proclaimed God without shame and with confident, 4-year-old logic. She let her conviction spill out just as it was, not dressed up with fancy words or carefully crafted reasoning. I’m sure she didn’t pause to consider what proclaiming this message might do to her friendships or what people would think of her afterwards. She spoke without hindrance, as unashamed of the Gospel of Christ as the apostle Paul. Could I say the same of myself? I wondered, already knowing to answer. Oh, to have the faith of a child!

During the week leading up to this, my prayers had centered around God opening a way for me to share my faith at school. This encounter didn’t lead to me sharing my faith with an unbeliever, but it did lead to me sharing my faith with Lia’s mom as I relayed the story to her after school. I was able not only to communicate to her how I also shared their family’s faith, but also to bring her encouragement through the retelling of her daughter’s beautiful courage and boldness. The Lord showed me how this was part of his plan even though it was something I had not anticipated.

Lia’s witness also helped me expand my understanding of God’s Word. That morning I had read in Hebrews 12, which begins with the wonderful phrase, “therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…” A witness I had never even thought to acknowledge surrounded me: a 4-year-old girl with a heart and faith worth imitation and respect. I am so thankful and encouraged by that tiny display of boldness. My heart was strengthened then and it still is now as I stop to recollect. Truly there is wisdom in seeking to have a childlike faith; I pray that that might become mine all the more as these days continue.

Welcome! First post: The Need For More

One week in Sunday School I was sitting with a little 4-year-old girl on my lap during a large-group session. I happened to be wearing long, pink earrings and a multi-chained necklace that eventually attracted her attention. She was fingering my necklace and started counting the chains and whispered,

“One, two, three…” She looked up at me with a puzzled face. “Why three necklaces?”

This caught me off guard, and I simply responded, “That’s a great question!” I began to think; why indeed did I have three? Was three excessive? Did I feel that wearing multiple chains made me look better that much better than wearing one? Was wearing the layered necklace so silly that even a 4 year old didn’t see the point to it?

The questions lingered with me as I went about my way the following day and led me to the real heart of the issue, why can we as followers of Christ be burdened by the “need for more?” I reflected on the circumstances that have led me to crave for more in the past. 2 years ago during my time of engagement to my husband, I only desired to be married to him and to leave everything else behind. Now that we are married, I find myself at times longing to move back closer to my immediate family and be around them again. I see how desires fulfilled only lead to more desires, sometimes never being quenched.

Troubled by this insatiable “need for more,” I turned to Philippians 4. I came upon the familiar verses, “rejoice in the Lord always,” “do not be anxious about anything,” etc. But, in light of the question concerning continuous desires and wants I was struck deeply by verses 12-13:

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

 There it is! The secret of being content (feeling peaceful and satisfied) does not come from circumstance but comes from the Lord. Circumstances have the power to defeat, the power to elate, and the power to change our outlook on life, but only if we let them. The secret to contentment in whatever may come is knowing that the Lord has sustaining power that He will grant when we acknowledge our need for it. The “desire for more” that is the opposite of contentment can be completely filled by the One who is everything.Image

How to do this? I look at Paul’s example and see that he acknowledged truth; no ifs, ands, or buts. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Without any qualifiers, we acknowledge that the Lord is the Almighty and can truly do what he has promised. Acknowledge that before Him today; let his power change your outlook on circumstance, not circumstances hold on you.