He Would Put Strength in Me
Ephesians 3:14-21 & Psalm 46:1-11
If I were to ask you whether you have made your New Year’s resolutions for the coming year, I think I would get a bit of a resistance to my question. A bit of discomfort. A bit of stammering. Some of us might say, “No, and I’m not about to, thank you;” or say, “Well, not yet.”
The reason there is discomfort for most of us, is that we can look back and see the best of resolutions strewn down the highways of time. In fact, I sense that very few of us make resolutions much anymore. We have grown pessimistic in the process. There is cynicism in the air these days about the very word itself.
I must confess that I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore. I haven’t for years. But I find myself entering each New Year with a strange ambivalence. I refuse to make the mandatory list, but my inner self comes up with its own wishes, and I begin to think about some changes I really should implement in the New Year. (But I do not call them resolutions, just possibilities for the year ahead. And because they are not official resolutions, if I fail to follow through, I don’t feel so bad.)
But I suspect that most of us do not make resolutions anymore because we find them too easy to abandon come February.
Weakness is part of the human predicament
But why cannot we make resolutions to be better, and then actually be better?
It has something to do with being human. Again, let me say it, most of us fail, not because we are wicked, but because we are weak. We fail to carry through high resolves, not because we are evil and insidious; we most often fail because there is something basically flawed about all of us.
When St. Paul faced the tasks before him, he can be heard to say, “Who is sufficient for these things?” with the implied answer: “none of us”. On a more serious note we can hear the same apostle speaking not merely of his own dilemma, but the entire human predicament.
“My own behaviour baffles me. For I find myself not doing what I really want to do, but doing what I really loathe. I often find that I have the will to do good, but not the power. That is, I don’t accomplish the good that I set out to do, and the evil I don’t really want to do, I find myself doing.” (Romans 7:15-16)
Haven’t you and I gone through his experience times beyond counting? We have all said, “I must be more disciplined,” only to find ourselves back to the old familiar patterns of least resistance to our selves.
We are weak by nature. It is part of what the Christian Church has called original sin. We are born with high hopes and with wonderful intentions, but we are also born in mortality and weakness. We are born with high intelligence, but with little wisdom. We are people who can act like angels or apes. We can be mechanical marvels and moral midgets at the same time. Humanity is capable of so much: so much goodness and so much evil. No wonder Paul cries out, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this predicament?”
God is Strength
But if we are all weak, and if we must say with Paul, “in me dwells no good thing,” the same cannot be said about God. Listen to the song of the Virgin Mary:
“He that is mighty has done great things, and holy is His name. He has shown strength with His arm, he has scattered the proud in the imaginations of their hearts. He has pulled down the mighty from their thrones and he has exalted the lowly.”
God is omnipotent, almighty. God is able to do whatever he wills to do. For you and me, there is a wide chasm between what we would like to do, and what we are able to do. There is no such limitation in God. Is it true then that all we can do is sing the old song “I am weak but Thou art strong” and simply concede that God is better off than we are?
Well, we are weak. No question about it!
God is strong. Beyond doubt!
But there is a third reality that needs our attention.
God would put strength in me
God has responded to both our sinfulness and our weakness. Listen again to St. Paul, “When we were without strength, Christ died for us.”
Jesus came to forgive us for our past misdoings and our failure to do the right thing. Thanks be to God! But that is not the only good news. He came, not only to forgive us the stupidities of our past, but to strengthen us for the future.
Jesus said to the woman caught in the act of adultery, “I do not condemn you,” but then he goes on to say, “Go and sin no more.” For that is his reason in coming. When the angel says, “He shall save his people from their sin,” He does not mean that Jesus will rescue them only from sins already committed but will also free them from their addiction to sinning. “He shall save his people from their sinning,” is the intent of the angel’s words.
Jesus came not to bring a new religion of higher resolves. He came to give our lives new resources. He did not come to lengthen the list of the requirements of God, but He came to share with us the power of a new life. That is why Paul speaks not only about our weakness, but also speaks about strength. Hear him again:
“I can do all things – through Christ who strengthens me.”
“we can be strengthened within – by the might of His Spirit.”
“God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think according to His power – that is at work within us.”
God is prepared to give, to any and all of us, that inner fortitude, that makes us more than conquerors.
What do I mean? Right now, there are 15 lbs. of pressure on every square inch of your body. That means that there is 1,000 pounds of weight pressing down on your head at this very moment. Of course, we do not feel it, because the internal pressure is equal to the outer pressure. But if we were to zoom you unprotected into the air to 30,000 feet we would explode. If we lowered you, unprotected, a mile deep in the ocean you would implode. But near sea level the pressure from within our bodies equals that on the outside of our bodies, so we do not feel the weight. The pressure within is equal to the pressure without.
We too will cave in to the pressures of temptation or stress, if we do not have an equalizing strength within. The good news is: God gives His people strength! He shares his strength with us, by his spirit, so that we can stand up against any of the pressures of life.
But how does that work? He does not inject strength into us, like Popeye’s spinach. Nor does he remove the outer pressures that press in upon us. Instead he offers Himself to us. God has agreed to be our travelling companion. He offers himself to be a full participant with us in life. As we walk with the Spirit of God, he offers us His wisdom, He counsels us, He gives us courage, He helps us lift the heavy loads of our life, He offers his hand to pull us up when we stumble.
As we enter the New Year, He is all we need. All we need to do is to intentionally partner with him. Connect with him at the start of every day, so we do not even try to live a day on our own.
This morning, we are going to share in Holy Communion. In the older liturgies we offered bread and wine with these words “Take this holy sacrament to your comfort.” The word “Comfort” is from the Latin. Com = with, forte = strength. Coming to Holy Communion is one of the ways we intentionally ally ourselves with God. In these moments we bring our inherent weakness to God and are met by the God who strengthens us with might by His Spirit. Thanks be to God!