You probably know someone who tries to do everything by himself or herself, without help. Maybe that person is you?
I still remember my oldest son, Harrison, when he was a little boy. Once I said, “Son, take the trash cans out.” I knew that both of the trash cans were completely full and that they were very heavy. I knew he did not have the ability or the strength to get those trash cans out to the curb. Still, he said, “Okay,” and he went out and started tugging on those trash cans. He couldn’t get them to budge. I said, “Let me help you, son.” I’ll never forget it. He said, “No. I do it.”
He was just a little kid, but already he was unwilling to admit his need. He could not do it, but he was tugging, and tugging, and tugging. We were there for about 30 seconds. Finally I said, “Son, let me help you.” I grabbed the other handle and basically took that trash can to the curb while he was just hanging on. He really wasn’t helping or moving anything, but he was moving under my direction. He required my strength in order to get the job done.
Many times God reaches out to help us, but in our pride we try to do everything ourselves. God instructs us and leads us to do things knowing that we can never accomplish them without relying upon His strength. Yet, we end up trying to do them only with the flesh, leaning on our own understanding rather than trusting in Him.
In 2 Corinthians chapter 12, Paul writes about how he prayed to be delivered from a messenger of Satan. That word messenger is translated angel throughout the New Testament. There had been an angel—a fallen angel, a demon spirit if you wish—dispatched from Satan to harass Paul. Paul prays for deliverance, and the Lord answers him.
We read in 2 Corinthians 12:9–10,
And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul went beyond just admitting his need for God’s strength. He went to the point of saying that he will boast in his infirmities. That word literally means an inability to produce results. It was like Paul was saying, “I’m going to go so far as to boast about the fact that I cannot do it, that the problem is too big for me. It’s too high. It’s too wide. It’s too complex. I’m going to boast that I can’t, because when I can’t, He can. His strength comes into full power in my weakness.”
Paul spoke similar words in 2 Corinthians 1:8–10,
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us.
Past tense, present tense, and future tense deliverance. God has delivered you. He does deliver you. And He will deliver you. Paul writes that it was beyond his ability to deal with the trouble he was in. It was above his level of strength, to the point he despaired even of life: “We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God.”
I had a friend named Howard. He was quite influential in my early Christian life. Howard and his wife actually took over a small country church in northern California. Shortly after I got married, my wife, Janet, and I went and paid them a visit. We just sort of showed up one day unannounced and spent the day with them! I remember walking down this gravel road with Howard, and he shared some of the troubles they were going through.
There had been a church split, and it was a tiny church to begin with. There was some strife going on in the church, and Howard was dealing with some very, very serious physical conditions himself, grappling with an illness. We are walking along the road, and he is sharing these things with me, and I’m concerned.
Then Howard turned around to me, and he hit himself on the chest. I’ll never forget it. He said, “But I’m not worried, because I have the sentence of death in myself.” Then he turned and kept walking. I knew immediately he was referring to these scriptures.
Howard was saying that his situation was more than he could cope with. It was more than he knew what to do with, but he trusted in God. He didn’t look to his own strength. He had the sentence of death in himself, but he was trusting in the One who raises the dead. It was an admission of his need. He was saying, “God, I can’t, but You can.”
For some people, this first step forward is going to be the hardest. You have to say, “God, I cannot do this, but I am looking to You.”
Identify a big goal or dream for your life that you just have not been able to accomplish. It is okay to dream big. Then, give it up to God. Admit that you’ll never be able to reach it on your own, and ask for God’s strength to make it possible. Let go of your “control” over it, and have faith that it’s now in God’s hands.
Whether you are in need of spiritual strength, emotional strength, material strength, or physical strength, God has it, and it can be taken hold of. That’s what our Taking Hold of God’s Strength reading plan will help you do, through four simple steps that lead you into God’s ever-present and never-ending strength.
Maybe you are in the midst of a crisis right now. Maybe you are feeling heartbroken, perplexed, or facing unjust accusations. Whatever season you are in, know that God has strength for you.
This is step 1 from our Taking Hold of God’s Strength reading plan. Sign up for a short series of emails, and discover 4 steps that are crucial to understanding God’s strength for you—and how to find joy in the midst of difficult circumstances.