Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 33. Faith makes strong
Heb 11:33,34 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies
The starting point in spiritual realities is always weakness. The world says be strong, be handsome, be beautiful, be successful, but all those thing are transitory and deceptive. We may achieve a measure of strength, we may be one of the world’s ‘beautiful people’ but all that happens is that it focuses us on ourselves and that, frequently, means not on Him, and self-deception so often leads to self-destruction.
As true as that is as a general principle, it is specifically true about faith. ‘Big’ people in the Christian world, and especially on Christian TV so-called, so often look utterly confident, full of faith, strong and bright, and we think, “If only I could be the same.” It is deception. Yes, I believe in a God who blesses and prospers us (whatever that may mean in our own circumstances) and who wants us to be successful in what we put our hands to, but every single one of us, from TV superstar Christian to the lowliest believers is still human, is still mortal and is still prone to getting it wrong on occasion.
Listen to the testimony of what has probably been one of the most spectacular Christians in all of history, the apostle Paul, in those famous verses about this subject: “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 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 weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12;9,10) This was a man with the most amazing revelation and because of it he recognized that the Lord needed to keep him humble.
Listen to some more of his testimony: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. 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.” (Phil 4:11-13) He had been poor and he had been well off but neither situation was the important issue; the issue was whether he could know God’s presence, God’s peace and God’s provision in any and every situation.
If we haven’t yet got the message listen again: “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil 3:4-11)
I have included that length quote in full because it says so much. Paul had had so many things going for him that he had every ground to feel confident in himself, but one day on the road to Damascus he had encountered Jesus and never felt the same again. From then on all those self-confidence things he considered as pure rubbish. He was a nothing, a nobody – except in Christ who declared him righteous and gave him a future which will continue on into heaven – but it was nothing to do with his own strength, his own good looks, his own past successes, or his own education; he saw them for what they were – meaningless deceptions.
So where does the strength come in? “whose weakness was turned to strength.” How did that happen? It happened as these weak people believed in God, trusted in God – had faith – and then He moved and the Spirit came and stirred them into action. This is where it all happens. If you hear any message of peace and prosperity and confidence building that does not talk about receiving the Spirit, being filled with the Spirit, being led by the Spirit and being empowered by the Spirit, it is deception or only part of the message. Faith is about responding to God who comes by His Spirit, in and through the work of Jesus on the Cross, and takes us in our weakness and does amazing things through us – HE does amazing things.
On one hand the book of Judges is quite depressing, watching how again and again Israel turn away from the Lord and are given over by Him to disciplining at the hands of enemy neighbours, but on the other hand it is an amazing testimony to the grace and power of the Lord as again and again we see the Spirit of God come on individuals and taking weak men and raising them up to become mighty deliverers who become “powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.” If you want to do a study on it, see how many times the words “The Spirit of the Lord came upon…” in Judges. Look up Judges 3:10, 6:34, 11;29, 13:25, 14:6,19 and 15:14 and see what happened when He did that – weak men became strong.
HE is the answer to your question, “How can I be strong?” Instead of focusing on how we can be strong, be beautiful, be handsome, be successful, be powerful and so on, focus on Him and His will (Mt 6:33) I like the way the Message Version puts those Matt 6 verses that speak of this: “What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.”
Teaching a prayer group that I lead, I had to say to them a little while back, “Focus on God, unfocus on the answers.” So often we are preoccupied with what we think God should do in answering our prayers, including making us successful and strong. Instead when we focus on Him and what HE wants instead of what we want, it opens up a whole new range of possibilities. Do strong people, clever people and wise people walk on water? No, they don’t because they know you can’t do it. Weak people who trust Jesus, people of simple faith, walk on water and end up having testimonies that put the rest of us to shame. Ponder on this.