Spiritual Strength


How precious is your steadfast love, O God!

   The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Psalm 36: 7

Our world is filled with children who need to find shelter. Some are displaced from their homes due to the strife and the violence that is running wildly through the streets of their places of birth. Others have been made orphans by various kinds of human caused or natural disasters, and many of us are left out and exposed to the elements of life’s turbulent storms simply because of the persistent nature of the brokenness of this world during the age of man. When the full scope and extent of this vulnerable population is considered, not many of the earth’s inhabitants are left out of the group of people who would benefit from the form of shelter that the Lord provides for anyone who comes to Him. For all who are weary and all who are weak are granted a place of comfort, rest, and safety under God’s great wings of protection.

Yet, many people do not seek out this place of refuge. Instead, they seek to take control of their lives in a manner that leads them away from God’s presence and into the arms of the worldly figures that are causing the strife and the destruction that has formed up their state of homeless wandering. Others hold onto the idea that they possess all that they will ever need to solve any issues and concerns that are causing trouble or that are bringing about distress in their lives. So, reliance is placed upon personal strength or skill rather than looking toward God and yielding to His far superior capacity to provide for the real needs that they have in life. Many people in our world have turned to false gods of various types and descriptions in order to seek out their systems of worldly truth, and thus they rely upon the capability of those distorted images of the eternal for protection and comfort during the various seasons of trial and struggle that come their way.

None of these earth-bound and worldly sources of refuge and provision can truly shelter the heart and the mind from the forces of evil that run rampant in our world, and they are completely powerless to save any souls from the pain of an eternity apart from the love of God. Among all of the religions, gods, belief systems, and moral concepts that people look to and rely upon in this world, none other than Christ provides everything that He grants to His followers out of a love that is so deep and lasting that God, Himself, suffered, bled, and was sacrificed so that each of us would be made free from the necessity of doing the same thing in our flesh. It is this great love that provides anyone who chooses to accept the gift of salvation with the means for that gift of grace to be granted to us. God has given each and every person on the earth the opportunity to find the sheltering refuge that we need under the covering of the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us. Thus, we can find a home in this life and an eternal dwelling place in the unceasing love that surrounds us in the Christ’s arms.   

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If anyone serves me, he must follow me, and where I am, there will be my servant also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

John 12: 26

In many respects the easiest part of following Jesus is found in saying yes to Him. Yes, I will follow You, and yes, I will serve Your kingdom. The hardest aspect of all of this comes about when Christ shows us where it is that He actually wants for us to go in fulfillment of that promise to follow Him anywhere. Jesus made the same sort of commitment to the Father and to all of creation, and the following that ensued for Him took our blameless Lord to a cross that would normally have been reserved for people whose lives were ruled by the darkness of sin. Yet, in obedience and out of necessity for the sakes of all of us, Jesus suffered and died at the hands of people who were unwittingly tasked with service to God as priests as they offered up and executed that ultimate sacrifice for all sins for the entire scope and span of time.

Now, we do not need to die in spirit, and even these wounded bodies are granted a form of reprieve that leads us to living out our days as instruments of God’s redemptive work in our world. However, we do not escape that cross that Jesus suffered and bled upon. We are called by Him to follow, and the path that He takes us along does inevitably require each of us to go to that place of surrender of will and submission of self to the holy and righteous One, Jesus Christ. This experience is usually not easy or pleasant to consider, and it can be torturous to endure. Yet, the result of such complete and absolute surrender to Christ is a form of freedom that cannot be found in any other way or from a different source. The cross of Christ is the initial point for a life that is lived out in the fullest expression of the wonder and the glory of God’s creative touch upon each and every person that walks upon the earth.

On the other side of the cross was resurrection and life. Jesus departed the tomb of His momentary burial and walked among His people, and He continues to dwell among and within us in the form of His Spirit to this hour. Christ continues to lead us into a type of surrender that sets us free from the earthly forms of servitude that continue to enslave our hearts, minds, and bodies, and in that process of divestiture of those remaining aspects of our old selves, the Lord guides us into the blessings of service to the Father’s kingdom come upon this earth. Christ does this as He grants to us our particular place and purpose in God’s plan for redemption of that which is lost. That cross of obedient surrender to which Christ leads each of us was intended by the world to be an implement of defeat and shame, but God’s redemptive will has transformed it into a place where victory over death is proclaimed and whereby we each gain that place of honor that God bestows upon His faithful servants. 

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne,

   steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.

Psalm 89: 14

What a strange way to crown a king. The party atmosphere that preceded the coronation itself has been replaced by the angry shouts of a lynch mob. The joyous gathering of family and friends that culminates in the Passover meal has turned somber with the foreboding shadow of betrayal hanging in the room. The night itself is filled with prayer, but these are not the hopeful expressions of a dream of a future of freedom and peace, but instead, they are the anguished cries of the teacher as He faces the torture ahead with absent friends and the sure knowledge of that necessary abandonment by the Father, too. In this ridiculous and scandalous ceremony, Jesus stands singularly suitable to obtain this crown and to sit upon the only righteous and just throne that has or will ever exist in this world.

If these fundamental characteristics that are the expression of the rule of a true king are to be found among us, then they must come from their source, and this is God, Himself. Outside of God’s touch and the provision of His grace, there exist only shadows of what is right and just in our world. There are times when people may attempt to act in such a way, and these moments of peace tend to last for short periods of time, but in the end, the powers of evil that attempt to control all of this place will gain some portion of control, and their chaos will return to cause those peaceful systems of rule to topple over. As people attempt to grasp onto those crumbling icons of goodness and mercy, we are usually left with nothing other than shards of broken stones held tenuously in our fingers. Yet, when we hold onto the mystically tangible presence of Christ in our lives, we find that our hands are being held in the sure grip of the Eternal King.

This is a King who loves each of us with a passion so intense and a love so lasting that He was willing to endure all of the agony and the anguish of that awful coronation in order to establish and perfect God’s plan for redemption for any of us who will accept Him and for the entirety of creation as well. Here we have King Jesus upon His rightful throne of grace, mercy, peace, righteousness, and unfailing love where He pours out God’s true and eternal justice upon this needy world. That bloody crown that was provided by humanity three days prior has been replaced by an unperishable one formed out of the glory of heaven. The wounds in the flesh are still visible, but now rather than bringing about a reminder of pain and death, they provide a soothing touch of healing to anyone who turns to Christ, even to those of us who have participated in placing those painful thorns on His sinless head. Today Christ sits upon His victor’s throne, the blazing light of righteousness surrounds His presence while His voice calls out to all people to come to Him and be healed of all that is hurt, damaged, and broken in our bodies, hearts and minds.  

For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.

1 Peter 2: 19, 20

If truth were to be told, most of us deserve more than we actually get by way of payment in terms of punishment for our sinfulness and by way of pain and suffering in response to that which we have inflicted upon others. Yet, where God is concerned, there is really no equity in these matters. He has taken on far more than He gives out, and in Christ, God accepted all of the deepest sorrow and the harshest pain as His own reward for sinlessness and for faithfulness. So, that which should be mine, was brutally beaten and pounded into Jesus’ flesh. The just judgement that my own evil ways deserves has been taken on by the only living being to be ever and steadfastly pure, perfect, and absolutely sinless in all regards. 

Now, we all do endure the outworking of the brokenness of our world. Each and every person that is born into life here will encounter illness, injury, loss, grief, and trials of many different types. This is the reality that surrounds us, and these are the circumstances that often haunt our days. It is also true that the more we seek to follow Christ in this world, the more likely it is that we will feel the sort of pain that is formed up out of caring for and about others. As we learn to love as Christ does, we enter into the lives of people at a deep and a substantive level where the real burdens of their days become the ones that inflict us with shared sorrow and with burdens accepted to help carry. In a very real sense, when we enter into supporting people in their days of need and times of trial, we are following Christ’s lead and answering God’s call to go into the world and make disciples of all people. Care and concern and burdens carried are verbs in a disciple of Christ’s vocabulary.

Sometimes the burdens that we take up will belong to people who are themselves unlovely, out of favor, or in many other ways disadvantaged or marginalized by our society. These are people that Jesus saw in the full light of heaven, for He viewed all people as lovely and every one of us as people for whom grace, mercy, and redemption were poured out on the cross. As Jesus took on the shame of sin for all people, so, too, are we to enter into carrying the burdens and sharing the sorrows of everyone. The dividing walls of culture, society, race, gender, life choices, nationality, and any other separating factors were broken down and eternally abolished by Jesus’ death and the resurrection from death that followed. If we are to suffer at the hands of injustice for the sake of entering into the sorrows and the burdens of those for whom justice is scarce, any pain of hardship that may befall us is for God’s glory and all that we might endure will be counted to our credit by Christ, the only true and righteous judge of people’s hearts. 

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.

1 Timothy 6: 6

There is a moment or so in this letter during which Paul seems to be particularly harsh on people who are wealthy. For he will very shortly make the often misquoted statement saying, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” He also expends some ink on the fact that having wealth does not equate to contentment in this life. Yet, money, the possession or the lack of it, and even the processes that are involved in earning it are not really what the Apostle is concerned about. He cares greatly about the state of his reader’s souls and the condition of their hearts. Everything else is secondary, and all of the rest of it falls into order behind the primary issues of orientation, focus, and the application of the skills and energy that we have been given by God.

According to Paul, if we wish to be truly wealthy in this world, we need to seek after the sorts of riches that are eternal in nature. None of these eternal riches involve gold, silver, bank accounts, or investment portfolios. Yet, the lasting may be influenced by the manner in which we hold and use those perishable forms of wealth. Everything is influenced by perspective, and the net result of what we do is brought about by virtue of the motivation for our actions. Gain for the sake of personal glory, notoriety, or power is never going to bring about satisfaction for the soul. This worldly form of achievement will always fall away at some point along the journey of life. True contentment is found in giving ourselves fully to Christ. That is, we find the sort of heart and soul deep satisfaction in our lives most readily when we lay down our personal goals, wishes, and desires before Christ and yield all of our being to following Him and to service to God’s kingdom as He calls upon us to give it.

So, as we do this, the nothingness that we brought with us into this life is made into the greatest of riches imaginable. The emptiness of this world is enriched with the presence of the glory of heaven, and the vast storehouse of God’s bounty is opened up for us to use in bringing the love and the care of the Eternal Father into direct contact with the impoverished people of this world. It is in serving the needy that we find the true contentment that comes from walking in close proximity to God’s heartbeat for humanity. Those needs might be physical, financial, or spiritual in nature. In fact, they often include several elements of what it means to survive and to thrive in life; yet, all of these needs are things that Christ can deal with through the labor of our hands and the care of our hearts for others. Wealth is obtained through service, and contentment is found through serving Christ. The form of riches that does go with us beyond this world is granted to us by the Lord as we enter into His calling for the use of all that He has granted to us by way of resources, talents, and gifts.    

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Romans 12: 3

Can you imagine the size and the nature of God’s measuring device? Is it like a cup that is used to get the proportions of ingredients for a cake right, or is it designed more along the lines of long incrementally divided stick or rod that can assess the depth and the width of the product that is being apportioned out? In fact, any form of instrument that we might consider from our world and experience will fall short of capturing the truly incredible nature and bounty of all that God gives to us. His gifts are extraordinary in all ways, and the Lord’s generosity with them is beyond imagining. God gives, and then, He gives more! As we are open to receive, so the Lord fills us up, and then He stretches our capacity to handle His grace and His love even further.

Yet, God’s gift of grace allows us to enter into all aspects of life with a form of humility that is not natural to people. In general, we are oriented toward telling our own stories in a manner that gives us credibility and status in our world. Our egos lead us into the need for establishing a position of superiority to at least some of the other people that are around us. This is not how God designed His body to function, and this is not the reality that Christ calls us to operate within, either. God’s grace is established in the full expression and nature of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Everything that can be contemplated as bringing about worth and that is required to establish value and position in this world is provided solely by Christ and through this greatest of all earthly and heavenly events. We bring nothing with us into this life, and we develop nothing along the way that adds to Christ’s accomplishment. There is no longer any need to strive and contend for status beyond our identity as followers of Christ.

The act of providing the grace that is required to live in humble submission to Christ is something that God accomplishes out of His infinite wisdom and total understanding of each of us. The transformation that comes about out of knowing Christ is not born upon any of us in its fully fleshed out form, for it is something that takes place over the entire course of the remaining days of each of our lives. The changes and the growth in spiritual strength that the Holy Spirit effects in us are aspects of our developing spiritual beings that gain expression and become manifest in each of us according to God’s perfect plan for His calling for us. Our part in this process is one of surrender and trust. We can cease our very human endeavors to fight back against some of the changes that the Spirit is asking us to make, and we can do this most efficiently as we trust God to take us to the place and to ask us to do the things that will be best for us and that will bring the greatest glory to His name.   

The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life.

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in

from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 121: 7, 8

So, it could be true that these verses are actually taken from a children’s fairy tale. Along this line of reason, they were written by someone who wanted to provide a rosy-tinted and false sense of security to some young people so that they would go to sleep and stop bothering their adult care givers. Well, no; that simply isn’t true. These lines are taken from one entry in that wonderful body of writing that is known as the Psalms of Ascents. These are traveler’s tales. The sorts of reminders that whole Jewish families would recite and sing together as they took the often dangerous and arduous journey from their homes to Jerusalem so that they could worship God together with their entire nation. Although they were intended to ease the journey and to make the miles go by faster, they had a much greater purpose than that.

These songs are intended to remind the singers of God. As the travelers recited the lines from them their hearts were being prepared to enter into deep and transformative worship. The author of these lines was not attempting to gloss over the hardships of life. Instead, he deals with them from the perspective of an extreme realist. In these verses we see the great challenge that confronts all of us as we go about our own travels. Evil is out there; it is everywhere. It crouches and lurks among the shadows of the street where we live. It comes at us from far away, and it even attempts to set its traps in our own homes. Evil tries to worm its way into our minds and whisper the lies of Satan to our hearts. Although it has been defeated by Christ, evil just hasn’t gotten that message; so, it is relentless in its attempts to disrupt the lives of people who do know God.

Since this was the nature of the world that these ancient travelers knew, they sang about the truth of God’s protection, preservation, and salvation. As this same often harsh reality is ours, we can do the same thing. There is an old popular image of a person who is walking along a dark and frightening lane; so, in order to get his courage up, he starts to whistle. This idea was expressed in The King and I as Anna sings, “Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect and whistle a happy tune, so no one will suspect I’m afraid.” There is one very big difference between the experiences of these fictional characters and those of God’s people. Their courage was a façade; it didn’t penetrate to their hearts. However, we can trust that God is truly protecting us. He will take us along the road that we are traveling, and our souls will be safe. There is danger in the journey, but the outcome of it all is never in question. During every minute of each day, Christ holds us close and keeps us secure, and this is true for each of us today and forevermore.

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