This particular devotional reading is only intended for a select few, those who have an adversity or two in their lives. If you are perfect, you can stop reading now. If you are already filled to overflowing with the power of the Holy Spirit, disregard this. If your faith and trust in the Lord is already so strong and muscular that you are able to move mountains, take a break as well.
But for the rest of us, the few who don’t yet have this strong power, let’s see how God assures us he will grow us in our faith and our hope—that is, our confident expectation—empowering us with energy, creativity, and clarity… even and especially through the adversities of life.
So, if you have some of them (adversities), read on.
Playing sports in high school in my era rarely involved weightlifting. Maybe one or two of my football teammates lifted weights, but no one on the basketball team and certainly not on my tennis team were weightlifters. (Bunch of wimpy tennis players!)
I had a rude awakening when I got to Clemson and found that everyone on the team was stronger than I was. The starting point guard pushed me around effortlessly. Even the ball boys intimidated me!
So, I got with the strength coach, and he designed a plan to get me stronger, quickly. Let’s see… I remember he had me benching about 10 pounds, curling 5, and squatting 15 whole pounds! Boy, was I impressive. After just a few days, I felt like Samson!
Ha! He pushed me relentlessly and challenged me constantly with insidious new ways to torture me. When I would voice my displeasure, he would laugh and say, “But think of this as my gift to you.” At times, I was so exhausted and so sore that I felt handicapped by my aching muscles.
But, I got stronger.
The Apostle Paul talked about using the weights of adversity to get stronger. He framed this in a passage that encourages us to cease trying to push through life with our own ego-driven power and learn to rely on the only real power.
So here’s the setting. Paul had a “thorn” in his side. It was a major adversity such that he was practically handicapped by it. He complained to God and asked him to take it away. Like us, Paul saw his adversity as an obvious win-lose scenario in which he would “win” if God would take it away but would “lose” if he wouldn’t.
Sound familiar? I’ve had those talks with God. I’ve presented my recommendations in case God needed some help understanding the situation. But God demurred. He had something better in mind as with Paul:
…so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength and my power become your own in your weakness.”
(2 Cor. 12:7-9a, MSG)
Paul then reflected on the advantage of God not removing this thorn—that is, he had to rely on God’s power without any delusions about his own:
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride… abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. (2 Cor. 12:9b-10, MSG)
It was no longer a win-lose. Paul began to see it as a win-win.
What? I can use adversities to grow in my faith, increasing my muscular trust and growing more powerful within the power of the Holy Spirit? Yes, God can power you up when you see your weaknesses for what they are.
“But I don’t want to have to experience pain,” I hear you saying. Neither do I. So, let’s you and I make a pact: we’ll just lift the five-pound weights of avoidance and denial while hoping for the best.
Or, we can acknowledge our fears and our weaknesses—even we macho men have plenty of them—and we can start calling on the power of the Holy Spirit that is already in believers instead of relying on our own five-pound power.
And so, the more I realize my own weaknesses and therefore stop trying to muscle my way through life in my own power, the more I can take a deep breath and call on the power of the Holy Spirit to provide the real heavy lifting.
Imagine that… Through the weightlifting of all my screw-ups, challenges, and adversities, God made me stronger and more energized. And now, I delight in subordinating my ego and my power to God’s power, and I am thrilled to see him working above and beyond anything I could have ever pulled off.