Strength is something I think a lot about. Perhaps it’s because at this point in my life and at this stage of my disease, I’m often aware of the strength that I lack. I feel the weakness of my body every day in one way or another. I utter the words “God, give me strength” with more regularity than any other prayer. Sometimes it’s the mundane, like a heavy basket of laundry I have to carry upstairs or a sink of dirty dishes that needs my attention after a long and tiring day. I always pray it before I get on the treadmill and at the inevitable moments when I’m longing to get off the treadmill. I pray it over things more serious, like when I sense God is leading me to do something that I don’t think I’m strong enough to do, or when the future seems uncertain, or when I’m worried about how my disease is affecting Jaime and Lucas. I want to continue to live and to thrive even as I fight this disease. God, give me strength.
So what exactly is this strength that I’m asking for? What am I hoping that God will do for me? That’s what I’ve been pondering lately. What kind of strength does God promise to give?
There are many verses about strength in the Bible. Here are a handful of my favorites:
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 Christ who gives me strength. ~Philippians 4:13
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. ~Isaiah 40:29-31
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 Corinthians 12:9-10
The notion of being strong in the midst of weakness is different from most traditional understandings of strength. I did a Google search of the word “strong” to see what images are associated with the word. There were pictures of muscular men and women, of heavy weights being lifted with ease. There were memes that included words like “brave, fearless, bold.” There were pictures of lions and sharks, clenched fists, super heros…even a picture of ultra strong toilet paper (you know, the kind that never rips or tears or leaves a residue). Strong.
In this season of Lent, I’ve been reflecting on the last hours of Jesus’s life. I believe we have a lot to learn about strength, a different kind of strength, from Jesus. It has always brought me much comfort that while praying in the garden with His disciples prior to His death, Jesus asked God to take away the suffering that was to come. He asked for a way out. Jesus predicted His own death many times in the gospels. It seemed He knew it was God’s plan for our redemption. Yet in spite of that, when His suffering was at hand, He still pleaded with God to take it away. Although He was a sinless, perfect human, He didn’t want to suffer either. Resisting the pain and wishing for reprieve wasn’t a sign of weakness. I imagine He looks on me with understanding when I ask him to take away my pain, because He felt the same way.
When God didn’t give Him a way out, however, He accepted it, and there was great strength there. Jesus accepted pain that He didn’t deserve and trusted God to redeem it and bring immeasurable good from it. In the hours leading up to His death, Jesus endured all sorts of physical and emotional pain as He was beaten and falsely accused. His closest friends abandoned Him. He had poured out His life to love and serve and heal people, and in turn they abused Him and said all sorts of horrible untruths about Him. They demanded that He be tortured and killed. Yet Jesus looked on them with love and asked His Father to forgive them. He was not bitter in the midst of His suffering.
And while Jesus was on the cross, what incredible mental strength He exhibited. Jesus lost all physical strength while on the cross. He was first beaten and flogged and then nailed on a cross to suffocate to death. All the life drained from His body over the course of the hours of His suffering. We know that as the Son of God He could have summoned the power of legions of angels to remove Him from the cross and annihilate His enemies. But He didn’t. This kind of resolve is unimaginable. Many times have I been in pain or periods of struggle and have thought that I would do anything, anything to make it go away. Jesus had the power to stop his suffering with one word, yet He resolved to endure for our sakes.
He accepted the pain, He endured the suffering without bitterness or hate, He willingly surrendered His power, and He forgave those who had done the unspeakable to Him. And He died. But after three days, Jesus arose from the dead! And here we see the most notable aspect of Jesus’s strength, the strength to overcome. Jesus has overcome! Overcome sin, overcome evil, overcome darkness, overcome death.
I know that because of what Jesus has accomplished on the cross, one day I will go free. Free from this body of disease. Free from the chains that bind me. But while I wait for that day, I pray for strength; the kind of strength that Jesus demonstrated. I ask for strength in the midst of my weakness. Not necessarily the physical power to escape my struggles, but the power to accept them and endure them. I ask for the strength to choose joy and love over bitterness. I ask for the ability to trust that God will redeem any suffering He allows to come my way. I ask for the strength to live a life worthy of my calling no matter my circumstances. I ask for the power to overcome. This, I believe, He has promised me.
God, give me strength!