Strength Training

Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings as eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  Isaiah 40:31

Although I’m pretty protective about giving out my main email address, it seems that somehow the purveyors of substances promising to make me buff or tuff or virile enuff have managed to get ahold of it. Unsolicited messages fill my Spam folder; messages trying to sell me something that’ll boost my testosterone or flatten my abs or make me Semper Paratus (Always Ready) just like the U.S. Coast Guard. Should I ever want to short-cut my journey from zero to hero, somebody out there will gladly sell me a shot or a pill that’ll do it.

Although I’m not into any of that (I ab what I ab), judging from the onslaught on my email Inbox, there are apparently enough desperate folks out there who are to make those grammar-poor messages worth the trouble.  (Sorry – had to get that dig in. I loved this subject line on one of them: “Be the man you’re lady has always wanting.”)

The desire to be all that and a bag of chips is nothing new, though. We can trace our aspirations for superiority back to our first ancestors in the Garden if Eden. (And they’re both equally at fault. Eve may have taken the first bite, but it’s not like she had to wrestle Adam to the ground and cram that apple down his throat.)

Ever since then, we’ve been trying to get through life under our own strength, whether through ingesting something, paying somebody to listen to us, or by any number of methods of making our rabid libidos go pitty-pat – all the while ignoring the true source of strength.

Several times in Isaiah’s writing (40:29-31), he declares God as the supplier of strength:

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 as eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

I love that verse, don’t you? I take great “strength” from it. (nyuk nyuk nyuk) Strength seems to be in short supply amongst my social set: work is hard, money is tight, and the car is making that funny noise again; kid number one has an event on one side of town while kid number two has to be on the other; the laundry is piling up and dinner is not going to cook itself.

But right here in Isaiah, God says He will give us strength, doesn’t He? Yay. I could stop right here and we would all get a warm fuzzy and hold hands and sing “Kum Ba Yah.” But I don’t think that’s the story the Lord wants me to tell, because I’m pretty sure that’s not the whole story of this verse.

Honestly, I struggled with writing about this verse, because it seemed too easy. I love the thought of soaring like an eagle and running without breathing hard, but is that all God is saying through Isaiah here? That He’ll give us the strength to get the clothes folded before we pass out?

I don’t think so – at least not to me.

Admittedly, I catch myself taking verses out of context and hearing what I want to hear. “OK,” you may say. “At least you’re getting it from the Bible, right?” Yea, but that doesn’t give me a pass to not ask the Lord for wisdom in order to get the full meaning of His words.

We love to quote uplifting “life verses.” We want to hear preachers preach about blessings and prosperity and “I know the plans I have for you.” And it’s wonderful to take comfort in God’s word – it is. Even here in the midst of Isaiah’s most dire predictions and warnings to the Israelites – warnings of being taken from their homes and hauled off to a strange land – God promised to send them a Savior. We want to bask in God’s love – and there’s plenty to bask in – but we don’t want to think about the price we may have to pay as the recipients of that love.

I can’t say that I’ve paid much of a price. I have it pretty easy. I have a good job and a sweet little house and a dependable car. I can go to the grocery store and not think twice about what I’m putting in my cart. I have a good reputation with friends and coworkers, those “saved by grace” and those “not so much”. I have a great church where I fellowship with folks who are like family and a big grand piano I get to play in our 2000+ seat, wifi-enabled, high definition camera-equipped sanctuary.

And none of that is threatened because of my faith in Christ; none of it is at risk because of the moral and spiritual stand I take.

But…

What if it were? What if Jesus doesn’t return soon and the declining moral and spiritual climate in our country finally hits bottom? What if those friends and coworkers stop being tolerant of my relationship with Jesus, writing me off as a religious nut because I don’t have a TV or refuse to go to movies because they espouse a world view that’s diametrically opposed to that taught in the Bible? What if I risk losing my job because of something I say here on this blog, or – maybe sooner than we think – take a chance at getting arrested by simply praying in a public restaurant before a meal? What then?

Will I proclaim God’s truth anyway and trust in Him to give me the strength to endure? Or will I just keep quiet and eat at home?

These changes in attitude are not just happening in the world at large. I have an evangelist friend – a Godly, truth-proclaiming man with a heart for those who are lost and in need – who says that he’s no longer invited to speak at some churches because the pastors there say he’s too straightforward. What are those church leaders afraid of? That their church members might finally hear the truth? That they’ll lose numbers or full offering plates or bragging rights?

Not to be an alarmist, but Paul warned us about this. In Romans 1, he said:

They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.

(Created things like big houses, expensive cars, fame, entertainment, leisure…)

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil

(I just saw a headline for a review of a new video game that read “Raunchy new game is sweet.” The description of the game goes on to say: “There’s a cringe-inducing scenario set in an abortion clinic. And more.” Oh good – more; because poking fun at abortion isn’t entertaining enough.)

They disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Sound familiar? If we love the Lord totally – heart, soul, and mind – and serve Him with no reserve, this is what we’ll be up against. And if not, we might need to examine our heart, soul, and mind.

I sometimes think about the apostles – almost all losing their lives for the spread of the gospel. “But that was then – this is A-mur-i-cuh, land of the free, home of the brave.” OK. While I don’t know of anyone in this country who’s lost their life for their faith, I’m watching Christian-owned businesses in the headlines even as I write who may well lose their livelihood because of it.

Can the worst-case scenario be that far behind?

So where’s the application? Where’s the transparency I’ve always tried to maintain when I write? What’s happening in my life that’s causing me to need God-sized strength? Where is the growth moment?

There isn’t one – yet. But the Lord must have me writing about needing strength for some reason. For my first draft for this post I really did plan to end with a chorus of “Kum Ba Yah” (figuratively speaking). But again – not the story I was supposed to tell.

Maybe this is written for you – maybe it’s for all of us who truly call on the name of Jesus. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were sentenced to be incinerated because they refused to compromise their devotion to the Lord. Would you have done the same if you were in their situation? Would I?

I don’t know – but I have a feeling I’m going to find out what the need for God’s strength really feels like if Jesus’ return is delayed much longer. I haven’t had much strength training; but, then again, neither had Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego before they were tossed into the fire. Gives the phrase “trial by fire” a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?

So back to Isaiah 40:31… God definitely promised to give us strength; but strength to endure to the end after paying the price of true discipleship – not strength to do the laundry.

I’m not eager to have to pay too great a price but I want to be if that’s God’s calling for me. I’m not there yet – but, by the grace of God, I will be.

Will you?

Heavenly Father, I don’t know why you’ve called me to write this – I had much rather write about gnats or TV shows or iPads. But this is the message you laid on my heart, and you don’t owe me an explanation. If I’m the only one who reads this far, then I’m still certain your purpose for these words will be fulfilled.

I’m not ready for the trials – you know that. But I want to be ready. If your plan for me tomorrow is to walk through the fire, then my plan needs to be to get used to hot feet, because I am yours, bought at a price.

And if I haven’t thanked you sufficiently today for paying that price, then please forgive me – I owe you everything I am or have; which will never be enough, but it’s all yours.

Jesus paid it all; all to Him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain; He washed it white as snow.

Amen.

2 thoughts on “Strength Training

  1. Wow Dusty…talk about timing….I just (as in a couple of hours ago) finished Nik Ripken’ s THE INSANITY OF OBEDIENCE. Great insight into persecution. And your questions and wonderings are important, because it is coming..

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