“Be strong in the Lord” sounds like something we are called to do. It sounds like a choice. It sounds like the apostle thought that we could do something within us to draw strength from God. If you study the art of leadership, you will find that all of the great leaders and teachers on leadership were united about the one common ingredient absolutely necessary for someone to be a leader worth following: character strength. That ability to always bounce back when the cause is right and just. The sense of responsibility borne that needs no overseer to work – character, inner strength.
Be strong in the Lord speaks directly into the recesses of our soul’s identity – our character. I wonder when the apostle penned these words that he was also speaking to himself. After all, the human spirit can sink quite low when chained and manacled in a prison cell! I wonder too if he pondered the life of King David who is described as having strengthened himself in God? “And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.” 1Samuel 30:6
What we know, and what David didn’t know at the time of this verse, was that although all the people were bitter toward him, and he was almost overcome with distress, he was on the verge of being crowned king! Often our darkest hour comes just before our finest hour. Speaking to this text, Matthew Henry wrote, ”Great faith must expect such severe trials. But observe that David was brought thus low, only just before he was raised to the throne.” God has made grace available – strength to His children.
We sometimes think that grace is only about salvation. But it is actually God’s underserved provision for our needs. This not only includes in our salvation, it includes our sustenance. And there are times when we particularly need God’s sustaining strength. But the way that He has ordained for His sustaining strength to be mediated to His children is very often counter-intuitive. That is, it seems that we have to do the opposite of the very thing we desire to do. To move forward sometimes God calls us to wait. To grow rich sometimes, God calls us to give everything away. To be refreshed sometimes God calls us to keep working.
When we are particularly weak and vulnerable, we tend to withdraw from others. But one of the most counter-intuitive things that God calls us to do in such times is to immerse ourselves in others. In fact, Peter when writing to a buffeted and persecuted church, reminds them that the grace of God actually comes in many and varied forms, through our brothers and sisters in Christ who are called to steward God’s grace to one another. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” 1Peter 4:10
Similarly, the apostle Paul told the Romans that God’s strengthening grace came through the Gospel, but particularly through the Gospel being preached. This is why attending a good Bible-based, God and Gospel honouring church is good and strengthening for your soul. “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages.” Romans 16:25 This can be very counter-intuitive when on a Sunday morning you are tired and weighed down. It’s easier to stay in bed than to get out of bed and get to church for worship.
God mediates His grace to His children through the preached and taught word but especially through the sacred fellowship and gathering of God’s children. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3:16 If you want your spiritual strength continually topped up, be committed to your local church and “do not neglect to gather together” (Hebrews 10:25).
Dr. Andrew Corbett