Since the cardiac rehab center I used for the past 10 years closed, I’ve changed workout venues and undertaken a new fitness regimen. In the process, it’s caused me to think a lot about strength – what it is, and what it’s not.
Strength holds a lot of different meanings for folks. The word may cause us to think of the muscle-bound person that makes the free weights and weight machines in the gym cringe. Nations boast about military might, implying their enemies don’t dare try picking a fight. In sports, we often hear talk about “strength in numbers.” Businesses refer to “core competencies,” meaning their products, services and strategies that are the strongest.
I once heard a guy describe growing up in a female-dominated household. He said his mom was “strong as an acre of garlic.” (I’m not sure she was still alive to hear that description – but I do recall seeing him look over his shoulder as he said it.)
Bold criticism used to be defined as “strong statements,” but these days it seems everyone’s making comments that are bold, or brash, or bewildering. When everything that’s being said is “strong,” doesn’t that really mean that nothing is strong?
|This classic photo of the RMS Titanic on the docks|
of Southampton before its ill-fated voyage is an
historic example of weakness in strength.
Which provides a segue to my topic: Can strength become a weakness? We need look no further than the RMS Titanic, the supposed “unsinkable” passenger liner that came out a poor second in its encounter with an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912, costing more than 1,500 lives.
We have many biblical accounts of people weakened in moments of strength, including Samson, whose legendary strength seemed uncontainable – until he was seduced into revealing the source of his power. Strong and revered King David, called “a man after God’s heart,” caught a glimpse of a lovely young woman on a rooftop one evening, and his subsequent actions resulted in a series of tragic consequences.
More than one pastor has strongly asserted, “one area I will never fail is in the area of relationships,” only to leave the ministry in disgrace due to sexual sins. This is one reason the apostle Paul offered this word of caution: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Strengths can work to our benefit, but they can also lead to overconfidence, complacency, and self-destructive pride.
“The flip side of any strength is its weakness,” I once heard someone say. I’ve experienced that myself. Friends sometimes call me an encourager, but one of the greatest temptations I face is succumbing to discouragement. Just as coaches and managers in sports scout for weaknesses in strong opponents, maybe we need to “self-scout”’ to discern where our strengths might leave us vulnerable.
Looking at the converse of this is interesting. A weakness can actually become a strength – especially when we’re aware of it and deal with it appropriately: We can try to work on that area and strengthen it. We can strive to avoid situations where the weakness is exposed and can be exploited. Or better yet, turn to another source of strength.
The apostle Paul had been a proud, militant religious leader, persecuting and seeking to annihilate followers of Jesus Christ. However, after his life-changing meeting with Christ on the road to Damascus, the apostle recognized the weakness of his zeal and “strength” in opposing Him. He wrote about a “thorn in the flesh” that plagued him the rest of his life, an undisclosed affliction that ensured his humility.
Paul said three times he pleaded with God to remove the “thorn,” until he realized it was a blessing and not a curse. “…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 12:8-10).
Seems to me what Jesus really wants is not followers who flex their own muscle and resolve, but ones so in tune with their weakness and insufficiency that they constantly call upon Christ to empower them to do whatever He calls them to do.