Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Our Obsession with Our Own Strength - More Social Media Wisdom

I don't get it.  I don't get the modern obsession with finding out how "strong" we are during times of trial.  Even during the darkest times in my life, as I was struggling to make it through one day at a time, I had people tell me how "strong" I am.  I thought, "I don't feel strong, but thanks, I guess."  I remember seeing memes on Facebook about how bad trials make you stronger or show how strong you are, as if part of our problem is that we are blind to some hidden strength within ourselves.  But I never found those helpful or encouraging then, and I still don't.

Why?  Well, there are two reasons.  First, I was never overly encouraged by those things because I never really thought I was "weak" to begin with, and that was a big problem.  I felt weak, but not weak enough.  See, even though I had struggles with self-confidence or whatever you want to call it, I increasingly knew that a big part of my problem was that I was too self-sufficient and relied too heavily upon my own strength.  My problem was that I didn't want to admit my weakness, let things go, and trust God.  I resisted my real powerlessness and held onto my precious illusion of control, and that is exactly what kept me stuck in a lot of situations where I may have felt like I was "weak".  My perception of feeling weak was a combination of emotional exhaustion, largely stemming from my white-knuckle grip on controlling out comes, and worrisome doubt -I would not believe that God could do something good, better than what I planned and wanted.

The second reason was that I couldn't find a single thing in the Bible that says anything like this to people who are going through trials.  We are never pointed to our own strength.  We are told, instead, that we are proud people who struggle because we don't want to trust God.  We are a people who don't want to admit our need.  Sure, we'll admit that we need help, but we want help from God to accomplish things our way and it is that insistence on having things go our own way that saps us of real strength.  Those who do find strength, real strength, don't find it in their flesh.  They find an alien strength, a supernatural strength that comes from Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.  How exactly does that make me strong when it is actually Someone else carrying me?  Hmm...

The Bible explains that God uses trials to refine us.  The metaphor of burning away the dross and impurities in a refiners furnace is used.  Rather than revealing to us some kind of hidden natural strength that we didn't know about, they squeeze things out of us that we didn't know were there -that, in all honesty, we probably didn't want to know were there- so that they can be brought to the light and burnt away.  They bring the impurities to the surface so that what is left is the work of God in us, the faith, strength, love, etc. that He has wrought in us with the expected result of "praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ". (1 Pet 1:7)  If our trials reveal any strength in us at all, it is the strength that God has worked in us by His grace.

But let's not lose the point, here.  Someone please explain to me why I would need to believe that I am strong in the first place?  How exactly does that help me?  If I know I have a strong God, whose hand is not too short to save, do I really need to know how strong I am?  And where in Scripture do we find this?  We don't.  In Scripture we find something quite the opposite.  We find the faithful being pointed to the faithful works of God, over and over.  During tough times, we are encouraged to remember the faithfulness of God in His works.  We are encouraged to find our hope in Him, even when all hope seems lost.  When going through a difficult time, is failing to believe in myself really my problem?  If there is any strength we seem to be blind to and have a hard time believing in, it isn't ours -it is His.

I do get one thing, however.  I get the need to encourage someone that they can endure a trial, come out on the other side, and have things ultimately work out better than we could ever have planned.  I understand how we want to encourage someone to "hang on" and that "they can do it," especially when they feel like giving up.  By all means, even in our natural, fleshly strength we can survive and endure quite a bit.  We see stories of this all the time on television, about the indomitable will of a certain individual to endure great obstacles and come out victorious.  We do possess a kind of earthly strength, indeed.  But I would be remiss to not harp on the glaring fact that our total reliance on our own strength, apart from God, is part of our ailment not our healing.  What I really need to know is that, yes, God has given me many natural faculties to navigate and endure this life (and those are good things to give glory to Him for), but ultimately my best source of strength and hope are found in Him.

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