Strength

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“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
-Philippians 4:13

There is one question that I firmly believe almost every high school boy was asked at some point during his glorious years of puberty: “How much can you bench?” It’s a great way for guys to compare themselves and see where they stand amongst their fellow peers. You had the cocky middle linebacker on the football team boasting about the whopping four hundred pounds he could lift. Then you had people like me who had never benched until junior year of high school who maxed out at a mediocre one hundred pounds. Benching seemed to be the standard by which we measured strength (and consequently masculinity) in middle school and high school.

Strength in this physical sense presupposes resistance to be fought against. Think about it- no one is considered strong for curling a toothpick because the toothpick offers little testing of one’s physical abilities. Those guys we viewed as strong were those who could handle more weight. Then we grew older and most us came to realize that the amount of weight you could lift did not really determine whether you were a “strong” person. Along the way we met a single mother raising three kids on a limited income. We heard about a young girl weakened from a disease, yet who seemed to us to be the strongest person we’d ever heard of. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”

How fitting (or ironic, depending on how you look at it) that Jesus tells us “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). I read this a few days ago and a certain word stuck out to me. I glossed over “heart”, “soul”, and “mind” because I was so used to reading those words whenever I came across that verse. I thought to myself “Yes Lord, I’ve heard a thousand times that I should in theory be loving you with my whole heart, my whole soul, and my whole mind.” But the connotation of strength seemed different from the other three and really captivated my attention. Strength presupposes resistance to be fought against. Why are we told to love God with all of our strength?

If strength is the measurement of endurance through resistance, I suppose these would be some hypothetical scenarios where it would take true strength to continue to love God:

– After the loss of your child.
– When you were suffering in multiple ways from doing what you thought the Lord was calling you to do, then His consoling presence left you for fifty years.
– After losing both of your parents, all of your siblings, and most of your friends at a young age.

These three scenarios I’ve just described are not merely hypothetical, but actually happened to the Virgin Mary, Mother Teresa, and St. John Paul II (in that order). These three individuals, as well as countless other Christians throughout history, have shown us that it does in fact require strength to continue loving God; strength which is measured by our ability to respond to the resistance of anything that would otherwise get in our way of that goal.

Once someone sets out to become physically stronger, they’ll more than likely encounter the countless websites and advertisements that try to offer different workout routines and products. But how does one become spiritually stronger? St. Paul offers us some advice in his second letter to the Corinthians on how to become spiritually stronger. He doesn’t have a type of protein shake or vibrating belt to sell us, but his “celebrity” endorsements (the saints) are more than willing to give their inspirational testimonies. They all discovered at some point in their lives that to become truly strong, we must first acknowledge how weak we are.  They knew exactly what St. Paul meant when he said:

I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

To answer my original observation: Why are we told to love God with all of our strength? Because sometimes it’s just plain difficult. If your faith and love in God has yet to be tested, just wait. No one in this world escapes suffering, and at some point we all experience periods of spiritual desolation.

So how do we remain strong enough to persevere? How did Mary and Mother Teresa and John Paul II keep a smile on their face? What motivated them to get out of bed every morning to face another day of potential suffering? It wasn’t bicep curls. It wasn’t leg presses. It was Christ in them that made them strong. It is Christ in us who makes us strong. We can only realize this when we acknowledge how weak we are on our own and allow him to work through us.

Feeling weak lately? Good. Boast in it.

(Click here for a great song by Casting Crowns called “In Me” that exemplifies this idea)

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