Categories
Religious

A Christian’s Strength

“I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.”

Philippians 4:13 (Common English Bible)

What is so remarkable about these words is that they are spoken by a man in chains. Paul is a prisoner in Rome. In a life dedicated to serving Christ, Paul has endured much – shipwreck, ridicule, hunger, and excruciating poverty. Now he sits in a Roman prison and writes that whatever the circumstances, Paul has learned the secret of inner strength and contentment. Perhaps even more remarkable, Paul lays aside his own needs and concerns to write a deeply personal letter to the Philippians to encourage them in their faith. Despite his imprisonment and impending trial, Paul’s one desire is to share with the church in Philippi that joy and strength does not come from outward circumstances but from an intimate relationship with Jesus. That power is so tremendous and so available that Paul feels he can face anything knowing that nothing can diminish his spirit. His spirit was invulnerable. Paul wants the Philippians to utilize that same power.

The interesting thing about the New Testament is that we find that same power animating most of the early Christians. A profession of faith in Jesus usually pushed people to the margins of their communities. Families were torn apart – mothers and daughters, fathers and sons no longer in relationship with one another because one or the other decided to become a follower of Jesus. Worship services were conducted in secret and often disrupted by Jewish leaders eager to destroy the Jesus movement. The worst tortures that could be imagined were invented and performed to discourage participation in the new Christian faith. There was every reason for ignoring the swelling growth of the Christian Church, keeping your head down and simply avoiding trouble. Yet, for all the compelling reasons to remain separate from those following Jesus, men and women who risked believing in Jesus made one dominating impression wherever they went, the impression of uncommon power.

That power has not been withdrawn. It is not a closely guarded secret. Where men and women continue to take Christ’s attitude of loving others and serving others that same power is unmistakable. What is troubling is that few would say that the Church today impresses the world with the same power as it once did. Somehow those who claim discipleship to Jesus Christ show little evidence of a changed life, a life of uncommon power. Absent in many Christians today is a sense of adequacy for meeting challenge and adversity. Membership and attendance decline of the Christian Church has been tracked and documented for many years now. This has resulted is the publication of resources to perfect the church’s hospitality, increase the vitality of its worship, and harness the power of technology. However valuable these may be, the most urgent need is for followers of Jesus Christ to get back to that power which is possessed by the daily nurture of a personal fellowship with Jesus.

Return for a moment to the first two words above, “I can.” Some years ago I was working with a personal trainer, Michael Bishop. One particular day he had me on my back, bench pressing what seemed to be an incredible weight for me. After pushing the bar above my head several times I did a controlled drop of the bar to my chest. I was depleted. I delivered an eye message to him to remove the bar from my chest. I will never forget his response, “That’s not my bar. You place it back on the upright supports.” Then he did what his training taught him to do. He placed his hands around the bar with my own. That was simply to ensure that I didn’t hurt myself. But the lifting belonged to me. I pushed with everything in me; I summoned all the power I could to lift the bar back onto the supports. As my strength began to fail, he matched the loss of my strength with his own until the bar had returned to rest on the support. Paul writes, “I can, through the power who gives me strength.” If you are depressed or in trouble say, “I can in Him” and you will find God’s strength come alongside your own. If you struggle with passions or addictions that frighten you, or if you feel that you are losing your grip on life, say, “I can in Him” and you will discover an unseen hand on the bar with your own, matching your strength. The Christian’s strength begins with, “I can.”

Joy,

The above meditation was taken from Dr. Doug Hood’s new book, Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ, volume 2, coming to your favorite online book seller in early September.
Categories
Religious

A Call to Prayer

“Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer.”

Mark 1:35 (Common English Bible)

My grandmother kept a large, white, faux leather cover Bible prominently in her home – usually on a coffee table, though she would occasionally move it about her home as though it was a traveling exhibit. Embossed into the cover was a full color picture of Jesus kneeling by a great rock in the wilderness. Each time my eyes fell upon that Bible I felt as though it was a call to prayer. The face of Jesus was not anxious, not desperate as my own on those occasions I did pray. His face portrayed a confidence, a radiance one has in the company of loved ones who care deeply about us.  Absent was worry, or doubt, or any trace of anxiety that threaten to consume. Yes, a call to prayer was evident in this picture of Jesus. However, that call made me uncomfortable – uncomfortable because I would experience a lack of spiritual power. With the disciples, I heard my own heart say, “Lord, teach us to pray like that.”

In this scripture, Jesus had just finished a hard, demanding day. Another day of similar demands stretched before him. How could Jesus be ready for it? Mark’s Gospel gives us the answer and with it an important insight to Jesus’ power, “Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer.” Jesus was intentional with prayer. Jesus wove into the fabric of each day a time to be alone with God. Jesus regarded this time a vital part of the human experience, however one may attempt to define or understand prayer. Prayer was an opportunity to link his life with the purposes of God and cultivate a friendship with God. This friendship produced the confidence that Jesus would not face any of life’s demands alone. That would be the source of Jesus’ spiritual power.

My lack of spiritual power as a child was from an inadequate view of prayer. I had reduced prayer to those occasions when I would ask God for a favor or for help with a difficulty. Consequently, days without prayer would pass – I simply did not have any request to make of God. Yet, as I matured, I continued to pay attention to that picture on my grandmother’s Bible, that picture of Jesus at prayer. It grew upon my consciousness that prayer is the same as time spent with a friend or loved one. I may not have anything to ask of my friend but I did enjoy their company. I felt valued by them, loved by them, strengthen because of their friendship. The same happens with prayer. A strong hand upon the shoulder, a confidence to face each day swelling within. Power comes as we find ourselves surrounded by God’s love, and guidance, and strength.   

With this refreshing surge of power that flows from regular time in prayer it is very strange then that we should be content with so little prayer. The weakest, most fearful individual can experience greater strength by the regular rhythm of prayer each day. As this passage of scripture demonstrates, prayer each day for Jesus was as ordinary as enjoying a meal. Jesus prayed often. Jesus prayed for himself and for others. Jesus prayed when he faced a crisis and Jesus prayed simply to be alone with God. Jesus urged his disciples to pray and Jesus taught prayer by example. What the disciples discovered is that regular prayer did not only sustain Jesus’ ministry, it gave direction. Immediately after Jesus rose from prayer this particular morning, Jesus knew what he must do that day. He was not to return to the previous day’s work. Jesus was to head in the other direction. God had new work for him there.         

Joy,

Categories
Religious

Not Waiting for Happiness

The following meditation is from Doug Hood’s upcoming book, Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ, vol. 2

“I’m not saying this because I need anything, for I have learned how to be content in any circumstance. I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.”

Philippians 4:11-13 (Common English Bible)

Have you noticed how many people have delayed their happiness? They seem to believe that if they can achieve a little more success, acquire a little more wealth, or marry the right person then they will possess happiness. Happiness, they believe, is what follows effort, and time, and, perhaps, a little luck. It is as though happiness is somewhere out in front of everyone who is industrious enough to pursue it. Happiness is something to grasp, they believe, and their minds remain fixed upon it until they have taken ownership of it. Striving day upon day toward the possession of happiness, what they miss is that the secret of happiness is already present in the lives of those who long for it.

Paul’s letter to the Philippian Church provides the secret of happiness – as God’s people, we are to live in humility, looking out for others more than for ourselves. That is a great reversal of the commonly accepted formula for happiness. Essentially, Paul teaches that if we are always chasing after happiness, happiness always remains beyond our grasp. On the other hand, if we occupy ourselves with looking out for others, adding value to other people and promoting their welfare, happiness quietly joins God’s people and takes-up residence in them. Paul is urging God’s people to break free of the tiny little world of themselves and join the great enterprise of God’s work in the world.

Here, in the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippian Church, Paul further develops the secret to happiness. Having shared the secret of happiness, disclosed in the activity of Jesus who accepted humility to become like us, for the purposes of restoring us to God, Paul points to a mysterious strength that converges in our service to one another. That strength comes not from any person – or from the community of God’s people – but from the outside. It is God’s strength. There is far more going on when God’s people join with one another for the promotion of the welfare of others. The same Christ who became human to serve now empowers and enables God’s people in their service to one another.

Shortly following the death of his wife, J. R. Carmichael entered a nursing home. Yet, if you inquired about him, you learned that he is never in his room. It seems that each morning Mr. Carmichael would shower, dress, eat breakfast, and then move from one residential room to another. In each room, Mr. Carmichael spoke with the resident about their family, read the Bible to them, prayed with them, and told them that he loved them. Then it was off to the next room to do the same thing. Mr. Carmichael missed his wife every day but he never waited for happiness. Happiness found him, as he loved others deeply.

 Joy,