“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” I know that’s a brazen theft of a classic opening line, but for me it describes the situation we are in.
For some of us this is a time to slow down, reflect and reconnect, filled with meals around the table and deep conversations. For others; a time of loneliness, worry and sorrow, fraught with financial and relational anxiety and pain. What strikes me is that we are all in the same boat. I have never experienced anything on a global level like this that so unites us in our experience of humanity. Perhaps this is a good time to think about what it means to strengthen ourselves in the Lord.
Paul, in Acts 27, was literally in the same boat as his fellow travellers when a great storm came. Actually, he had predicted the storm and the loss of life in v10, but they set sail anyway. For 14 days and nights they were tossed on open seas by hurricane-force winds and all hope was lost, but then Paul steps up and tells everyone not to worry because he has spoken to an angel who said that God had graciously given him the lives of all those on the boat. What a promise, wrought through the prayers of Paul, to save every life on board! But there are so many more examples where faith is lived out, even when no angelic visitation has occurred.
“Perhaps this is a good time to think about what it means to strengthen ourselves in the Lord.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace because they would not bow down to any other god but Yahweh. They were in the same boat as every other exiled Jew in Babylon for whom the penalty of not bowing down was death. But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were confident that God could save them; in a move of unbelievable faith and obedience, in v18, they said that even if He did not, they would not bow to another. What courage.
David returned with his army of malcontents (1 Sam 22:2) to find that all their women and children had been taken by the Amalekites. The army discussed stoning David to death in their distress, even though he was in the same boat – his wife and children were gone too. But it says that David ‘strengthened himself in the Lord’, he sought the Lord’s advice in that moment, and they went after their families and each one was restored. I could go on listing examples of times when our heroes of the faith were in the same boat as everyone else, but their perspective was shaped by something other than the earthly vision or understanding of what was going on. But how do we strengthen ourselves in the Lord?
Strengthening a muscle means to use it repetitively until it builds up and can work harder or bear more weight. To strengthen a structure means to add support to the structure to carry the load. To strengthen a cocktail means to add spirit until it makes more of an impact! To strengthen a metal means to boil away the impurities. I would argue that we go through the same processes to strengthen ourselves in the Lord and there is no better time to get on with doing so than when we are in the same boat as everyone else, whatever our personal circumstances happen to be.
So here are some practical ways that we can ‘strengthen ourselves in the Lord’:
Strengthen your spiritual discipline muscles by learning God’s word, meditating on it day and night (Psalm 1:2); singing praise and bringing a sacrifice of praise even when we don’t feel like it (Psalm 50:23); praying at all times with thanksgiving (Eph 6:18); speaking in tongues to edify, or build yourself up (1 Cor 14:4); fasting and praying (Matt 17:21). The more we do this, the more we can bear in times of difficulty because our lives are planted deep, like oaks of righteousness (Psalm 1).
Add structure to help you carry the load – in other words, we need our lives to be built on the truth of what God says about who He is, first and foremost, and then who we are and what our purpose is here on earth. Read about God, spend time talking to Him about who He is and what He thinks about you, so that those things are unshakeable, immovable truths that shore up every part of your life. If you feel a part getting shaken, find a scripture or a promise that God has given you in your own quiet times that speaks to that shaking, and build your life on truth.
Add Spirit to make your life stronger (this might be my favourite!). The beauty of Jesus returning to the Father was so that He could send the Holy Spirit to be with us (Luke 24:49). The access we always longed for into the presence of God is ours for the taking – being in fellowship with Holy Spirit is our ticket to power, comfort, peace, joy, hope, healing, wisdom and so much more. Make getting to know Holy Spirit a priority in your life.
And lastly, allow God to burn away our impurities (Prov 17:3). This is a really strange time to be alive, but God is shaking up our ‘normal’ and I don’t think He is keen for it all to shake back down as it was before. What is He refining in me through this process? My reliance on routine and predictability, health and wellbeing, freedom, intellect? Whatever it is, don’t fight the fire, allow God to purify you and be sure that even this is a strengthening process. David strengthened himself in the Lord, and so can we.