A strong young man at a construction site was bragging that he could outdo anyone when it comes to pure strength. He made a special case of making fun of one of the older workers at the job site. After several minutes of showing off, the older worker had had enough.
“Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is and challenge me to a strength competition,” he said. “I will bet an entire week’s pay that I can haul something in a wheelbarrow over to that building that you won’t be able to wheel back.”
“You’re on, old man. Let’s see what you got.” The old man reached out and grabbed the wheelbarrow by the handles. Then, nodding to the young man, he said, “All right, hop in.”
God understands we’re often weaker than we want to be. People, events, experiences impact us and sap our strength from us. We can get discouraged more easily than we think we will get when we’re feeling stronger. It comes as a surprise to find out we’re not as strong as we thought.
Scripture says, “Tell everyone who is discouraged, ‘Be strong and don’t be afraid! God is coming to your rescue.’”
Financial troubles, personal problems, these things sap our motivation and determination. But the Lord can give strength to the weary and power to the weak.
There are going to be times when our way seems blocked, or our choices curtailed. We don’t see a better outcome coming our way. When we feel diminished, there’s someone we can rely on for strength. Ephesians 6:3 tells us to “be strong in the Lord and in God’s mighty power.” The truth is we have a need for power, the ability to act on our own and influence others or events. A young child finds she can get her older sibling into trouble by crying and pointing her finger at the other child. A manager enjoys doing performance management, where they criticize and direct their subordinates.
Power gives us a sense of control however. When we have power, it’s often easy to let it go to our head and heart. We may make mistakes by being less friendly to others. We feel untouchable. You see this, when some people are in their cars. They’re powerful and independent and don’t owe anyone anything. Things don’t always go right when people believe this.
But there are two different kinds of power. One is the capacity to influence or alter another. The other is the strength to control ourselves. This second power is the ability to be free, autonomous, and not under someone else’s control. This is the power that our prayer speaks about.
The thing is most think it’s more important to be able to influence others. If they had to choose between the two types, they would probably choose the ability to change someone else as their go-to super power. But when it really comes down to it, when we really examine this, we’re much more likely to want strength to be free from outside exertion, to have the might to be rise above our own bad choices and habits, to have power to determine ourselves first and foremost.
We want to have the power of the inner person to say and do what we know is best.
Many people know Samson’s story. He had incredible strength. He had amazing physical power. Samson had a lot of potential. He was popular in a time when Israel was suffering a huge leadership vacuum. Samson could have led Israel to impressive victories against the Philistines.
But he was never able to turn his outer physical strength into greater inner power. While he provided some encouragement by provoking the Philistines to anger, in the end, Israel ended up without a leader and Samson lost his life trying to defeat his physical enemies, the Philistines. He never grew into a spiritually strong man.
Imagine an athlete competing in a marathon—a foot-race of 26 miles, 385 yards. Now that is an endurance contest! To run over 26 miles requires an extraordinary level of perseverance. When a runner has been running for two or three hours straight, knowing that the finish line is still miles away, when his legs begin to turn to rubber and every breath becomes excruciatingly painful, he knows he must keep running or she will quit.
We never know where our finish line is. We are always trying to keep our legs from feeling rubbery and losing heart. It’s not easy to keep our will strong.
But we don’t want to give up. We can’t give into, “What the use!” Or “It’s too much.” Those are dangerous, deceiving thoughts that turn us away from the Lord and the incomparable power God has.
This is where our reading starts.
There are many prayers in the Bible. Some are well known, like the Lord’s prayer. Others are lesser known, such as Solomon’s prayer at the
temple dedication. There is Jabez’ prayer, “And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, ‘Oh, that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that your hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.’” This prayer become the basis of a very popular book over 15 years ago.
That prayer however has almost nothing to do with our prayer this morning. Jabez prayed God would build up his prosperity and keep all harm from him. The Ephesian prayer starts with us already facing suffering or weakness. Jabez wanted God to give him material possessions, not to relate to God personally. Our prayer sees the Lord as the hope and strength for the inner person. Jabez was trying to climb the ladder of success. Our prayer tells us what to do when the ladder is no longer climbable or doesn’t lead anywhere good.
We’re not always going to be able to get out of our difficulties by getting more stuff. People can’t eat their way to happiness. We can’t drink our way to happiness. We can’t spend money or buy things to make ourselves happy. That’s because God has a way of getting between the cracks of our plan. Like weeds in a wall or a sidewalk, life and reality will burst through. We’re going to need some help to make it the whole way.
Our author returns to the theme and idea of God’s immense power with which he started his letter. The prayer in Ephesians chapter 1 prays for us to come to know the “immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.” Two chapters later, we are prayed for so that we would “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” From the riches of God’s glory, we’re to seek to become spiritually strong.
Ask God for help. Seek the might that comes from the Lord. We don’t want to continue spiritually weak lives. Open the path to greater faith. Be refreshed with knowing how incredible the Lord is to those who turn to God for strength and purpose.
The second day back at work this past week, a man came to the church asking for help. His girlfriend and he had run out of gas. He asked me if I had five dollars to give him. He also wanted me to pray for him. I gave him $20 and we walked out to the car so I could pray with them both.
He told me he knew the car looked good on the side I could see as I made my way toward it but wait ‘til you see the other side, he warned. The car had been in an accident, and most of the front left bumper was gone. What was there was bent out and up. She was driving, and since he was no
more than in his early thirties and quite capable, he probably no longer had a license.
She got out of the car and I asked us to hold hands. I prayed that God would keep them safe and they could be aware of God’s love for them. As I was coming to the end, I could feel something was missing in the prayer. They needed a prayer for power. I finished praying by asking the Lord to give them power to do God’s will.
They were so weak, lost, scared. They kept telling me they were going to come to church this Sunday, asking me what time it started, promising me unlike other people who made this promise they would keep it.
I pray they find their way to a strength and a purpose they have yet to uncover.
We don’t want to lose strength. Don’t faint under the weight of your worries. Don’t weaken because of what burdens you’re carrying. If you feel your strength ebbing, turn to God in faith. Call out to the Lord to help you. Close your eyes to the negative and focus on your heart for God.
The Lord does wonders. God fails not, nor falters, and will strengthen you in your inner being.
Our prayer asks that the Ephesians would be continually strengthened with God’s power and living out their faith with the example of the love of Christ. We are to know the greatness and vastness of God’s love, its length and breadth and height and depth, finding direction and fulfillment in Christ’s love as it reveals the fullness of God’s great love.
How important is this? Someone put it this way once, “Without love, our earth is a tomb”
When we’re weak, it’s not because we don’t have everything we want. It’s because we’ve lost view of how much love we have. We can know this in our heads, yet find it difficult at times to walk it out in daily life. We’re busy. We’re tired. We feel alone or broken. We’re distracted. We get offended. We harbor bitterness or resentment.
But no matter what we might be facing or feeling, when we’re willing to stand together as the body of Christ, dependent on God for the Spirit’s fresh filling of power and love, all other things lose their hold on us.
For God’s love encompasses all. It reaches to every dark crevice and fills every need or longing. It gives power to forgive and to let go of the past. It releases sin’s hold and gives peace to the hurting. It’s powerful and surpasses our own knowledge and understanding.
It’s wide. It stretches to a greater expanse and extent than we can ever imagine. It’s long. It encompasses the length of our days, before and all beyond. It’s high, reaching to the highest heaven, where we shall fly in our day of eternal blessing. And God’s love is deep, deeper than any pit or peril or problem.
God’s love is as critical for your mind and body as oxygen. It’s not negotiable. We weaken as we travel further and further from it, and from its earthly manifestations in the people and purpose we are to make our own.
Strengthen your knees. Build up your faith. Renew your spirit. Grow deeper in love. Extend your courage to face what seems insurmountable. Turn to the Lord, for God is the one “who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”
Can the church say Amen?