Monday, March 3, 2014

Two Strong

As I reflect on life a little bit and on the way God steps in and changes things, I am becoming aware that there are two kinds of strength. One is deceptive in that it limits you; there is a strength that makes you weaker. The other is encouraging, quite literally; it makes you courageous and enlarges you.

On the surface, it's kind of hard to tell the difference because any strength could go either way. It depends on how you respond to it in your heart.

Deceptive strength tells you that you're better than this. It makes you feel like you can do anything, which makes you increasingly resistant to doing many things. It plays off one of the traits that I think is very troubling, particularly in younger generations: entitlement. Because I am strong enough to do this bigger thing, you might say to yourself, then I should not be relegated to doing a lesser thing. For instance, I know people who would never consider certain lines of work because they are "too good" for it. They know they are capable of better, so they'd never settle for something less.

The problem is that when you think you're too strong to do a weak thing, you end up doing something much more degrading: no thing. You live your life in idleness, telling yourself that you're strong, but wasting away and wasting time doing nothing at all, waiting on the chance to do something more.

None of us are immune to this. Even the most noble man in his weakest moments understands this temptation. If you're looking for evidence of this in your own life, think about your profession. Everyone who has ever had a job had at least one responsibility at work that they liked...less than they liked everything else. Everyone's had that task that's made them wonder why they are the one who has to do that thing. It's just preference, really, but at its core, it is a recognition of where our strengths lie. For instance, I once had a creative job where I got to do something I loved to do every day - design collateral for a non-profit organization. Unfortunately, coming up on the annual fundraising campaign, part of my job also included cold-calling businesses to solicit donations. Not my strength. I was young at the time, and I remember thinking, "I am not a glorified telemarketer." I hated every minute of it. Something inside of me pushed back against it, telling myself I was made for bigger things than this. Despising to do it. I had to remind myself that I am a servant first and foremost, that I do the things that need to be done because I am put in a place for a reason. And I constantly had to remind myself that no. I was not "better" than this. (I will not be a telemarketer, or even a sales rep, any time soon. Definitely not one of my gifts.)

The second kind of strength is more counterintuitive. It's paradoxical. It's a strength that says, "Because I am strong, I have no aversion to being weak." It is a confidence in who you are, in where you come from, in what you're doing, and most importantly, in Who is calling the shots in your life. It's a bit harder to explain this one, perhaps because I constantly find myself in awe of this entire principle. I sit around in quiet moments and think about how incredibly blessed I am, how strong I feel, and then I realize all of these things I do in any given week that it would be so easy, in a different heart, to think I must be somehow better than. I think about the people who quietly go to work, do what they're supposed to do every day, and don't complain about it. I think about the men and women who have jobs many of us wouldn't touch, and yet, I watch the integrity with which they work. 

I think about the small things each of us do that don't seem like anything, yet make such a big difference. And I wonder what difference we could make if we had the strength to believe in the small things.

It takes courage, but thankfully, this kind of strength is encouraging. It's a strength based on faith, and the knowledge of God beside you is enough to spur you on. I think God understood this better than I maybe ever will.

In His Word, God tells His people to "Be strong." But He doesn't stop there. There's always an "and," and what follows is usually "courageous." Be strong and courageous. The two are inseparable. Because a simple strength fools you into thinking you can do it all yourself, that by the power vested in you, you are able. But a courageous strength leans on its source to take a risk, to do something daring. It's hard to be courageous in yourself because you know your weaknesses. But when strength lies outside of you, it's easier to take a chance. All of a sudden, it feels like the strength is pouring into you, and it's suddenly okay to pour it out.

I'm thinking about all of this because I'm still thinking about calling. I'm thinking about this season of my life and where God is, and where God is taking me. As God speaks courage into my heart, I'm feeling the pull between these two kinds of strength. I'm feeling the pull between knowing what God has called me to do, and understanding there are things I would rather not do, that don't seem to be at my pay grade, if you will. And yet, I find that when I center myself on that very same strength, I can't help but not do what seem to be the weaker, lower things because God has drawn me into doing them without thinking a second thought about it. (Until of course, later, when I realize what I've done and realize that with conscious thought, and without love, I wouldn't even have considered it.) I guess it all just comes out of love. When you're strong and secure and know where your strength comes from, you're just not afraid to love.

Even when it gets a little messy.

That's what I'm thinking about this morning. So let me ask you: what makes you strong? If your strength limits you, then you're leaning on yourself; it is not a godly strength. But if your strength lowers you, humbles you in the sight of your God and yourself, and enlarges you to do the little things, then that is a holy strength. Let it pour right through you. And love the world. 

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