The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
February 4, 2018
A wise saint once said: “Do not pray for an easy life; pray to be a stronger person. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers, but powers equal to your tasks.”
God loves to assign His people tasks to which their powers are not equal. Thus, carrying out the tasks God assigns requires seeking the strength God offers. He assigns to people of faith tasks they can only accomplish by exercising faith: faith He will deliver on His promise to give those, who in patient hope wait for Him, power they can’t come up with on their own.
Those who receive divine empowerment renew their strength when it’s run out, surpass human capacity when it’s reached its limit, and walk on when they might give up. Why, they seem to become different creatures altogether, mounting up with wings like eagles – all because they avail of a mighty help beyond them.
That power is like a moving sidewalk in an airport. You can, to make your next connecting flight, sweat and strain all on your own – or you can walk on while carried along by a power underneath you.
Of course, to avail of God’s empowerment – the wind underneath our wings, to mix the metaphors – we have to take the route God has planned and rely on a power from Him to bear us along to the right place. As we walk, we submit to a route we did not lay out and to a power we do not generate or control.
In other words, to transcend our mere natural capacities we have to trust in God’s supernatural ones! To trust in them is to depend on His grace, and to depend on His grace is to wait for Him.
Alas, waiting is something few of us any more are any good at doing; for modern technology, with its increased capacity to deliver instant gratification, has put us out of practice. Google gives us whatever information we seek in seconds, Amazon orders us whatever product we desire in a few clicks of a mouse (and, if we are Prime members, free next-day delivery), our favorite fast food restaurant hands us our meal as soon as we arrive if we’ve texted our order while driving there, and our cable television package offers us access to a 100 entertainment alternatives should the plot of one TV drama be too slow in developing. No wonder more of us are honking at the car in front of us if it delays a millisecond after the light turns green, grow exasperated over having three shoppers in front of us at the grocery checkout line, and lack the patience to read a text message longer than 140 characters. We’ve grown very impatient because we get so much immediately!
So why, we ask, do we have to wait for the Lord?
Maybe it’s because God has to wait for us!
First, God cannot give us a gift if we refuse to receive it; and we often resist receiving His help because we hate to admit we need it. We like to think we can handle our challenges by ourselves.
Second, God cannot give us a gift for the advancement of His good purposes if, upon getting our hands on the gift, we pervert it into a tool for advancing our selfish and unrighteous purposes.
Third, God cannot give us an enduring gift to do His will until there is an opportunity to put it to that use. For, as with muscle strength, if we don’t use it we lose it. God cannot give His supernatural power ahead of time.
In his book Against the Flow, Oxford University Professor John Lennox tells of a conversation he had with a Russian Christian who spent years in a Siberian labor camp for the crime of teaching his children about the Bible. Lennox writes:
“He described to me that he had seen [brutal physical abuse] that no one should ever have to see. I listened…and wondered how I would have fared under the circumstances. As if he had read my thoughts, he suddenly said: ‘You couldn’t cope with that, could you?’”
When Lennox admitted he could not, the man grinned and said, “Nor could I! I was a man who fainted at the sight of his own blood, let alone that of others. But what I discovered in the camp was this: God does not help us face theoretical situations but real ones. Like you I could not imagine how I could cope in the Gulag. But once there I found that God met me, exactly as Jesus had promised his disciples when he was preparing them for victimization and persecution.”
We can trust that God will give to His faithful ones the strength to handle whatever comes their way, whenever it comes their way – right on time, though not a moment before.
Of course, the strength God gives may not be the strength to triumph and so “succeed” in one sense of the word, but rather the strength to endure and so “succeed” in the sense of fulfilling out one particular part in God’s big plans even if we can’t see the difference we’re making.
Exactly three years ago this Friday, a 26-year-old Christian aid worker named Kayla Mueller was executed in an ISIS prison. Nine months prior, her captors had allowed her to write her family. In her letter, she spoke of how she’d been taught that in the end the only one you really have is God and how her isolation in prison made that literally true. She then spoke of how in her aloneness God had come to her to comfort her and to fortify her soul to keep bearing her witness to Christ.
Under the pressure of deprivation and threatened execution, Kayla remained strong and refused to cave in to anxiety, anger, despair or the temptation to deny her faith and so save her life. To the day of her martyrdom, she shined as a light for the Lord.
We may not be dealing with pressures as dramatic as those of Kayla Mueller, but we all have pressures –money problems, unreasonable expectations at work, or the inconstancy of people on whom we rely. Those pressures threaten to crush our spirit and cause us to cave in to temptation in compromise of our convictions. Yet we, like Kayla, can avail of the strength, promised to those who wait on God, that pushes back against forces of opposition and enables the faithful to remain true and fruitful.
Miles down, at the bottom of the ocean, the pressure is so great that it crumples thick steel as if it were aluminum foil. Yet, down in those dark depths, fish with skin that is of normal thickness and strength live and thrive. How do they manage? By having an equal pressure within them that pushes back as much as it is pushed upon.
Into those who wait for Him, God puts a force that pushes back as much as it is pushed upon. It keeps them from crumpling under pressure and from caving in to opposition. It keeps them going strong and going forward. It keeps them potent in fulfilling their purpose from God, even when they’ve come to the end of themselves.
Let us then wait for the Lord! Let us pray.