Commanded to Love: With All Our Strength

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 12:30 and I Peter 4:11

Andrew knows a thing or two about strength. For more than half his life Andrew has been invested in competitive weightlifting. He was a high school state champion weightlifter. He lifted in college and again in seminary, competing frequently with athletes across the southeastern United States. He continues training and weightlifting at a local crossfit box with the hopes of one day competing at the Olympics. I believe that Andrew can do it. If I know anything about my partner of 14 years and spouse of 8 years it is that if he puts his mind to something, he can make the thought reality.

Through experiencing life with Andrew I have learned a thing or two about strength as well. The most striking lesson seems a bit counterintuitive: a person builds strength by tearing muscle. The intent is not to rip the muscle sinew from sinew, but to create space within the muscle for further development and further endurance. By stretching, training, testing, and stabilizing, muscles are strengthened, which allows them to perform at a higher level of efficiency for a greater period of time for an increased return on what they seek to accomplish.

I believe our spiritual strength is built up through a similar process. We may not submit ourselves to bench presses or back squats to build up our spiritual muscles, but there are days where it feels like life’s crushing loads are on our chests or that the weight of the world rests on our shoulders. We struggle to stand up. We struggle to move forward. We are strained and pulled and under duress. We tear, but we do not break.

In the midst of these struggles, space is created – spaces of doubt, spaces of fear, spaces of loss, spaces of regret. In that space our faith wavers and wanders. In that space God meets us in love and assurance. In that space God invites us to trust where we have not seen so that we will grow to be people “who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29). In that space God turns our mourning into dancing, removes our sackcloths and clothes us with joy so that our souls will praise our God and not be silent (Ps 30:11-12). In that space we are stretched, trained, tested, and stabilized. In that space God strengthens us so that we that in everything we do – including how we persevere in times of trial – God may be glorified.

It is hard work to build up strength. It takes time. It takes commitment. It takes a willing and humble spirit to first admit that you have the capacity to grow and that there is more work to be done. Then you have to submit yourself to the work, which some days will be easy as a summer’s breeze and other days as grueling as swimming through concrete. Building up this strength helps us endure and overcome life’s struggles, not to our own glory, but to be evidence of God’s glory. Like the Corinthians, “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” because God is the source of our strength (II Cor 4:8-9).

God’s strength is in our muscles, our beings, our bones. God furnishes strength in trials so that in triumphs we know who to praise. To the God of perfect strength be all the glory now and forevermore.

Prayer: “Out of the depths I cry to you; O Lord, now hear me calling. Incline your ear to my distress in spite of my rebelling. Do not regard my sinful deeds. Send me the grace my spirit needs; without it I am nothing. All things you send are full of grace; you crown our lives with favor. All our good works are done in vain without our Lord and Savior. We praise the God who gives us faith and saves us from the grip of death; our lives are in God’s keeping.”* Amen.

*”Out of the Depths I Cry to You,” The United Methodist Church, 515.