December 14, 2011

Strength and Peace

Twenty minutes of Pilates loosens these muscles at bit, but mostly reveal that my body is not what it used to be. Bette Midler once said that after fifty, it’s maintenance, maintenance. Yet even as I age and resent the need for maintenance, I sense some progress and growth in my life.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion. (Psalm 84:5–7)
My strength is in God and my heart is on that road that leads to Him and increased Christlikeness. Yes, there are valleys and Baca is a word that means weeping. Yet God brings the water of life to my sorrows and the thought of appearing before Him puts a new spring in each step.

God’s people know how faith changes those waterless and barren valleys into a place of springs. He refreshes His people with showers of blessing even in the midst of our toil and sorrows. He gives us fresh strength as we move forth in obedience.

We also know that life in Christ is not to be stagnant. He gives light. As we step into that light and respond rightly to what He reveals, He gives more light. The New Testament speaks of this growth and change without the poetic metaphor of the psalmist.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
The “degree of glory” is about becoming more and more like Jesus. It is having increasing spiritual strength to fight sin and live in righteousness. It is spiritual growth that depends on a strength that is not my own. It is from Him.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28–31)
This “degree of glory” is also about the peace of God. When I am agitated, fearsome, and worried, my strength is sapped. However, His peace puts my fears to rest and dissolves all worries and cares. Again, this peace is not mine, but from Him.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
Each day God gives a fresh supply of grace. My body may not have the strength it once had, but my spirit grows stronger. Because of Him, I am increasing in strength to meet the challenges of life and survive the valleys of Baca.

My only part is obedience. If I act on impulse, or try to be a hero, or think my way will work, the peace of Jesus is not present. The simplicity of trusting God comes from the Holy Spirit, not from my decisions or will power. When I put confidence in myself, I wind up with perplexities and questions. When I trust and obey Him, nothing can come between me and the Lord. Problems from the outside only serve to keep me alert to my need of Him. Faith and obedience also serve to keep me alert to His strength and the delight of watching Him solve the problems. The entire process of grace and spiritual growth points me toward my eternal reward.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison... (2 Corinthians 4:16–17)
Lord God, the strength You give is totally superior to even the strength of youth. You renew it as I need it, lifting me above, or taking me through the trials and problems of life. Thank you that I can go from strength to strength.

Not only that, the peace You give is abundantly above the peace of the world (which is a mere absence of conflict) because it sustains me in all situations (even conflict) as I listen to You and obey You. Peace and strength from You are gifts of grace, gifts that come from Jesus who lives in my heart. I am astonished and amazed at such blessing and totally grateful that I’m still growing and even still have room to grow.

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