April 20, 2013

Spiritual strength is for the helpless

The saying goes, “Things are never so bad as what they could be worse.” This is what God is saying to Jeremiah. This prophet has been rejected and returns home like a tired bird to its nest, only to find that his family and friends will not listen to him either. They speak kindly, but want him silenced, just like everyone else. God points this out, but gives this weary man no sympathy.
If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan? For even your brothers and the house of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you; they are in full cry after you; do not believe them, though they speak friendly words to you. (Jeremiah 12:5–6)

God does not deny that the prophet’s lot is difficult, but says that it will become even more difficult. Today’s devotional said that this was the answer Jeremiah needed. He needed to be braced, not pampered. He needed to persevere, not run for comfort.

Jeremiah is my favorite Old Testament prophet. I relate to him, and these verses related to a current trial in my life. I want comfort and escape, but God has been telling me to endure, even to stand up and fight this battle, not give in to self-pity or retreat. He even says it could get worse, and I’ve already seen that happen this week.

What I’ve also struggled with is my vacillation. Sometimes this trial has me standing strong in the Lord, and sometimes I am like Jeremiah and want to either give up or hide. It didn’t occur to me until reading this that God increases the pressure for a good reason. He does not want me to fight this battle in my own strength. Like Jeremiah, I’ve been able to “race with men on foot” but in doing that, I have become weary and complaining. Self-effort might be sufficient for some of it, but if the situation worsens, then what? If I rely on my own strength, I will surely fail.  

God appealed to the grace-strength in Jeremiah, not to his human strength or weakness. By God’s grace this prophet could face his trials and fight. He could contend with horses, and manage the thickets by the Jordan. He needed to remember that by grace he would be saved, not by self-effort.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)

The Gospel is still the power of my life. I am saved and still being saved by the power of God, not my own doing or effort, and this is a gift so I cannot boast about my victories. I cannot win any battles apart from the mercy and grace of God. Iron resolution will not do it, even though the devotional writer errs in saying so. The power to endure all things comes from God. By bringing on even greater intensity in this trial, I am forced to rely on Him instead of myself — and my Savior knows this is the best way to get me through it.  

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