Grant You to be Strengthened (3:16)
We tend to think of strength as something that is worked for. Athletes go to the gym and work out to get stronger. Even if they cheat and use steroids or human growth hormone, they must still work out to gain the benefits of the performance enhancing drugs. Yet this passage speaks of strength as a gift that is given to us by God.
In the midst of temptation we often wonder if we have the power (in ourselves) to resist. Even in our temptation we are often too proud to be God’s beggars (as if we were ever anything more). Yet because of how we phrase the question (self-centeredly) we are given to the doubt and fear which strengthens our temptation.
Application: Hopefully we can see that timeless truth “in our weakness then we are strong” more clearly in light of this reflection. The question of temptation is not one of ability or strength, but of dependence and trust. Make a list of the temptations you regularly face. Beside each one list the setting(s) in which you frequently face that temptation. Describe how your self-assessment leads to fear and doubt. Write a brief narrative of what it would look like to face that moment in God’s strength.
Strength to Comprehend (3:18)
Have you ever studied something until your head hurt? That might be what Paul is saying here. If we are going to fathom the breadth, length, height, and depth of God’s love it will require the strength of God to prevent that understanding from breaking us. When we set the darkness of our sin against the brightness of God’s love the contrast should bring us to our knees like Paul on the road to Damascus.
If we miss this, we likely approach our study of Scripture too casually; like children playing near a high voltage generator. Imagine being an orphaned child who lived well into adulthood without any knowledge of his parents. Then finally by some means he is given a letter from his birth parents. As he read the letter, he would likely have to sit down. The weight of knowing this was the only first-person knowledge he would ever have from his parents would be physically moving. When we read it correctly, that is the Bible.
Reflection: How often, before you study the Bible, do you pray that God will grant you the strength to comprehend His Word? I think this kind of prayer prepares us for the miracle of divine revelation that we are preparing to read. One of the great challenges to rightly interpreting the Bible is coming to it with a right understanding of what it is. Because we live in a day of endless books, a leather bound one does not seem that special. Let us pray that God would give us “eyes to see” the Bible as divine revelation, before we open it to read.
More Than We Ask or Imagine
What is the point of trying to imagine something you cannot imagine? That is the invitation of Ephesians 3:20. We are constantly faced with the temptation to make God in our own image. This is partly because we are limited to the capabilities of our finite mind.
I believe one good application of this verse is to expand the breadth of our imaginations. By so doing we increase our capacity for God. The goal of the passage is not to challenge us to ask more and more of God so that we can be awed, but to have a greater and greater capacity for God so that our service in the advancement of His church is never delayed by our lack of faith.
With this being said, let me suggest two types of reading to help you grow the breadth of your imagination: Christian fiction and Christian biography.
- The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
- The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis
- The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein
- Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
- Here I Stand: The Life of Martin Luther by Roland Baiton
- Foxes Book of Martyrs by John Foxe
- The Autobiography of George Mueller
As you read one of these works, do not just seek to glean new information or to be entertained by a good story, ask God to expand the capacity of your imagination so that vision for what is possible for His kingdom will also grow.
Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.