Sometimes people never get to know their strength because they never put themselves to the test. The strongest person that has ever contacted me was a woman, advanced in age, bent over and using a walking stick who decided to walk alone, at night, right through a tough, black neighbourhood. Tough men gasped at her audacity, cars stopped to offer her a lift, which she refused, bystanders shouted out, "lady do you need help" and she replied, "no thank you" and continued to walk right through the neighbourhood until she arrived at her home some distance away.
Was this woman audacious? Sure.
Was this woman risking life and limb? Absolutely.
Was this woman sane and rational? Yes she was.
This woman was on a mission. She had decided before she started on this mission to prove her strength in circumstances that were onerous. If her trust in God, after living the Christian life for many years, meant anything, if true faith had no merit when put to the test then it was pointless retaining it in her life. She had to find out one way or another.
There is a difference between testing God and provoking God even though the act in each case may be similar.
If you go to the roof of a tall building and say to people looking on, "I am a believer and I am going to jump and God will save me" then when you jump it will be the last thing you do in this world. That act would not be an exercise of faith; that would be a provocation. Even Jesus did not fall into that trap when Satan urged him to cast himself down from the temple so that angels could save him. (Luke 4: 9-12)
God can be provoked, not because he is some short-tempered Deity lacking in patience or because he has no comprehension of the foibles of human nature but because that is his just reaction to blasphemies, rebellions, divine contempt and sore displeasure.
Provoking God, for the most part, has to do with contrariness to the expressed will of God. If God tells you to do A and you proceed to do B then that is a clear provocation. When God told Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach and warn the people, Jonah went in the opposite direction because he did not like the Ninevites. That was a provocation. When the Israelites bemoaned the lack of water in the wilderness and God instructed Moses to speak to the rock, Moses, in a state of pique, smote the rock with his staff. That was provocation. When Nadab and Abihu donned the garments of the priesthood and masqueraded on the sacred altar, making mock-sport of God and showing contempt for the occasion; that was provocation.
God warned the Israelites against provocation, "Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him." (Exodus 23:21)
Believers do things every day that they think are acts of strong faith but in truth they are acts of provocation. It is one thing if during your travels you are brought, unexpectedly, face to face with deadly snakes and need to demonstrate your faith, it is quite another to put your hand in a bag of deadly snakes to prove that you have faith.
Many Christians fail to get the victory their faith and strength deserve because they allow circumstances to intimidate them; but this should not be so.
What then should Christians do to demonstrate true strength?
1. Christians need to rid themselves of fear if they want to show their true strength.
Fear is like the sword of Damocles hanging over every Christian and until we can brave menace, perils, and life-threatening episodes with equanimity we will never show our true strength.
We are often so very fearful.
We fear what somebody may do to us or our loved ones; we fear saying something because we may displease somebody and we fear offending people of power and influence. We fail to act because we don't want to reap the whirlwind and so pass by on the other side. All this reinforces our attitude to look the other way when appalling wrongs are being committed. All because we are fearful.
The Bible knows us only too well and reminds us, "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7)
2. The Christian needs to be Christ-centred in all their actions if they want to show their true strength.
Listen more carefully to the profound and wise words of the Apostle Paul, "And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." (Colossians 3:17)
When Christ is centre stage we don't teach and preach to show our knowledge and great learning, however vast that may be, but to humbly serve and edify the assembly.
When we are fully Christ-oriented, miraculous healing, speaking in tongues and the use of our gifts is less about us and what we can do and more about God magnificently working through us.
Because Christ is at the heart of our existence, and we live to please God through him, then true power and strength comes, not by us, but rather by Him through us: "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." (Philippians 2:13)
3. Christians need to be bold in exercising their trust in God.
Timidity in exercising your faith and trust in God is the very act of not having sufficient faith and trust in God. God requires single-mindedness, boldness and assertiveness based on God's ability to do what he says. There was a time when believers could not approach God directly as typified by the Holy of Holies (where the ark of the covenant, etc. was kept) for fear of instant death but because of Christ's redemptive act on Calvary's cross we are told, "Let us therefore come BOLDLY unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)
When Daniel knew of the decree of the king that no one was to pray to any god but the king for the next thirty days what did Daniel do? Here is how the Bible states it, "Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime." (Daniel 6:10)
This is extraordinary boldness and we know how God came to Daniel's rescue, and delivered him, and demonstrated his power and majesty to the king and a disbelieving nation.
I could have mentioned Elijah requesting there be no rain for eighteen months and it was so done (James 5:17); Peter pronounces death of Ananias and Sapphire and they died instantly (Acts 5:9-10) and Paul pronouncing blindness on Elymas, "And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand." (Acts 13:11)
Do you as a believer really know your strength? The answer for many is no.
You know your strength to the extent that you put it to the test and, through faith and trust in God's ability to deliver, you have succeeded even when the odds were very much against you.
Some believers have the habit of doing what some think is the impossible because they rely totally on God in accordance with the Bible, " Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might." (Ephesians 6:10)
Here is the beautiful thing about total trust; it has the capacity to baffle our enemies every single time. Showing our strength is nothing more than enabling God to demonstrate his mighty strength through us. Do you really think that Joshua had some special strength to stop the sun in its tracks, or Gideon and a small band to rout thousands, or Barak to crush the mighty iron chariots and the army of Sisera?
So stop being intimidated and fearful and, with Jesus Christ centre of your life, act boldly in exercising your trust in God and show how strong you really are. After all the Bible tells us, "What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). Exactly.
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