Read this as a devotional. Take the time you need.
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8).
As you read it and think about it, do nothing else — no other thoughts; no concerns about other things you need or hope to do; no “sandwiching in” between other things you have scheduled; no multi-tasking allowed. Do this devotional in your “prayer closet”, that is, wherever you can control what you do — without interruption. If you can be interrupted, then you are not devoting yourself to this time.
1. Consider your strengths.
This requires self-awareness. Often, we are not aware of our own strengths if we rely on them. They are too close to who we see ourselves as being, especially if we see ourselves in terms of accomplishment or performance — the things we do. Strengths can be many things. They can be abilities to conceptualize, prioritize, plan, organize, manage & execute projects. They can be abilities to endure, sympathize, encourage, communicate, command or follow. Strengths can be almost anything. Each one of us is some unique combination of strengths, as well as weaknesses. Our strengths give us confidence and are tied closely to who we are. Picture and name your strengths.
2. Consider how you use your strengths.
As Christians, it is normal to want to do our best to please the LORD. We love to use our strengths to do things for God. Many Christians discipline themselves to constantly be occupied, in order to avoid the pitfall of idleness. Is the way in which you use your strengths a product of the Spirit’s leading or are you simply caught up in a religious routine or lifestyle of “doing”?
3. Consider how God wants you to use your strengths.
In order to do this, you must acknowledge the spiritual essence of living as a Christian. Christianity is not just religion as a way to think or a way to live. It is an essential relationship with God, manifested in our changed nature. As believers, we have entered the kingdom of heaven. And as Dorothy said, “We’re not in Kansas any more.” 1 Corinthians 6:19 tells us we are not our own.
In John 4:34 Jesus — our example — said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” In other words, what nourished him — what gave him life and strength — was doing the will of God the Father. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
So, even though we are flesh and blood beings, Acts 17:28 tells us, “In him we live and move and have our being.” This mysterious spiritual relationship is of critical importance. In John 15 Jesus tells us to abide in him and that, “the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine”. It is not the strength of the branch that produces anything for the LORD, but the strength of the vine. Another analogy pictures us as a body nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, growing with a growth that is from God (if we are holding fast to the Head). See Colossians 2:19.
We humans can find this mysterious relationship hard to adapt to. We really are strangers in a strange land (Exodus 2:22). We “instinctively” look to our own strengths to control our lives or environments. But God specifically tells us not to. From the book of wisdom, Proverbs 3:5-6, we are instructed, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Our own understanding is one of our strengths. When we rely on it, we are choosing not to abide in the vine. We are not holding fast to the Head.
Jesus said if we want to follow him we must deny ourselves. When we deny ourselves, we are not living in our own strengths. We are relying on God to be our strength. Ephesians 6:10 encourages us, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” This is not our strength. It is in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
Here is where it can get tricky. 1 Corinthians 2:14 explains, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” So, we must look at things of faith from a spiritual mind-set. God told Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
4. So, as we live our lives in Christ, what role do our own strengths play?
Romans 12:1 talks about presenting our bodies as living sacrifices. This idea contrasts with the idea of a blood sacrifice, in which life is taken, and thereby ended. But a living sacrifice is that which is given by how life is lived daily. This principle doesn’t simply apply to our bodies. It equally applies to the rest of our being. And this should be obvious because the greatest commandment, according to Jesus is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Jesus also told us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
So, take all your strengths, all your gifts and talents and abilities and dreams, motivations, loves, needs — everything that makes up your life, who you are, your totality — and leave them at the foot of the cross. These are your sacrifice. God can use them…in you. But let him do that. First of all, you need to surrender everything to him. He has never left you or forsaken you, nor will he ever (Deuteronomy 31:8; Hebrews 13:5).
We do not, nor cannot know why “bad things happen to good people”. But like Job, we all must revere the sovereignty of God more than our own autonomy. The LORD is not answerable to us. We are answerable to him. Our total surrender to him brings glory to God in the name of Jesus. In Job 13:15, Job said, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.” But since, “we have an advocate with the Father–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1) there is no longer any need for us to argue with God. If we abide in him, we are in him. He is in us. We are not separate from him.
1 Peter 4:12 says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” God has not betrayed you. Just as life in the Spirit does not consist of what we eat or drink or the clothes we wear or what possessions we have (Luke 12:15; 22), neither does life in the Spirit consist of the injuries or diseases our bodies are prone to. Whatever comes our way, Jesus came that we might have life more abundantly. This is a spiritual reality. We can rejoice in that.
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” –Romans 5:3-9
Do you trust God? Then be doers of the word.