David Jeremiah - Overcoming Weakness with Strength
I've always been a high energy person. You can ask my wife or the people that work with me, they will tell you that's true. And when I was a boy, I often heard my mother say this, "David Paul, where do you get all of that energy"? And it was not a statement of admiration, but it was frustration and exhaustion on her part. For instance, in high school, I sang in the choir, I played in the band, I played baseball and basketball, I ran track, I went to college on a basketball scholarship, I carried a full class load, worked at two different radio stations during my junior and senior year, I went to Dallas seminary, I worked as a dock hand at the Illinois California Freight Company.
Every weekend, my wife and I drove to Fort Worth to serve as interns in the Northwest Bible Church, and somehow, I managed to play basketball and Industrial League in my spare time. After seminary, we moved to a place called Haddon Heights, New Jersey, and served the youth of the Baptist Church in that area, in a frenetic, seven-day-a-week commitment. Two years later, we followed the direction of the Lord to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where alongside seven families, we planted the Blackhawk Baptist Church. Ask anyone who's ever started a church, and they'll tell you it's the hardest thing they've ever done. My wife, Donna, and I, would certainly agree. In 1981, God called me to San Diego to take the reins of the church pastored by Dr. Tim LaHaye. Wasn't just a church, no. No, it was a primary and secondary school system. It was one church in three locations long before venues had come along.
At that time, they were thinking about building a retirement center, and I was involved in all of it. I was going to board meetings almost every night of the week, I was preaching five times every weekend. I always seemed to have all the energy I needed. I don't need much sleep. But on the September 26th, 1994, everything changed. I was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma cancer, and immediately, they put me into a protocol of chemical treatments. What I remember most about those chemical treatments was not the nausea everybody predicted, because by that time even, they had a lot of anti-nausea medicine and I wasn't getting sick. But what I remember was the profound weakness I got from all of those chemicals. I would get up, maybe at 9 o'clock in the morning, and about an hour and a half later, I was ready to go back to bed. I went from being a high energy guy who never stopped to being constantly fatigued, confused, frightened, by this weakened state in which I found myself. Never before had I understood what it felt like to be weak.
Now, most of us think of weakness like it's an illness, like the flu; oh, you get weakness. But interestingly enough, it's not that at all. In fact, there really is no such thing as weakness. Weakness isn't a thing; it's the absence of a thing. Did you know that there are other words that describe not the presence of something, but the absence of something? Take darkness, for example. Darkness is not an actual thing. Darkness is the word we use to describe the absence of light. And silence isn't an actual thing. Silence is the word we use to describe the absence of sound. And weakness is not an actual thing. It's simply the word we use to describe the absence of strength. In other words, where this is no strength, there's weakness. And strength comes to us in many forms, but so does weakness. There's marital and moral weakness. There's financial and physical weakness. There's parental and job related weakness. But the most debilitating weakness of all, is weakness in your spiritual life; weakness in your walk with God. Suffering, and challenges and hardships are universal, and at some time, all of us face that.
And the cause can be all kinds of things, like injury, or loss, or mistreatment by other people. It could be internal like self-doubt or inflated pride. Maybe, even addiction. But in our core passage in Ephesians, we are told to face all the realities of an oppositional world with a strength that isn't ours. Paul was making his final appeal to the Ephesians and he wrote these words, "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might". In the Philips translation, it reads like this, "Be strong, not in yourselves, but in the Lord and in the power of his boundless resource". So when you read Paul's motivational words to the Ephesians, you might logically assume the command is to be strong in order to fight. Maybe, you think, well, this is a military passage so this about getting strong so you can be a good soldier and fight against the enemy. But we are not called to be strong to fight. We're called to be strong to stand.
Four times in Ephesians 6, the Apostle Paul uses the language of standing. He says, "Be strong to stand". And I've written next to that in my Bible, "Strong to stand". Why aren't we committed to fight, you guys? Let me tell you why, because Christ, by his death and resurrection has already defeated the enemy. Satan's already been defeated. And you know how I know that? I read these verses in my Bible. Romans 8:37, "Yet, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us". 1 Corinthians, 15:57, "But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ. 11 Corinthians, 2:14, "Now thanks be to God, which always leads us in triumph in Christ". From the spiritual perspective, we are not fighting for victory. We're fighting from victory. The victory's already been won. We are called to be strong so that we can stand in the victory that's been won for us by Jesus Christ.
So as we look back, we can rest in Christ's victory over sin, and Satan, and death, and as we look forward, we face the future knowing that God will always lead us in victory. On the first Sunday, after completing the stem cell transplant therapy that God used to cure me of cancer, I was trying to figure out, what do you say to your church when you've been out eight weeks and you'd been going through what I had been going through? I didn't know what to say. I worked on it, and I was doing okay in that service, 'til our choir began singing the song, "Total Praise" by Richard Smallwood. It wasn't the first time I had heard that song, but on this day, it affected me deeply. The words grabbed hold of my heart. Here are the words, "You are the source of my strength. You are the strength of my life".
I sat on the front row, and I was already kind of an emotional mess, but I began to cry. I knew those words were true. I mean, they were true because they were in the Bible, but they were also true for me because I had experienced that in my recovery. Almighty God was the source of my strength. He was the strength of my life. This is the truth of the Scripture, men and women. Our God is an awesome God. He is a God of ultimate strength. God doesn't have any weakness. God is strong. The Bible says, "The God of Israel, is he who gives strength and power to this people. Blessed be God," Psalm 68:35. "Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary? His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might, he increases strength".
What part of that don't we understand? Or Isaiah 41:10, "Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand". If you translate all of those Old Testament verses into the New Testament, you come up with a verse like Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me". If you're someone who is facing something in your life in some area that I would never know, maybe, the person sitting next to you has no clue, even if it's your spouse, and you feel so weak in this area, and so lacking in the strength you need to be an overcomer, listen carefully to the strategies that the Bible lays out for us to download the strength of God into our own spiritual lives.
Let me begin with this one, "We Download God's Strength Through His Word". You know, I love to see people come and get their Bibles signed and they give me this old Bible that the pages are all falling out and there's marks all over the pages and in the front. I usually feel like that person's probably okay 'cause they've been in the Word of God. They've let the Word of God help them. They're downloading the strength of God through his Word. The Psalmist said it this way, "My soul melts from heaviness. Strengthen me according to your Word". God's Word is filled with great and precious promises that pertain to live and godliness. And all the strength we need for all the challenges of life, are found in this Bible. And a Bible sitting on a shelf is full of strength-giving truth, but that truth changes nothing until it's moved from the shelf into your heart, and into your mind. We access the power of God by reading, memorizing, listening, meditating, and obeying the Bible. Like loving words from an encouraging friend, the words you find in the pages of Scripture, will strengthen your soul with wisdom, and joy and light. They will give you the strength you've been looking for.
Here's a second strategy, "We Download God's Strength From Worship". Now, listen up, when your heart is caught up with the worship of God, something happens to you inwardly. Worship fills your heart with the worthiness of God. It uplifts your spirit. And that's why the Bible is filled with verses like these: Psalm 21:13, "Be exalted, O Lord, in your own strength. We will sing and praise your power". Psalm 59:17, "To you, O my strength, I will sing praises. For God is my defense, my God of mercy". We worship the Lord. We love, adore and praise God's name. No matter what's going on around us. We know he's going march with us to the farthest corners of the earth and to the end of the age. And that's why worship is one of the great keys to bring strength into your life and into mine. I know a lot of preachers, believe it or not, who stay in the back until the worship service is over, then they walk out and preach.
Now, why in the world would you ever do that? If worship is going to give you the strength to preach, why would you not go and get strengthened? When we worship the Lord, he strengthens our heart. That's the truth of the Word of God. Amen? Here's the third one. This is the hardest one. "We Download God's Strength by Waiting". Anybody here, like me, not fond of waiting? But the Bible says, "that when we wait on the Lord, we get his strength. Listen to these words, "Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and he will strengthen your heart". Isaiah 40, "Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength". Twice, in just a few verses, we're told, if you want to renew your strength, you have to learn how to wait on the Lord. But waiting for us, is so hard because it's the opposite of everything that's going on in our lives. I mean, our fast paced world teaches us that you can't wait for anybody.
So if you're going to learn to get strength by waiting, here's a couple of things you have to do. Number one, "You got to slow down". Take a moment and consider how the frantic pace of our lives affects the peace of our souls. To download strength from God, we need to make time to be with God. We need to slow down, and get quiet and pray. That is so hard today in our world, is it not? Isaiah said, "In quietness and in confidence, shall be your strength". You need a quiet time where you can get alone with God, just you and God, probably not on the treadmill at the club. Just you and God. Isaiah's word for quiet means ceasing activity rather than ceasing noise. This is the message of Isaiah 30. God wanted his people to stop their frantic activity by which they were trying to solve their own problems and the whole chapter is filled with people striving, and working, and trying, and pushing.
And you can feel the tension in the chapter, and then comes this verse, "In quietness and confidence, that's where you're going to get your strength. Have you ever figured this out? I find this out often. I'm like you, there's been times that I'd jump out of the day and get caught up in all the stuff that's going on and don't spend the time I should with the Lord. Everybody knows what that's like. But when I come and spend time with the Lord, here's what I've discovered, things work together better during the day than I could ever have imagined. Because when you pray, God gets to work in your life, isn't that true? So we need to slow down, and then we need to get quiet. And that's so hard, man. I don't know who's doing this, but somebody's out to make sure you never have a noiseless moment. I mean, television monitors blare the news. In doctor's offices, you have to put up with game shows bellowing from the wall. At home, our televisions, our laptops, our tablets, our smartphones, I mean they're always beeping and blaring and pinging.
So if you want to strengthen your soul by attuning yourself to the voice of God through his Word, you got to find some place that's quiet. And then, of course, after you slow down and get quiet, "You have to pray". Prayer is a river through which God's strength flows into your life. If you're not sure how to ask God for strength, consider making David's prayer your own. Here's what he prayed, Psalm 6:2, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak. O Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled". Psalm 22:19, "But You, O Lord, do not be far from me. O my strength, hasten and help me". So you got to slow down, take time to wait and pray. The last one is kind of counterintuitive, but it's really powerful if we can get our arms around it. We download God's strength from his Word. We download it from worship. We download it from waiting, and, "We Download God's Strength Through Weakness".
You say, "Well, pastor, that doesn't make any sense. How can he get strong from weakness"? Well, let me read a couple of verses to you and see if you can see why I am saying what I'm saying. 2 Corinthians 12:9, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness". Woah. And Paul declares, "Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, and in reproaches, and needs, and persecutions, and distresses, for Christ's sake, for when I am weak, then I am strong". At first glance, it seems to be contradiction. I mean, how can weakness make one strong? But Paul understood how difficult circumstances in his life taught him a profound truth about God's method for strengthening his children.
God doesn't need your strength, he's got enough of that. He needs your weakness, 'cause he doesn't have any of that. He wants to take your weakness and take it into strength. At the cross, Jesus took our weakness upon himself so that he could give to us his strength. The cross is the greatest picture of strength through weakness. The Bible says, "that Jesus was crucified in weakness, yet he lives in the power of God. We are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God". You and I who have become Christians, have received the benefit of that weakness. Jesus Christ hung on the cross, suspended between two thieves, and suspended between heaven and earth. Through his weakness, we have become strong. Could he have been strong then? The Bible says he could have called 10.000 angels and they couldn't have touched him. He willingly became weak for you and me so that we could become strong. Hallelujah.
For a concert violinist, strength is four, finely tuned strings. The absence of a string would put most violinists in a position of weakness, but Israeli-American violinist, Itzhak Perlman, is not most violinists. And Perlman knows something about weakness to begin with. He's afflicted with polio as a child, wears braces on both legs and walks with the help of crutches. Getting on stage and seated for a concert for Itzhak Perlman is no small matter. One evening in 1995, while performing with an orchestra here in New York City, one of the strings on his violin broke and hung limp on the side of the instrument. A loud snap ricocheted through the hall. It was obvious to everyone what had just happened. The audience, as well as the conductor and orchestra assumed they would take a pause and Perlman would repair his instrument and they would continue. Not so.
The great violinist closed his eyes for a moment while the audience waiting in silence, then he motioned at the conductor to begin the piece again. He began playing this concert, not with four strings, but with three strings. And as he played, in his mind, he was adjusting, and recomposing, and inventing, and innovating, and performing on the fly, turning a position of weakness into a performance of strength. Itzhak Perlman's lifetime of familiarity with the violin, allowed him to turn a moment of defeat into a masterful victory.
And your challenge is also to use the resources you need to adjust, recompose, innovate and prevail when you're confronted with your own challenges. As an overcomer, men and women, your strength is in God, not in yourself. My strength is in God. It's not in me. Weakness is not anything. Weakness is the absence of something. Weakness is just the absence of strength. So if you don't want to be weak anymore, get you some strength, and ask God to download that strength in your life, and then giving some ideas about how you do it. God doesn't want his children to walk around all weak. He wants us to walk around strong with our hands up in the air, victorious, so that we can make a difference in the world to which he has called us. I believe that with all my heart. So let's get out of here and be strong. Amen?