Man Alive: Inner Strength

Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.

1 Corinthians 16:13 KJV

Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14 NLT
Hebrews 12:1

In a poll of random acquaintances, I asked the question, “When you hear the term manhood, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?  I tallied the responses in the hope of identifying characteristics of manhood that are written in hearts, not what has been taught us in school or portrayed by the media. (See Man Alive: What is Manhood?) Response number 1 was “responsible.” Number 2 was “Christlike.”  The third most frequent response included things such as strength of character and staying steadfast in times of difficulty.  I have grouped those kinds of characteristic under the descriptor, “inner strength.”

One of the headlines coming from this survey is that no one mentioned physical strength or ability. As much as I like to wear a beard, no one talked about facial hair, or deep voices, or bulging muscles. I believe this indicates that the essence of manhood is hard-wired in the hearts of men and women, and it transcends the physical traits that go with genetic maleness. One of the stereotypes of men in our culture has been the “strong, silent type” often associated with movie heroes of a particular genre.  While the man of stoic demeanor may indeed be showing inner strength, he may also be emotionally inept or just too dumb to say anything.  We want to make a differentiation between “silent” and “strong.”

We began this study with the text from 1 Corinthians 16:13. It gives a window into the understanding of manhood in the first-century church.  Part of that understanding was “be strong.”  The word Paul used comes from the Greek word kratos.  It means strength or might.  The Complete Word Study Dictionary (© 1992 By AMG International, Inc.) says that it “Denotes the presence and significance of force or strength rather than its exercise.”  Paul was emphasizing a strength of the inner man. This kind of strength will give us our pattern for study.

  • Inner Strength Characteristic #1: Committed to the Process

Luke 1:80 NKJV So the child (John) grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.

Luke 2:39-40 NKJV  So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.  (40)  And the Child (Jesus) grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.

Both John the Baptist and Jesus grew stronger in spirit as they grew physically. They both had immense responsibilities lying ahead, but they had to grow stronger on the inside before they could fulfill their callings. This is a growth process.  None of us springs from the womb strong in spirit. As surely as we must grow physically to fulfill our destiny, we must also grow stronger in spirit. Allowing yourself the opportunity to grow and develop somewhere out of the limelight requires a certain amount off patience and humility.  Notice that John was “in the deserts” until the time of his manifestation to Israel.  Inner strength develops while we wait for the timing of God.

As Jesus grew – going to the synagogue, serving in his parents’ home, becoming physically mature – he became strong in spirit.  If Jesus, the incarnate God, had to undergo a process of growing stronger on the inside, how much more will you have to endure a growth time? Don’t despise the process.  For Jesus, the growth of inner strength was marked by two things: one on the inside, the other visible on the outside.  First, He was filled with wisdom. His thinking and reaction to the world around Him went from the responses of a child to those of a man full of God’s wisdom.  Meanwhile, on the outside, grace was upon Him.  The gifts that would mark His ministry became increasingly apparent to those around Him.  You are in a process of growing strong in spirit. Seek wisdom.  Be aware of the graces (gifts and abilities) that mark your life.   Your time is coming.

Exercises:

  1. Are you growing stronger in spirit?  How do you know? What are you doing intentionally to grow in inner strength?
  2. Are there goals and desires in your life that you believe you want to accomplish but seem to be taking too long?  Do you believe these desires are from God? Why?   Why is waiting so hard?
  3. What are your strengths and abilities?  How do you know?
  4. Ask at least two other people what they think your strengths and abilities are.  Do they agree with you?
  • Inner Strength Characteristic #2: Strength to love.

Ephesians 3:14-19 NLT When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Paul told the Ephesian church about the things he was praying for them. Here he prayed they would be given inner strength by the power of the Spirit.  The question is, strength for what? He says this prayer is prompted when he recalls the great mission he is writing to them about. Beginning in chapter 2, he is describing the revelation of the mystery: that God would make one new people out of Jews and Gentiles. This new Church would have access to God’s Presence by faith in Jesus Christ, would be a place where His Presence abides, and would carry out His purposes in the earth. He prayed that they would be strengthened in the inner man so as not to lose heart in such a great endeavor (Ephesians 3:13)

Just like John and Jesus, we need strength to fulfill our individual parts in a great destiny.  This prayer tells us that we need strength in order to understand His love. Love, the love of God, requires strength and revelation.  We can’t understand it unaided, nor can we do it without His help.  Why is love so vital to the fulfillment of our mission as part of the Body of Christ? Three big reasons:

  1. Love enables me to stand fast.  The first love we understand is His love for us.  It is a love incomprehensible to human thinking, but we love Him because He first loved us, and He did it while we were still sinners (Romans 5:6-8; 1 John 4:10). Until we grasp the unwavering love that God has for us, we will never be able to trust Him.  Trust is different from faith.  Faith believes a specific promise, then believes it receives.  Trust is when I find myself in a difficult circumstance – when I have prayed, spoken the Word, and resisted the devil, but there is no visible change in the problem. In those trying moments, I continue to stand because I trust God’s care for me.  I don’t trust Him because of my great faith or bible knowledge, but because I believe He loves me. The inner strength He provides allows me to stay steady when I don’t understand. Manhood trusts God when it hurts. 
  2. Love makes me a team player.  The singular command of the New Covenant is to love one another as He loved us (John 13:34-35).  This is not a command to love the sinner, but a command to love the saint, the guy next to me in the pew.  It may be that the only thing we have in common is our faith in Jesus Christ, but that faith means that we now share a purpose in this life and a destiny for eternity. We are serving together.  In order to walk out my divine purpose, I will have to love people I may not like.  Until I do, I will be isolated and impotent for the purposes of God. The inner strength He provides enables me to walk with those I am given, not those I have chosen. Manhood loves the Church family.
  3. Love compels me to the world. There is a lot to dislike about the world around me.  I don’t like nasty, dishonest people. I don’t like folks who kill babies in the womb.  I find the sexual license in our culture offensive at a visceral level.  When I hear anti-Christian rhetoric it makes me want to lash out in defense of my tribe.  But the One who paid the ultimate price for me has commanded me to “Go into all the world and preach the Good News (Mark 16:15-16).”  He doesn’t see them the way I do. He sees them through the lens of His own suffering on their behalf.  If I can see them through His eyes for just one second, I am transformed. As Paul said, “Christ’s love controls us.” (2 Corinthians 5:14) This love draws my heart toward those who are yet without Christ. The inner strength He provides allows me to love the unlovely.  Manhood loves the lost.

EXERCISES:

  1. Do you believe that God loves you?  How do you know?  How does that fact influence your life?
  2. Is there an area of your life where you have prayed and spoken the Word of God over it, but you despair of ever seeing fruit? Can you trust God with the outcome just because you know He loves you?
  3. What teams are you part of? Family? Job? Church? How do you function as a member of a team?  If there are problems, what is it that causes you difficulty?
  4. If no one else on your team changes, what would have to change in you to make you a better teammate?  In your family? In your job? In your church?
  5. The world is full of evil people. The love that compelled the father to sacrifice His Son is supposed to color how I see the atheist, the pagan, the politician, and the persecutor. Are there people in the world you have a hard time loving? Can you rise above your feelings and see them through the lens of Calvary?  If not, why not?  If you loved them, what would you do and say differently?
  6. For the next week, take the prayer Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus, and put your name in it. Pray it every day for yourself, and be prepared to be strengthened with might so you can see His love.

My Prayer: … I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower me with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in my heart as I trust in him. My roots will grow down into God’s love and keep me strong. And may I have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May I experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then I will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19 NLT edited)

  • Inner Strength Characteristic #3: Keep on keepin’ on.

Colossians 1:9-12 NLT. So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.

Praying for the Colossian church, Paul again asked for inner strength.  This time he’s talking about the ability to continue in the love of God that he has heard about (Verse 8).  He prays that they will be able to know the will of God, live in a way that pleases God, and produce good fruit.  Inner strength from the Spirit will provide endurance and patience to get this done.  Christian manhood requires endurance and patience in order to live a successful Christian life.

What are these attributes and why do you need them?

Endurance:

Endurance means to bear up under something.  In the New Testament, it generally means to bear up under pressure, to endure through hardships, and to stay steady when it appears our prayers are unanswered. It refers to the quality of character that keeps us from surrender under adverse circumstances.  Other terms used for this trait are patience, perseverance, and consistency

Endurance is displayed when we stay consistent in pursuing our goals, even when the circumstances seem overwhelmingly negative.  This requires learning to be motivated by hope in the vision rather than by our feelings of the moment. The author of Hebrews compared it to running a race (Hebrews 12:1). Starting a race is easy. Adrenaline is pumping, muscles are fresh, the crowd is cheering, and my uniform is looking sharp. Finishing a race requires going through that place where fatigue has replaced the adrenaline, the muscles are starting to cramp, sweat has soiled the cool-looking running clothes, and the only sound I hear is my own labored breathing. Endurance decides to keep going all the way to the finish.

Excitement comes from circumstances.  Endurance comes from within. Jesus endured the cross because He could see the joy that was on the other side (Hebrews 12:1-3). Endurance requires a vision for life that enables us to look beyond the present pain and inconvenience, to keep going because the end is worthy. Manhood is persistent in pursuit of worthy goals.

In Luke’s rendition of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus describes the outcome of the Word that falls on good soil.  The Good News Bible says, “The seeds that fell in good soil stand for those who hear the message and retain it in a good and obedient heart, and they persist until they bear fruit (Luke 8:15).” Inner strength gives us the endurance to persist until the Word bears its intended fruit in our lives. (Hebrews 10:36; James 1:3-4)

Patience:

Patience refers to the virtue of forbearance.  This is often translated “long-suffering.”  This quality deals primarily with responses to other human beings.  It encompasses the idea of self-restraint in a situation while deciding on a course of action.  As with endurance, it means responding based on something other than the emotions of the moment. 

In our previous passage from Ephesians Chapter 3, after Paul prayed that they would have the inner strength to love, he encouraged them to be longsuffering with one another (Ephesians 4:1-2)  It takes forbearance to act in love toward others.  The love command is fairly simple as long as I don’t have to actually deal with other people. When people get involved, there is always friction. This is true in every setting. It’s true in families, though blood holds us together.  It’s true in social settings, though our desire for connection keeps us coming back.  It’s true in the marketplace, though money makes us allies.

Some of the most frustrating people are in Church!  After all, with Christians, I have higher expectations.  I think I know how they should be treating me, how Jesus wants them to behave.  How miserably they fail!  To further complicate matters, Paul told us that the folks in the church would be foolish, weak, and despised by the world (1Corinthians 1:26-29). If you’re looking to rub shoulders with the elite and elegant, church may not be for you!

Do you avoid some folks so you won’t have to listen to their boring tales? Are there folks you try to stay away from because they are unlovely and not in your “circle?”  If that is your attitude, my friend, you need the forbearance that only comes from Holy Spirit imparted inner strength. This is a test, and it takes strength to pass it.

2 Timothy is one of my favorite books. It’s real. Timothy was the pastor of the church at Ephesus, and he had people problems.  Paul apparently thought he and his leadership needed a bit of encouragement on dealing with difficult people. He addressed the folks who seem to be constantly in a dilemma. When you see them coming you know you are about to get a report on how the devil is working them over. Or maybe a tale of woe that could be cured with a few bucks from you. Paul gave a few pointers: Don’t argue, be kind, seek to instruct, and “…be patient with difficult people. (2 Timothy 2:24b NLT)” Difficult people are the reason we are here. Helping them requires being patient.  Listen when you don’t want to. Tell them what you already told them without saying, “I told you so.” Remember that you have been somebody else’s difficult person, and you probably will be again. 

Paul also emphasized the necessity of continuing to teach the truth of God’s Word.  When people don’t seem to listen, when they keep following other men and other methods, keep on keepin’ on. He said they would have “itching ears,” looking for what they want to hear, not what they need to live. You teach on giving, they don’t give.  You tell them they must forgive others, they get mad at you. You instruct them in holy living, they continue to flounder in sin and deem you judgmental. No matter how frustrated you get, it’s the Word and the Spirit that will change them.  Don’t give up, but, “Be very patient when you teach. (2 Timothy 4:2 GW)” Manhood has mastery of emotional reactions to exasperating behavior.

EXERCISES:

  1. Endurance means staying steady and consistent in tough times.  Are there areas of your life where you have become inconsistent?  If so, which one would you most like to improve?
  2. If you were being consistent, what would you be doing? Identify one action you can take to begin to build consistency in this area.  Do it.
  3. What are your goals as a Christian man?  Write them down.  Are they worthy of the price Christ paid to redeem you?  If not, spend time seeking God for higher goals.
  4. Are there people in your life you find difficult to work with, or even to be around? What is it that repels or irritates you? Ask God to give you strength to forbear, and to give you wisdom in how to deal with the individual.
  5. Do your emotions often get the better of you in dealing with difficult people?  How would you like to see this change?
  6. Take the prayer that Paul prayed for the church at Colosse. Put your name in it.  Pray it every day for yourself and stay with it until you begin to see yourself growing in patience and endurance.

My Prayer: “I ask God to give me complete knowledge of his will and to give me spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way I live will always honor and please the Lord, and my life will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, I will grow as I learn to know God better and better. I also pray that I will be strengthened with all his glorious power so I will have all the endurance and patience I need. May I be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled me to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.” (Colossians 1:10-12 NLT edited.)

If you saw areas in your character you would like to change, to develop inner strength, let’s apply the process of change from Man Alive: Change Gonna Come

  1. Admit you need it.  You can’t change something you won’t admit.  1 John 1:8-9
  2. Find scriptures that tell you what God thinks about it. Review these passages daily.  Say them out loud.  Psalm 19:7-11
  3. Go to the Lord and ask Him to help you make this change. Psalm 121:1-2
  4. Commit to a process of learning to listen and obey. God will guide you if you take a moment to listen.  There is a place in your heart that knows what to do when you need to do it. Romans 8:14-16
  5. Address the root, not just the behavior.  Trade in your ideas and values and prejudices for the thoughts of God. He is God.  He’s always right.  Get your mind in line with His. Romans 12:1-8
  6. Make a very specific plan for change and begin walking in that direction.  What are you going to do and when are you going to do it?  Write it down!  Habakkuk 2:1-4
  7. Find someone you can trust and talk with them.  Share the problem, share the plan, ask for input.  Pray together and stay in contact to report your progress. James 5:16
  8. If you screw up, get up.  One step in the right direction is one more than you made before.  Process the lesson and take another step. Romans 8:31-37

OK, let’s do this!  Keep on keepin’ on!!!

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