Saturday, March 15, 2014

Receiving God's strength

In our reading from the New Testament letters for this Second Sunday of Lent we hear about bearing our "share of hardship for the gospel" (2 Tim 1:8b). As the Scripture tells us, we are incapable of bearing our share of hardship on our own. In order to bear it, we need "the strength that comes from God" (2 Tim 1:8b).

Sometimes when I read Scripture, or hear it proclaimed, things like bearing our hardships for the sake of the Gospel sounds inspiring, like something I ought to do, like something I want to do for God's glory. And so I determine to do it. Usually this amounts to trying to do it using only my own strength, my own fortitude, my willpower. As often as I do that, I am crushed beneath the weight of my hardships, even if, in the big scheme of things, the hardships that befall me are not huge, which only shows how spiritually weak and impoverished I am. This leads to discouragement for awhile and then, after a time, a repeat performance.

The hardship that crushes me could be something as minuscule as failing to bear a wrong, or a perceived wrong, patiently; refusing to brush off a personal slight, not holding a grudge against the person by whom I feel slighted, not looking for a chance to get even, or maybe slightly ahead.

How do you receive "the strength that comes from God"? You receive God's strength through fervent prayer, fasting, and selflessly serving others. By engaging in these spiritual disciplines, you do not earn or merit God's favor, or God's strength, you merely open yourself to experiencing it firsthand. Experience is what makes all the difference. Trusting God is no small matter. To place your trust in God, especially if you have not verified God's trustworthiness through experience, can result in being afraid, like Peter, James, and John in today's Gospel. As He said to them, Jesus says to us, "Rise, and do not be afraid" (Matt 17:7). This is why elsewhere in the New Testament we read, "the victory that conquers the world is our faith" (1 John 5:4).

The primary means at our disposal for receiving "the strength that comes from God" are the Sacraments. Hence, going to confession and receiving Holy Communion, not rarely, not occasionally, but frequently, is how we experience the gratuitous gift God longs to give us, which gives us the strength to persevere. This is why the author of 2 Timothy went on to write:
He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim 1:9-10- italicizing and emboldening emphasis added)
In communion we receive nothing less than Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity. It's important to note that we don't receive communion alone, but along with our sisters and brothers in Christ. One of the features of Christian koinonia is helping one another bear our burdens (Gal 6:2). This is not only one of the ways we receive "the strength that comes from God," but provides a way for us to cooperate with God in strengthening others.

As we make our way through Lent to our celebration of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, let our psalm-response for today be our plea: Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.

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