(Continued from last week…)
Practice makes progress; Jesus makes perfect.
I have been preaching that we are powerless to perfect ourselves, and that Christ has to do it for us. Well, we’ve come to the point in this series where I must clarify that men and women do have some power of their own.
God, according to His great plan, has endowed all humans with the strength of man. Now, this strength varies from one person to the next. And we’re not just talking about muscles, or physical power. There’s intelligence, wisdom, talent, vigor, resolve, stamina, etc. We may each be strong in some areas and weak in others. And there are those among us who may face greater restrictions than the rest of us, suffering from chronic sickness or disease, or who (as our society has termed it) have disabilities. But even these are strong in other traits. The point is, we are not helpless down here. We’ve been given our own strength to use. However, we must remember that we wouldn’t even exist if the Lord weren’t sustaining us through our lives. King Benjamin said that the Lord “is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will…even supporting you from one moment to another” (Mosiah 2: 21).
God, through His omnipotence, keeps our physical form—all the way down to the cellular level—from going into chaos; He keeps our hearts beating and our lungs breathing, keeping us alive day after day, and even from one moment to the next, so we can exercise our agency and choose. He inspires us to choose, and puts His power upon us to motivate our choices for good. But we choose.
And we can even choose to do bad things because of God sustaining us. He does not support, sustain, or approve of our sinning, but He does sustain us physically, that we might exercise our agency according to our own will and desires. And because He sustains us, we choose life or death, joy or sorrow, peace or remorse of conscience, perfection or damnation, the love of God or the captivity of the devil, etc. This is the “opposition in all things” spoken of by Lehi (2 Nephi 2: 11).
However, God may choose to remove us from this earth early if we use our agency in such a way that leads us further and further from possible repentance. That is His call. He doesn’t want us to continue in sin, but for the most part He will keep us alive so we can exercise our agency as we choose.
Therefore, we have this strength of man…but it only goes so far.
Looking back at the history of the Nephites, there were times when they “began to depend upon their own strength and upon their own wisdom” (Helaman 16: 15). And often during these times, “because of…their boastings in their own strength, they were left in their own strength; therefore they did not prosper….they saw that they had become weak, like unto their brethren….even man for man” (Helaman 4: 13, 24-26). (I find it interesting how the strength of man is considered weak here. It is certainly weak compared to the strength of God; but there are men on this earth, who have removed themselves from the strength of God, and yet we would consider them strong, intelligent, talented, capable, etc., as to the strength of man.)
So much for our limited, human strength. Now let’s look at what Christ proposes.
“I will be merciful unto you; he that is weak among you hereafter shall be made strong” (D&C 50: 16).
“And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high” (D&C 1: 28).
Through faith, many “wrought righteousness, obtained promises…out of weakness were made strong” (Hebrews 11: 33-34).
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them….And because thou hast seen thy weakness thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father” (Ether 12: 27, 37).
There are many times in scripture when the Lord says He will make us strong, or we shall be made strong. Christ’s using the word “made” should lead us to focus on Him who is doing the making—Jesus Christ doing a work in us—instead of us focusing on our doing a work in ourselves. We can’t do it. But He can!
Most of us are familiar with the saying: “I can do hard things.” This is a strong idea, and a wonderfully motivational idea, but it is a doctrinally incomplete idea. The scriptural counterpart says: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (see Philippians 4: 13). Now, adding Christ to the equation puts the foundation for doing things back to where it belongs. There is no sand in this thinking. Ammon knew how to build on this Rock when he said: “I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things” (Alma 26: 12).
If left to my own strength, I could still go out and sing for people and it might turn out nice; even a little good could come out of it where someone might be blessed by God, despite my not having His Spirit. But if I went out and was attended by the grace of our Savior and inspired by His Spirit, there could be a much greater and lasting result of good done. If left to ourselves, we might enjoy some success in the world, but if strengthened by the power and Spirit of the Lord, we would be greatly enhanced so that God’s work would be done and souls would be richly blessed. This is how Christ wants it. He wants to give us of His strength!
The fact that we don’t know it, or understand it, or see life this way, doesn’t keep our generous Savior from sharing His light and strength with us. But one day we will know and see how it really was for us. However, think of how our gratitude and love for Him would soar if we would come to see it this way now!
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
(to be continued…)