Three observations from what may be the most encouraging command in the Bible.
It would have seemed like a weird dream just a few months prior.
A few weeks into a semester abroad in Ecuador, I found myself on a camping trip with complete strangers. And to make it even worse, I didn’t speak their language. Someone I knew from my internship invited me to camp with friends. Since I had no other plans that weekend, I went, even though my Spanish abilities left much to be desired.
Pretty soon I found myself in an incredibly awkward situation—sitting around a campfire with twenty people I didn’t know and couldn’t even communicate with. They were all great friends with each other and spoke too fast for me to understand. Between this, my brain on the verge of exploding from language-learning overload, and longing to be with my friends back in the States, I felt more alone and powerless than I had ever felt in my life.
How could I survive the next three months with situations like this? I want to go home!
Somehow I was able to communicate with the person I knew that I wanted to go to bed. I remember going into my tent while everyone else was having a good time, and breaking down in tears. I had no strength left.
Maybe you’ve had a time where your strength is gone. It could be a stressful situation at work, relationship troubles, or things in life don’t seem to be going your way. You’re not alone. In fact, at one time or another, we all feel like our well of strength has run dry.
Timothy in the Bible faced a similar situation. He was an overwhelmed pastor facing opposition from many in his church, including false teachers. It would have been easy to live in fear, be ashamed of the gospel, and shrink back from his calling in Christ.
The Apostle Paul wrote 2 Timothy to encourage Timothy to persevere in gospel ministry. While 2 Timothy provides many powerful exhortations to press on, 2 Timothy 2:1 has been especially valuable for me when my strength wanes. “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus…” (2 Timothy 2:1)
What follows are three observations from an extended meditation on this verse, a verse I call “the most encouraging command in the Bible.”
Observation #1: There is grace for us in Christ.
The cross is the crown example of God’s grace for us in Christ. Enemies become beloved sons and the sin that once condemned us before God has been exchanged for the perfect righteousness of Christ. What glorious news!
We take hold of grace by trusting in Christ’s finished work on the cross and turning from our sins to live in a way pleasing to God. This offer of grace in Jesus Christ is available for everyone on earth today. This grace is first seen at salvation but extends to every day of our lives.
Observation #2: His grace can strengthen us.
This is crucial to remember when feeling weak: the grace of Christ strengthens us. God’s grace isn’t only a future hope, but a present sustaining force in our lives.
When our strength is gone, we can turn to God and His unlimited storehouse of grace.
Perhaps the best illustration of this comes from the life of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12. A great difficulty in Paul’s life tormented him (his infamous “thorn in the flesh), so he pleaded with the Lord to take it away.
But the Lord didn’t. Instead, He answered:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Even though Paul was powerless, God’s power was available for Paul. This led Paul to proclaim, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me…for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
This is an incredible promise. God doesn’t just take a negative circumstance and make it neutral or make it go away. No, as we rely on Him, He turns a negative circumstance into something positive, something worthy of our boasting.
God’s strengthening grace doesn’t always mean life’s tough situations will disappear. It means that God’s infinite strength will help us persevere—and even thrive spiritually—during life’s most difficult situations.
Observation #3: “Be strengthened in grace” is a command for us to obey.
This observation proved a shock to my system. I mean, can we strengthen ourselves in grace? As if God gave us the key to His unlimited storehouse of strengthening grace? Yes!
When you lack strength, don’t wallow in despair or try to remedy the situation in your own effort. Run to the Savior in faith, asking for supernatural grace and strength to carry on.
We do this by drawing near to Christ in prayer and by trusting in His promises. We gain strength (even if we don’t feel it) as we meditate on and believe in God’s promises:
· At the cross our sins (past, present, future) are forgiven.
· We know Christ will never leave us nor forsake us.
· He will work all things—including our tough situations—for our good (Romans 8:28).
· We can draw near to him as weary and burdened people and find supernatural rest (Matthew 11:28–30).
This drawing near in times of trouble is often hard work and continuous. I’ve felt like a drowning person clinging to a life preserver as I’ve cried out to God and clung to His promises. In such times, what we are really doing is fighting the good fight of faith and abiding in Christ.
John 15 compares believers to branches that must abide in the Jesus the Vine for life and strength. A branch cut off from a vine weakens and dries really quick. But when it abides in the vine, nourishment flows through the branch and makes it flourish and strong. When we abide in Christ by trusting in His promises, what flows to us is the same power that brings the spiritually dead to life and created the universe by speaking flows to us.
Be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
You may be wondering how my awkward camping trip finished up. Where I left off, I was alone in my tent with tears streaming down my face, not knowing how I could endure the next several hours, let alone four months.
I didn’t have a light to read my Bible or a digital Bible I could read in the dark, so I put on my iPod. God used the following words from the Keith Green song “When I Hear the Praises Start” to strengthen me in His grace:
My son, My son, why are you striving?
You can’t add one thing to what’s been done for you
I did it all while I was dying
Rest in your faith, my peace will come to you
Believing these words, like a healing balm to a festering wound, flooded my heart with God’s peace.
Tears of sadness turned into tears of joy as I realized that God was with me and would strengthen me for the task ahead. God used that moment the rest of the semester and even years ahead to remind me of His presence and grace for other challenges I faced. Instead of despairing challenges, I couldn’t wait to see how God would send strength.
I realize this simple story is nothing compared to difficulties you may be facing today. You might be facing a horrible disease, a difficult family member, an impossible situation at school or work, or any number of other strength-zapping situations.
But the simple truths of this verse remain:
· There is grace for us in Christ.
· His grace can strengthen us.
· We are to draw near to Christ in faith to be strengthened in his grace.
This is adapted from a message shared with The Orchard Multicultural Ministries.