We have been told that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but what about strength? Is it a matter of perception also or of reality? And furthermore, what kind of strength are we talking about? Physical strength or mental strength (mental toughness) or emotional strength? (resilience) Then there’s interpersonal strength, how we relate to others, how we communicate and form connections. Are we a strong communicator? Do we form strong bonds? Strength of character is what I most wish to cultivate in myself and what I most admire and desire to discover in others.
Now strength of character is not obvious at first glance as is physical strength when I first meet someone, especially if they are a football player, weightlifter or any kind of athlete. The physical strength of these individuals is obvious. Strength of character, on the other hand, is much more subtle and takes time to discern. It often doesn’t surface until things get tough, choices have to be made, or there is some crisis. Actually, adversity can strengthen our character, just as lifting heavy weights or training hard in any sport strengthens the athlete’s body.
Hardship and difficulties are strength training for my character. (nobody ever said working out was fun or easy) But Paul did say this in Romans,
” . . . we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:4) Then James says,
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
Perseverance is one of those character traits that is the mark of a strong person – someone who doesn’t give up on others, themselves or situations – someone who hangs in there and by so doing makes things better. The gift of perseverance is that it inspires others to do the same. Perseverance says, don’t lose hope, don’t give up, don’t quit – perseverance keeps on showing up even after others have given up.
I want to develop a strong character (not be a character). And fortunately for me, Life, filled with challenges, pain, loss, hardships as it is, is the perfect gym for me to work out in to develop my character and make it strong. When do I feel strong?
When I do the right thing. When I say a kind word instead of a hurtful word in a tense situation. When I choose truth over lies, honesty over dishonesty. When I choose the harder more excellent way over the easier, lesser way; when I do not join others in something wrong, but risk the ridicule, perhaps the canceling, for doing what is right. Showing restraint requires more strength than acting on angry impulses. A show of force is not necessarily a show of strength. This is ironic but true. Paul made such an ironic observation when he said about himself,
“For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)
Now Paul often identified himself as “a servant of Christ Jesus” (Romans 1:1) which helps explain what he meant about being strong when weak. He was learning the strength of submitting his will to God’s will. Instead of doing things his way, in his own strength; Paul was discovering that when he relied on God’s power rather than his own, things happened that he could not accomplish on his own. Submitting to someone else, requires absolute trust, and it requires an inner strength of character. To the casual observer, submission may appear as weakness, but a closer look reveals just the opposite.
One might perceive Jesus as weak because He was nailed to a cross and died, without putting up much of a fight at all. But consider what Jesus says in John 10:17–18,
“The reason My Father loves Me is that I lay down My life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from My Father.”
Appearances can be deceiving, can’t they? What appeared to be weakness, was actually the ultimate act of strength motivated by love. John 15:13 explains,
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
When do I feel strong? When I put someone else’s needs or happiness before my own. When I am lending someone a helping hand. When I am that stepping stone someone uses to pass safely to the other side of the gap in their journey. I feel strong when I am bearing someone else’s burden. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2) Like Paul, I feel strong when I am weak and therefore know how much I need my Heavenly Father’s all sufficient strength. Jesus explained this true strength concept to His disciples in this way, saying –
“Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45)
true strength lies in the ability to lift other people up, not in the act of tearing them down –
sincerely, Grace Day