Some time ago — precisely how long, I do not know — I read through the psalms and wrote verses that impacted me on Post-Its. I stuck those notes all over the place — little reminders of God’s Word everywhere. This is one of those verses. It was stuck to the dash of my car until the sun bleached the ink out and the only remnant of the verse was the impressions left by the pressure of the pen.
In recent times, obedience to God has been more difficult for me than usual; my failures more frequent than I would like. In truth, I would like no failures at all, but the fallen body I truck around in is still here and still fallen and the little things — like neighbors smoking outside and the smoke wafting into my apartment (happening as I type) — seem rather more aggravating than they have any right to be. What is the deal?
This verse came back to me this morning with the voice of Yoda behind it saying, “And that is why you fail.” Why have things been so rough? Why have I been so failure-ridden? Why do I want to go hose-down my smoking neighbors? All of it comes back to this verse.
I need to seek the LORD and His strength. Paul, when writing a bit on the strength of God, noted that God told him (Paul) that His (God’s) strength is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). To seek the strength of God is to be brought to the place of my weakness. This is rough on me. I am a human male, which makes for a double-whammy. Human beings do not like being weak. Weakness means dependence and dependence means a departure from self-reliance. And we have written books on the topic of self-reliance. Add into that mix the whole male gestalt and it is a recipe for a person who does not want to have to rely on anyone else ever. And I don’t. I do not like relying on others. I prefer to just get done what needs getting done in the way I want it done. If it goes right, awesome. If it goes wrong, I have no one to blame but me and I can go be angry at myself while I fix it. That is not how God’s strength works. God’s strength can begin at the same place mine begins, but just keeps on going long after my own has vanished in the rear view. If I rely on God from the outset, His strength starts there. And it keeps on going. Rudyard Kipling once wrote that If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew / To serve your turn long after they are gone, / And so hold on when there is nothing in you / Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’ … you’ll be a Man, my son! With all due respect to Mr. Kipling, if you can do what he is suggesting you do, then you are very likely dipping into God’s strength. In point of fact, Kipling’s advice never quite made sense until I framed it in light of Paul’s insight that God’s strength is perfected in weakness. It is precisely when I have nothing in me except God’s Will propelling me forward that I have begun to understand God’s strength.
I need to seek [God’s] face continually. I’ve never really understood the notion of seeking someone’s face. It could be a by-product of living and growing in American society. Regardless, I have begun to understand the notion a little with regard to my wife and daughter. It is not so much that I seek their faces per se, but that I seek to bring a particular expression to their faces. This may be a wrong understanding and God will absolutely correct my error, but it is a serviceable understanding for the moment. Seeking to bring a particular expression to the face of my daughter or my wife or my God means that I look to behave in a certain way; to do certain things. If that is what it means to seek God’s face, then I have failed.
If I put these together, then I begin to see a picture forming. I take them in reverse order. I seek God’s face; seek to do the things that will please Him. When I seek to do so, I find my weakness in the way. But in the place of my weakness is also the place of God’s strength being made perfect; complete. As I seek to please God, it is His strength that will enable me to do so. To find His strength, I must find my weakness. To find my weakness, I must seek His face.