Zechariah lifted his prayer shawl from around his shoulders and covered his head with it. “You pray. And you allow the Lord to be your strength. Remember — the Lord doesn’t give you strength, Hezekiah. He is your strength.” He gestured to the city walls on the cliffs above them and said “When you’re surrounded by enemies, don’t rely on man-made fortifications or military power. Trust God.”
The above text is from Lynn Austin’s Song of Redemption (Book 2 in the Chronicles of the Kings Book Series). It’s an excellent historical fiction account of King Hezekiah and what he may have endured in rebuilding Judah after his father allowed it to fall into idolatry and into a slavery-type treaty with the powerful Assyrians.
As I read this section in November 2014, the portion in bold stood out to me. The OT has plenty of Scripture that references this bolded line:
Psalm 46:1 — God is our refuge and strength…
Nehemiah 8:10 — Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength…
Psalm 22:19 — But you, O Lord, be not far off; O my Strength (the Lord) come quickly to help me.
Psalm 28 — The Lord is my strength and my shield…
Isaiah 33:2 — … the Lord is my strength and my song…
Habakkuk 3:19 — the Lord is my strength….
Now there are some verses in the NT and some in the OT that says God gives strength particularly in Isaiah 40. Both are technically true, but I really want to stay with the quote from the book for this post.
As I read it, the quote hit me with some interest.. It was enough for me to actually stop and highlight the quote (something I don’t do in fiction normally). God doesn’t give me strength, He is my strength. Just the subtle shift in thinking was enough for me to pause on that plane ride 30,000 feet in the sky. I sat there because my entire life I’ve always prayed to God to “give me strength” and I’ve heard people say that God will give you strength if you ask. Yes, that’s Biblical, but this new found knowledge started to shift my thinking. A quick Google search after landing confirmed that the quote wasn’t far off and there are far more Scriptures referencing that God is my strength and fewer verses regarding God giving strength directly.
I hadn’t fully grasped the concept until a few days later.
2014 was a year of challenges for me and my wife, and my family. I’ve been working with a group of guys from work on a discipleship program called DisciplesMade.com. My father was going through his own challenges. And my wife had some heavy struggles with her non-profit throughout the year that resulted in lost relationships and ultimately a major roadblock in November. And it was just before this major roadblock that I read this quote.
The Lord doesn’t give us strength.
He is our strength.
The quote banged around in my head for a few days. I hadn’t fully grasped the idea. I was so used to God just giving strength. Such a small and minor difference in word play, compounded by Scriptural backing, I hadn’t yet put my finger on the quote until one night when I was driving home from work.
It was in talking with my father that a parallel came to mind that I’ve been mulling over for about a year.
Let’s take a tree. Better yet, let’s take one of those huge Redwood trees up in Northern California. If you’ve never been, they are gigantic! These are dino-trees. Some are so large that people put a tunnel through them and you can drive cars through. They are absolutely magnificent trees. And these trees have strength — strong interwoven roots support these dino-trees (oh, just thought of another post). But these trees don’t give us strength. They can’t. And they won’t. It’s not within their nature to give us little humans one ounce of strength, but they have plenty of strength nonetheless. I can walk up to them and ask for strength but they won’t give it.
But if I’m tired, and I’m exhausted, unable to stand any longer, I can walk up to those trees and lean into them. I can lean into them a little bit — with a finger but after awhile, the pressure on my finger starts to hurt and I stop. I can lean against it with the palm of my hand and that’s not as painful but my arm and shoulder begin to hurt. I can lean against these magnificent tress with my back and use their strength to keep me standing without pain at all (minus a splinter or two).
It was in that moment that the quote started to make more sense and the concept of leaning into God became even more real to me.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Turst in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.”
Do not lean against my own understandings. That’s like leaning against a weed that has sprouted up in the middle of a garden and us expecting it to hold us up. Instead we should acknowledge God (lean into Him) and it is in that moment that we can be held up through His strength. I could lean against that redwood tree with my finger or palm of my hand, but that’s a temporary solution, and often painful. Or I can lean fully into the tree and use its strength to keep me standing. That’s what God wants us to do – lean into Him completely.
God shows up to give you new ideas and thoughts through a variety of ways. Sometimes it’s through Scripture. Sometimes it’s through people. Sometimes it’s through a random thought in your head. Sometimes it’s listening to a song, or reading a book. And it’s in those moments that God is providing us a kernel of His truth to help us through something we are going through now, or about to go through. Sometimes these moments are there to guide us through a moment of time, and sometimes these moments are there to help shift our thinking.
This is one of those times where a single quote from a historical fiction book based on the Bible seems to have altered my thinking a tiny bit. No longer am I solely praying for strength to get through the day or some crisis. It’s time to shift to the realization that God wants us to lean into Him and into His strength with our entire body. By doing so, we may learn some things about ourselves, but we will absolutely learn more about our God.
The Lord doesn’t give you strength. He is your strength. So quit leaning into Him at arm’s reach using the strength in your arm. Lean into him with your entire body.