Strength. We associate it with being tough. Being hard. Being physically fit. We typically don’t associate it with grace; but in 2 Timothy, that is what Paul asks Timothy to do: “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” The first time I read it, I wasn’t sure what it meant. But then God worked to show me the meaning behind His Word in a way I would never expect.
Not too long ago, my friend made a mistake– a big mistake that could have cost a life. It could have been anyone. Moms, think about little mishaps that happen each day that make us stop and thank God for His protection. Teenagers and former teenagers, think about stupid choices you made that didn’t result in the consequences they could have. Anyone in the medical field is faced with life altering calculations and decisions each day of work. If we want to be honest, each time we sit behind the wheel of a car, we are entrusting our lives to others and have the potential to make deadly mistakes. Accidents happen. Mistakes happen. But sometimes it leaves us feeling like we have rocks in our stomachs. Sometimes the thought of “what if” can be paralyzing.
My friend struggled to forgive herself. She felt like a failure and was struggling to move on. The fact of the matter is that Satan wants this in our lives. If we are choosing to follow God’s calling on our lives, if we are making a difference for the Kingdom, Satan will try to thwart our efforts. If a nurse stopped practicing because of a near miss, if a financial advisor quit his job because of a miscalculation, or if a musician stopped playing because he played a wrong chord, no one would be in practice very long. Our mistakes truly do help us grow and see more clearly the next time.
In one of my favorite movies, “Elizabethtown”, the main character is a shoe designer who makes a design mistake, causing his shoe to be recalled, resulting in an overwhelming loss for his company, and the loss of his job. He finally confesses this faux pas to a girl he’s seeing, expecting her to join in his enormous pity party. Her reaction? “So you failed. Alright you really failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You think I care about that? I do understand. You wanna be really great? Then have the courage to fail big and stick around. Make them wonder why you’re still smiling.”
Here’s what I would like to add: Admit failure, but then admit forgiveness. It can be hard to accept that God has offered forgiveness, but when we fail to forgive ourselves, we place our opinion over God’s. If God has deemed us worthy of forgiveness, we are worthy. End of story. Being strong in grace is hard. It’s choosing to stand back up and try again. It’s living like we have been forgiven. It’s sharing what happened to us with others to encourage them and potentially save them some heartache later down the road. Being strong in grace means being strong enough to identify the devil’s schemes.
We are, by no means, perfect. We have made mistakes, and we will continue to make them until our last days on earth. Ask for forgiveness when your mistake was due to sin (ignorance is a sin); praise God when your mistake doesn’t end in devastation; apologize when necessary, and by all means, get back up.
Just like with the muscles in your body, strength doesn’t happen overnight. Being strong in grace requires practice. It requires an ongoing relationship with God. We can’t just decide to be strong in grace if we don’t have solid foundations of understanding grace. Daily prayer and communication with God and a firm understanding of Scripture is how we become strong; admitting weakness and our need for a Savior is how we become strong (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). Less of us, more of Him equals strength (see John 3:30).
Strength and grace may seem like opposites, but grace can be hard, not only to accept, but to give as well. Grace is not a sign of weakness, by any means. Accepting grace is working against the devil’s agenda, and that is no easy task. If you trust God, accept His grace, live in His grace, and overflow with His grace.
Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.