Preparing to Live
Living Requires Inner Strength
Some of you will remember G. Gordon Liddy. G. Gordon Liddy was a former FBI agent turned political activist and spook who masterminded the Watergate Break-in that eventually brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon. Liddy spent several years in jail for his role in the affair, and, whereas one of his partners, E. Howard Hunt, eventually spilled the beans, Liddy never would have talked. Once out of jail, Liddy, of course, spoke plenty, mostly on a talk show that he hosted in the Washington D.C. area. I used to hear him every time I was back there on business and never ceased to be amazed at the American system that could condemn a man for bringing down the government and then give him a talk show and make him a high-priced celebrity, but such is life. If you want to get some insight into a bizarre personality, read his autobiography, Will. It is a piece of work.
Not long after his release from prison, Liddy spoke to a college audience in Missouri, basically urging upon his audience his standard litany that only force, strength, ruthless use of violence and an iron will could earn the respect of friends and foes in this “real world which is, in fact, a very tough neighborhood.” Then during a question and answer session, one faculty member rose and rather timidly commented that he felt most people in the US based their ethics on the teachings of Jesus, and then rushed through his challenge, “this-doesn’t-sound-much-like-the-teachings-of-Jesus.” Liddy’s reaction was telling. He just glared a moment, took in a breath, and then bellowed: “Yeah—and look what happened to Jesus!” He flailed his arms outward, holding them as if on the crossbeam of a gibbet: “They crucified him.” To Liddy, the case was closed. The audience reacted, briefly, as if stunned, astonished—and then with thunderous applause. After all, Liddy only said out loud what everyone else had already concluded: “Failure, persecution and pain, instead of success, appreciation and a good retirement—that’s no way to end up.”
Now, I used that illustration because it demonstrates in a nutshell the way Jesus looks at things versus the way the world we live in sees them. Even more than that, it represents two completely different approaches to life – and we have to decide, even as Christians, which we will adopt.
In our study through Ephesians, we’ve come to the second of Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians – this one in chapter 3. We’ve entitled this section “Preparing to Live” because Paul is here praying for five things that he believes will be needed to enable their conduct to accord with their calling. In a word, he wants them to mature – mature to the point where they understand that living with pain, persecution and failure from a worldly point of view can result in joy, happiness, fruitfulness and contentment. Life lived upside down – but with purpose and vitality despite difficulties.
And, so, one can think of Paul’s requests in this prayer as constituting a ladder comprised of five steps to help us climb from the G. Gordon Liddy, worldly way of thinking, to the far superior glory of a life lived for, in and through Jesus Christ. This morning, preparing to live, step one – Living Requires Inner Strength. Look at verse 16 of Ephesians 3: “16) that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,” As we consider this first step – inner strength, we will look at three questions to guide our consideration.
I. Why is Strength Needed?
Our first question is, why do I need inner strength? I’m doing fine on my own. Why do I need this inner strength?
The first reason that we need inner strength is that we start our Christian existence as babes. Just as we don’t come into the physical world as full-grown mature adults, so we enter a spiritual relationship with Christ as a babe. Paul says in I Cor 3:1, “1) But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” The analogy is apt. Just as the weakness and immaturity of a physical baby shows in many ways, so our spiritual weaknesses are evident. We have no idea initially of the dangers surrounding us in this new world we have entered. We have no discernment, very limited ability to fend for ourselves, feed ourselves spiritually or defend ourselves against intrusions large and small. Every new challenge throws us into a turmoil of doubt, of despair for we have not learned yet to trust; we have not learned how to counter trouble; in short, we are not strong, but weak.
Now, whereas a normal, healthy physical baby will mature on a rather predictable schedule, the timeframe for moving from babyhood to maturity on the part of the spiritual babe may vary radically. One man asked his friend, “What is your son going to be when he graduates?” The friend answered, “An old man.” Some of us are, or have been, on a similar path to spiritual maturity. Lack of spiritual food, lack of prayer, lack of spiritual parents to guide us, distractions introduced by the world, career, temptations of the flesh – all may have combined to leave us looking like Baby Huey, spiritually. You know, it’s fun to see a baby in their cute little outfits and carriers, right? Not so cute to see a full grown adult in that condition. And, yet, spiritually, we well may be. We need strength.
But even if we have reached a certain degree of maturity spiritually, we still need to be working constantly on our spiritual strength. When you reach maturity physically, you don’t give up on building strength, right? We still take in nourishment; we still exercise, some more and some less, but to the degree that we continue to train our bodies and maintain strength, we benefit. Same thing spiritually, folks – the need never goes away, and that’s why Paul was praying for it. Truth is we’re all somewhere on that line that starts with infancy and ends with full maturity. We need inner strength because we haven’t arrived yet.
A second reason we need strength in the inner person. Very simple – that inner person—your inner person, the real you – he or she has an enemy and that enemy never rests. Peter says in I Peter 5:8, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Listen, that’s not addressed to unbelievers. That’s addressed to believers. He’s suggesting that our enemy is just looking for some weak believer whose spiritual life he can destroy. Paul himself says in 6:12, “ For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood (that is our own bodies or other men primarily), but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” We’ve all got an enemy, folks, and he is serious about maiming and destroying us spiritually – although he is very subtle. Listen to Paul I II Cor 11:14, “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” Most of the time, Satan and his minions will look very, very good when they come, convincing us that wrong is right and right is wrong. That it’s all relative, that there is a reason it’s excusable in this case, that the end justifies the means and a thousand other ways. We must be strong.
Former heavyweight boxer James “Quick” Tillis was a cowboy from Oklahoma who fought out of Chicago in the early 1980s. Years later, he still remembered his first day in the Windy City after his arrival from Tulsa. “I got off the bus with two cardboard suitcases under my arms in downtown Chicago and stopped in front of the Sears Tower. I put my suitcases down and I looked up at the Tower and I said to myself, ‘I’m going to conquer Chicago.’ When I looked down, the suitcases were gone.” That’s just like our enemy, folks. He’s even happy to have us with our eyes on what it is we’re going to conquer for God if in the meantime he can steal away our prayer time, our devotional time, our joy, our trust without us even noticing that they are gone. We need inner strength because we have an enemy.
A final reason we need inner strength is to increase our capacity for God. This is really the burden of Paul’s prayer. Look beginning at verse 16, “16) that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17) so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,” He wants them to know in all its glory the love of Christ – eventually in verse 19, to be filled with the fullness of God. Seems like Paul is asking for the sun, moon and stars spiritually – and he is, but at the same time he realizes they can’t absorb it all at once. Our tendency would be to say, “Well, bring it on, right? Man, I’m ready. Give me both barrels.” The American way, right? Why do we need strength to absorb blessing? Let me illustrate from the physical world again.
Spiritually, we’re like men who who had been in concentration camps rescued just on the verge of starvation. One’s natural tendency would be to sit them down at a table and put a great square meal before them. But to do so would kill them. They are not strong enough to take such food. They must regain strength by injections of glucose or by ingestion of meat extracts, lightly boiled eggs or something with little nutritional value because a weakened person cannot take strong food. That’s why Paul said in I Cor 3:2, “2) I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready” If you gave a baby red meat, strong meat, it will give him acute indigestion and cause him great sickness and illness. Similarly, we cannot absorb at once all that God has for us. Pride would eat us alive; or we might fail to recognize God’s goodness in some particular trial. We’re not ready yet. We need inner strength to increase our capacity for God.
II. How is Need for Strength Manifested?
A second question we might ask is, how is the need for strength manifested? What would cause me to recognize that I am lacking strength in the first place?
A. Attacks of the Mind
Attacks of the mind take many shapes and forms. We cannot begin to deal with all of them today, but let me suggest a few to give you the idea and, hopefully, demonstrate to the need for strengthening of the inner man.
Doubt is a primary way in which our enemy uses our mind to attack our spiritual life. Doubt. The flavors are endless. “Look what you just did! Are you sure you’re really a Christian?” Granted that’s a legitimate question to ask on occasion, but doubt about our salvation should not frame the life of a true believer. John says, “These are written that you may know that you have eternal life.” Persistent doubt is debilitating.
Doubt comes when we hear that a fine, Christian young man named Darrin Towse has died in an inexplicable car accident where he did every thing right – wasn’t speeding, had on his seatbelt – still died. So where was God? Just got the news that I have cancer. Where is God? Found a verse that contradicts what I’ve been taught in school. Doubt. Heard they found a new tomb of Jesus. Was it all a hoax? Doubt. Oh, Satan loves doubt – persistent, debilitating doubt. See, Christ can’t live with doubt. It crowds Him out, so we need to be strengthened in the inner being.
Other attacks on the mind? How about depression? How about dullness – inability to concentrate when I finally do open God’s Word? I just don’t get the Bible, so I’ll serve, but it’s useless to spend time in the Word. But, you see, no Christian has the right to speak that way. God’s Word does take work, and you may need help, but seek it. He wrote this for you! Our minds! How about yielding to temptation, giving my mind to a fantasy life that is anything but pleasing to the Lord? Or scheming – looking for a way to get an edge in business that is not by the rules? Rationalization – the art of justifying what’s wrong? We need inner strength to be in our right minds.
B. Attacks of the Heart
Our need for inner strength is also seen in attacks on the heart, on our emotions. Fears arise – jobs in jeopardy, retirement investment dwindling to nothing, broken hearts from family failures. Fear. How about discouragement? I gave my best and no one even noticed or cared – or worse, they were critical, and so we give up. So easy to do and perhaps even justifiable – all except in the mind of Christ, you see. Betrayed by a friend? Engaging in some flirtation or worse? Idol worship – allowing anything other than Christ to have first place in our hearts? We must be strengthened in our inner being to prevent these heart attacks from wrecking our spiritual lives. We need inner strength to prevent spiritual heart attacks.
C. Attacks of the Will
Our need for strength, even as Christians, is further demonstrated by attacks of the will. Babies exert their own will; it is all that they know to do. Unfortunately, many of us, even as Christians, never get beyond this stage. We are having attacks of the will when we deliberately disobey what we know to do right or deliberately do not do what we know to be right. It can be in things big or little. The big ones are easy to spot – the little ones, not so much. A Christian embezzling money from his company when he knows stealing is wrong has a will problem. But so does the employee who is taking off early, extending lunch hours, taking home stationery supplies, cheating on expense reports. We’d all agree that a Christian who deliberately and calculatedly takes the life of another person in revenge or hostility has a will problem -- but so does the one who deliberately, and willfully harbors bitterness, hatred, anger, and resentment against a brother in his heart? I think you know Jesus’ assessment of that condition.
We’d acknowledge in a moment that the man or woman who carries on an adulterous affair has a will problem, but so does the one living a secret life of lust fueled by movies, TV, pornography or just a rich fantasy life that does not involve one’s spouse? Beloved, I mention these things, not to condemn anyone but rather to show that we all, we all are in need of strengthening in the inner man.
We’re like the old sailor who repeatedly got lost at sea, so his friends gave him a compass and urged him to use it. The next time he went out in his boat, he followed their advice and took the compass with him. But as usual he became hopelessly confused finally having to be rescued by his friends. Disgusted and impatient with him, they asked, “Why didn’t you use that compass we gave you? You could have saved us a lot of trouble!” The sailor responded, “I didn’t dare to! I wanted to go north, but that needle just kept pointing southeast.” Certain he was right, he ignored the compass, tossed it aside as worthless and failed to benefit from the guidance it offered. That’s us to a tee when we suffer and give in to attacks of the will, the heart and the mind. We need inner strength to do what we know is right.
III. How Do We Strengthen the Inner Being?
Okay, so we see the need, but how do we actually climb this first rung of the ladder? How do we get inner strength? Two parts. His – and ours.
A. Our part
If you were just to look at Paul’s prayer you would conclude that it is all on God to grant us spiritual strength. But there is clearly a twofold part for us to play as well. To illustrate the first, let me take you to Nehemiah 8 -- one of the great chapters of the Bible. Nehemiah is all about a group of Jewish people who had entered captivity in Babylon starting around 600 BC. Seventy years later they were released from that captivity, and they went back to Jerusalem. Some rebuilding went on, but by the time 445 BC rolled around, the city walls were still sadly in disrepair and an Israeli named Nehemiah, who was still serving in Persia as a high official in the court heard about the problem, sought permission from the king to go and help rebuild, got that job done through severe trials, and now we come to chapter 8. With the city rebuilt and things looking better the people began to realize that while their physical situation had improved their spiritual situation was still in sad need of repair so they, the people themselves, sought out the priest, Ezra and asked him to bring the book – meaning the Book of the Law – their Bible.
Of course, Ezra did bring the book and he read from it and explained it from early morning until mid-day. Long hours, but these people were starved for the truth of God’s Word, so much so that they were crying when Ezra finished. Oh, that we loved God’s Word like that. Now, let’s pick up with verse 9 of Nehemiah 8: “And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. 10) Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Folks, these people wanted God’s Word and it tells us in verse 12 that their joy was over the fact that they understood it. Because of that, notice the last phrase of verse 10. “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” This illustrates what we’ve seen so many times. The Lord does the work through His Holy Spirit, but inevitably He uses His Word – just like He did here in Nehemiah’s time. Our part? Take joy in His Word, meditate in it, chew on it; masticate it; give Him something to work with. There is no substitute and no shortcut. So, one aspect of receiving this gift of strength from God is to delight in and joy in His Word. I wish we could truly grasp how precious this Word is!
The second aspect is found in passages like Psalm 138:3, “On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.” You can’t miss the message there, can you? How do I receive the free gift of inner strength? David said that on the very day he called upon the Lord (wanted it; asked for it; prayed for it), on that very day, he says, “my strength of soul (the inner being), you (God) increased.” See you have to want this. If you’re happy in your situation, not really interested to overcome the complacency, materialism, worldliness in your life, you will not be in His Word and you will not pray and God’s hands will be tied. But for those who desire Him, He is available. Our part is to seek him, ask, and wait.
Now, what about His part? Look at verse 16 again, “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,” His part? To actually do the strengthening through His Holy Spirit who indwells every believer and to do it in accordance with the riches of His glory.
What this really signifies is that God will strengthen us in accordance with everything that He is. Every bit of His love and power and holiness and justice is available. His glory. It’s a wonderful thing. Turn with me to Exodus 33. We’ve seen it before. But as I was preparing this sermon, I saw something I’d never seen before. This is where after the Children of Israel have worshiped the golden calf and Moses has to go back to plead for their lives, he feels the need for refreshment. Let’s pick up on Exodus 33:18, “Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19) And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20) But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21) And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22) and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23) Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
What I had never noticed before is that when Moses asked to see God’s glory, the Lord responded by saying, “Okay, Moses, I will show you all my goodness.” He didn’t say glory; He said goodness. In large measure God’s glory is His goodness. That’s not all it is, but His goodness encompasses everything else about His glory. God is amazingly, gloriously unfailingly good!
Now, fast-forward back to Ephesians 3:16. It is in accordance with the riches of that glory of God that He strengthens us – that glory which is defined by His goodness. What that means is that whatever we need, in His goodness, He can and will supply. Do we need to be chastised? He will do that to strengthen us because He is good. Do we need to be encouraged? Then he will provide that out of His glory and His goodness. Do we need faith? Patience? Love? Hope? Then He will provide it in His goodness – provided we are doing our part – knowing His Word, asking, waiting.
Listen. You honor God and He will strengthen you in your hour of greatest need. Dr. R. A. Torrey was one of the great Bible teachers of a past generation and founder of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA University). He and Mrs. Torrey went through a time of great heartache when their twelve-year-old daughter was accidentally killed. The funeral was held on a gloomy, miserable, rainy day. They stood around the grave and watched as the body of their little girl was put away. As they turned away, Mrs. Torrey said, “I’m so glad that Elisabeth is with the Lord, and not in that box.”
But, even knowing this to be true, their hearts were broken. Dr. Torrey said that the next day, as he was walking down the street, the whole thing broke anew—the loneliness of the years ahead without her presence, the heartbreak of an empty house, and all the other implications of her death. He was so burdened by this that he looked to the Lord for help. He said, “And just then, this fountain, the Holy Spirit that I had in my heart, broke forth with such power as I think I had never experienced before, and it was the most joyful moment I had ever known in my life! Oh, how wonderful is the joy of the Holy Ghost! It is an unspeakable glorious thing to have your joy not in things about you, not even in your most dearly loved friends, but to have within you a fountain ever springing up, springing up, springing up, always springing up three hundred and sixty-five days in every year, springing up under all circumstances unto everlasting life.”
That kind of strength to meet life’s toughest enemy does not come from any temporal worldly source. It can only be granted by God as we desire Him and want Him and seek Him, so that this too can be our testimony. We can agree with G. Gordon Liddy that the real world is a tough neighborhood. But while he sees a failed Jesus hanging on the cross, we see a victorious resurrected Savior willing and able to live within bringing strength for any circumstance – not just the good ones.