A few weeks ago I posted my Key Result Areas for the next 3 years. One of them – Me – included, “Athletic physicality – StrongDad.” I wanted to take a moment today and expound on that one a bit, in part to give me more accountability, in part to give guys out there a little help in an area that can be overwhelming and life-threatening at the same time, and in part to introduce a topic on the blog that I’ll write to now and again – namely, Strength. While this is open to all my readers, this string will be aimed at the men. Ladies, feel free to read on, but if something sounds harsh, just remember I’m talking primarily to the guys, and guys are designed to be tough 🙂
Last year I was struck by the sheer number of times we are commanded to be strong. And I was struck, almost as crisply, by the way folk on the Jesus Journey seem to almost elevate weakness. While I am the first to insist that what we do is “not by might, and not by power, but by [His] Spirit,” I also want to insist that none of the Biblical writers ever command us to be weak. They tell us we need to let the Lord’s strength fill our weakness, and they tell us not to put our trust in our strength, but they are conspicuously forceful and consistent in their command that we, as God’s people, be strong. Do a search.
It’s not helpful to spend lots of energy focusing on our weakness, apologizing for our weakness, or blaming our weakness for our lack of courage, failure of nerve, or simple unwillingness to cultivate a little fortitude. It just doesn’t help, and that issue of helpfulness is where the strength conversation becomes distinctly Christian. We want to be strong in order to be helpful, and stronger people are, on the whole, more able to be helpful than weaker people. Just pay attention to who you ask for help next time you move house. And obviously, it’s not primarily physical strength I want to draw our attention to here. When emotionally fractured or spiritually undisciplined or underdeveloped people move to a place like where I live to do this kind of work, they tend to go home pretty quick, but usually not before they implode their teams and drain them of years of vitality and potential fruitfulness. We don’t need strong people in this line of work because God likes strong people better, or because we like strong people better. We need strong people because stuff is hard and strong people can do hard stuff. And when God chooses to make them weak in a particular way, we treat that as an anomaly (as Paul did, praying fervently three times for it to leave him because he counted it an oddity), and we can learn how to inhabit God’s strength. Still, strength.
Physical strength has a role to play here, too, as we’re not gnostics and we don’t believe that our bodies are just shells and that real life is totally un-physical. The discipline, dedication, willpower and simple relentlessness it takes to become physically strong (not to get abs or to get ripped or shredded or skinny or hot or whatever ridiculous aesthetic goal present culture idolizes, but actually strong as a human being) has significant carry-over into the rest of life. Men should not be weak. It doesn’t help them be men.
So, enough for now about the Strong bit. The Dad bit is as important to me. Last year I had a month or two where I ate whatever I wanted, I didn’t train, I got up at a different time every day. Everything was just loose. I and remember thinking, “If some chump who got up at a different time every day, never did anything that amounted to mastering himself, and generally coasted, tried to marry my daughter, I’d kick him to the curb. Why in the world am I allowing myself to be that guy?” Fellas, it was a gut check.
I remembered working in the yard with my dad as a kid and being routinely amazed at how immensely STRONG he was. Not big, not strapping, not muscular. Just flippin’ strong. If he hit his thumb with the hammer, the hammer broke. Every time. He was made of iron.
At the time I was having this revelation, I was made of jello and chocolate nougat. Not iron. And I could hear the Father telling me to be strong. That part of being Dad is being the Hero. God was, I feel, inviting me to go with him into the land of strong. Into Joshua and Caleb’s yard. Into the wilderness with David and his lunatic commandos. And he was showing me how Fatherhood is the pinnacle of manhood. How being spiritual men is about being spiritual and about being men. And men, when fully formed, Father well. Even the single ones, they uncle well, and then they spiritually Father well. God was helping me sense the connection between strength (in all its forms), fathering my own kids, and the broader calling I feel to one day spiritually father leaders for the global church.
Now, I am learning more deeply of late how thoroughly every facet of life interpenetrates, conditions and informs every other area. So I’m not going to try to be spiritually strong while I “grow fat leaning on a pulpit”, as Jim Elliott was fond of saying. And I’m not going to arrange my whole life around counting calories and antioxidants and grams of gluten and stupid isolation exercises to get a nice pump and make my pecs pop. I’m going to follow Jesus into the arena where strong men are made, and I will show my sons what that means. I will be the man I want them to be. I will be the man I want my girls to marry. And I’ll use my body to get there. Just like when I fast I use my body to help the rest of me engage something real, I will use my physical training to do the same thing. Physical training only profits a little, but when leveraged as part of bringing my body into subjection, it goes a long way.
So, posts in this subject area on the blog are going to explore the role of strength in the Jesus Way, as well as discussions of physical training – and especially strength. Sometimes I’ll post my own goals, as well as my progress or lack thereof as I make my way toward strong.
For now, I’ll leave you with three quotes from the Bible on the topic.
The first from God himself to a young leader who has just inherited a task well above his pay grade (Joshua 1:6-9) –
“Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.Â Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
The second from a father to his son on when it gets tough (Proverbs 24:10-12) –
“If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.
Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not He who weighs the hearts perceive it?
Does not He who watches over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?”
And the last from a weathered apostle, to all of us (1Cor. 16:13-14) –
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all you do be done in love.”