“Boasting of my weaknesses”

In the 1950s, I remember reading advertisements about Charles Atlas and his muscle-building courses.

There was a drawing of a big , tough man kicking sand in the face of a 90-pound weakling and stealing his girlfriend.  The next drawings showed the skinny young man, transformed into a powerful, muscular man by a Charles Atlas course, taking back his girlfriend from the bully.

The underlying message was that you have to be big and strong to win in this world.  It was the age-old story of “survival of the fittest”.

I was thinking of this after a chat with my son-in-law about why the Christian church is declining in numbers, influence and spiritual strength in North America.  His point was that people feel they don’t need God until there is a disaster.

Canadians and Americans like to do things themselves without relying on others.  They believe in independence.  Indicating need is a sign of weakness.

Of course, men and women have felt this way since the Garden of Eden when Satan seduced Adam and Eve into believing they could be like God, knowing everything.

But it is not the way of Christ.

Jesus is God and yet, as the apostle Paul noted in Philippians 2:5-11, Christ gave up his exalted position in heaven to live in a human body, suffer, and die for ungrateful humans.

And Paul himself made the great statement in 2 Corinthians 12 that he boasts about his weaknesses so that “the power of Christ can work through me”.

His point is clear: As long as I rely on my own strength, I will not see the power of God working through me.  As Paul said: “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

Jesus and Paul were strong because they lived in dependence on God.  That is the secret of spiritual power.

Many of us Canadian and American believers rely on our own strength.  Our churches rely on human strength.  We are not seeing the power of God.

Do we need a disaster to wake us up?

Perhaps.  But change can happen before a cataclysm.  The great Methodist revival in Britain in the mid-1700s happened at a time when the established church in England was virtually dead and the country faced deep social problems.  With similar issues, France had a revolution.  Britain underwent a spiritual awakening that lasted decades along with fundamental social transformation.

The great revival of the late 1850s in the United States began when a young businessman on Wall Street in New York posted a sign on a downtown church announcing a noon-hour prayer meeting.  No one turned up for the first half hour of the first meeting.

But Jeremiah Lanphier had started something extraordinary.  In the end, people flocked to similar prayer gatherings across U.S. and hundreds of thousands gave their lives to Christ.

The same thing can happen today.

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