A while back, my wife asked me to put a clothesline, so she could hang things out to dry in the fresh air. Good for us, without the dryer sheets' chemicals. Good for the environment, using only wind and solar energy. Good for the bank account, using less electricity.
We had the skeletal remains of an old swingset lying behind the storage shed, and I thought that would be the perfect materials. It's thin-walled steel tubing, lightweight but strong, and easy to cut and weld. Within a couple hours I had fabricated two clothesline poles. I dug holes in the ground, set a base of rocks in the bottom, and set the poles in place with concrete. Solid. After the concrete had set, I ran two coated wire lines between the poles. The clothesline has been serving us well for several months now.
We were in for a big freeze, and our grapevines were in a very fragile state, so we covered them with plastic sheets to protect the budding new fruit. After the cold snap, it rained, and the plastic was wet. We laid it over the clotheslines to dry. But that night, another rain came-- a heavy one-- and rainwater collected in the plastic between the lines. It seems there was a weak spot in one of the poles I had made. A small dent that had gone unnoticed, and it was facing toward the lines. As the weight of the rainwater increased, eventually that little dent gave way. The next morning we found the plastic on the ground and the pole bent over.
I could replace the pole, but that would entail a lot of work, pulling the old one out of the ground with its concrete base. Plus it would be a waste of good materials. So rather than replace it, I pulled it straight. Then I bored a hole on the back side about a foot above the bend. Through that hole I filled the pole with concrete.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, "I can do all this through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4.13) That's the New International Version (NIV) translation. A better, more accurate translation of this is from the New American Standard (NAS), "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." There is a subtle but important difference in the wording.
We usually think along the lines of the NIV translation, that God gives us strength, which we then use to do something. That's like my clothesline pole with a dent in it. When I made it, I gave it strength, then let it go.
But a very literal translation of Paul's greek is, "In everything I am strong by the one who strengthens me." The real truth here is like the repaired clothesline pole. The pole is stronger than ever now, because of the concrete inside it. The concrete does not give it strength. No, the concrete strengthens it from within. This isn't a play on words or a word game. It's the truth about what our words actually mean.
It makes my mind Haggard when I hear someone pray for strength. "Please, Lord, make me strong enough to do this or that." God doesn't dole out strength as we need it or ask for it. The big secret mystery of our faith is "Christ in you." Because Jesus Christ lives in you, His strength is always there. Don't ask for it! It's already there, inside you! Rather than ask for strength, give thanks for it. Then move forward by faith.