“An unguarded strength is a glaring weakness.” A wise sage, Dr. Calvin Blom, shared these words with me several years ago.* Even our strengths can become weaknesses if we do not put a guard on them.
Charismatic, creative and energetic leaders can run over people if they are not careful; they must submit their gifts, passions and drives to the Lord. Only then can they move others as catalysts for God’s kingdom work. Those who have the gift of compassion must be sure not to bleed mercy in such a manner as to enter into co-dependent relationships with people for whom they feel pain and sorrow. The same goes for other gifting, such as an ability to make money. Is the aim to accumulate wealth for spending it on vain desires, or simply to deposit the wealth, or is the aim to multiply God’s resources for eternal investments? What about those who reason well? Is the aim to destroy people’s arguments or to pursue truth as a life-giving force for the common good? The list goes on and on.
What are your strengths? Are they guarded? If not, you can be assured that your lack of spiritual preparation will make you vulnerable to attack and impending disaster for you and others through the very source of your strength, like Superman and kryptonite.
I thought about this theme the other day, as I was reflecting on the temptation account in Matthew chapter 4:1-11. There are various ways to approach this passage. The truths that present themselves have import in a variety of ways. One of the striking features of this passage is that Jesus submits his will to the Father at every turn and follows the Spirit’s leading. He does not depend on his own miraculous power or stick out his chest and seek to prove he’s God’s Son—equal to God and able to operate independently of him or call on heavenly forces to do his personal, self-promotional bidding. Nor does he look to demonstrate his lordship over all the kingdoms of the world before the appointed time. Jesus does not depend on the ability to make bread out of stones to remove his gnawing hunger (Matthew 4:1-4), to call on angels to break a daredevil fall from the temple mount (Matthew 4:5-6), or to determine to allow Satan to give him in the short term what ultimately belongs to him anyway (Matthew 4:7-10). He looks to the Father and responds to the Spirit’s initiative (See Matthew 4:1).
This temptation account is critically important in Jesus’ life. It served as a spiritual gut check, among other things. His unguarded strengths would be the most glaring weaknesses of all given how great he truly was and is. Just think how he could have distorted and abused his miraculous gifting, angelic aid, and authority and dominion, even while using Satan as a pawn. Jesus needed to submit his will completely to the Father at the outset of his public ministry (which immediately follows the temptation in Matthew’s Gospel), or he would have done far greater damage than anyone or any power in human history; instead, by submitting his will to the Father, he brought about the greatest good for all.
It was not that Jesus’ hunger was to be discounted, or that angels were not supposed to attend him, or that the kingdoms of the world need not submit to Jesus as the king of heaven. Take note that at the end of the temptation account angels came and ministered to Jesus, no doubt providing him with food and drink. Take note, too, that as soon as this ordeal ends, Jesus begins preaching the kingdom of heaven: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). One of the morals of this story is “God’s way in God’s good time.”
We should keep this gospel account in mind as we proceed in life, including presumed heavenly kingdom-building work. No matter how great our gifting, no matter what rightfully belongs to us, we should take a cue from Jesus, who never sought to prove himself or go it alone, but depended on the Father in the Spirit and lived in light of his Father’s approval. How are we responding to God at the beginning of the week, the beginning of the semester, the beginning of a new job or career initiative, ministry opportunity, or the beginning of a new marriage or other important relationship? Are we approaching life in our own gifting, our own strength and reasoning, and according to our own timetable, or are we pressing forward in God’s way in God’s good time?
What are we trying to prove? What do we have to lose? Perhaps everything, if we go it alone and according to our timetable. An unguarded strength is a glaring weakness, but a guarded strength is a potent force for good.
*Dr. Blom later told me the source of this wise warning was Oswald Chambers.