‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’
As someone who is very aware of my own weaknesses, I find it encouraging that when I feel weak, I am not alone. As I put my faith in God he turns my weakness into strength.
1. Faith and opposition
God is our strength in times of difficulty. Belief in God is not the recipe for an easy life. In fact, the reverse is the case. You are likely to face all kinds of opposition.
David’s life was under threat. Saul had sent men to watch David’s house in order to kill him. He finds himself surrounded by ‘enemies… mutineers… dirty tricks… hit men… desperadoes… ambush… they’re after me, determined to get me’ (vv.1–4, MSG).
Yet, in the midst of this, David prays, ‘Rescue me…’ (vv.1–2, MSG) and has total confidence that the Lord can and will deliver him (v.8). Later in the psalm, twice David calls on God: ‘O my Strength’ (vv.9,17).
The reason that David was under attack was not because of his own sin. He is able to say, ‘I did nothing to deserve this, God, crossed no one, wronged no one’ (v.4, MSG). Of course, we know from the account of David’s life that there were times when he did wrong (see, for example, 2 Samuel 11). However, on this occasion, the opposition did not arise from his own sin.
We too can cry out to God for help in times of personal difficulties. David prays a personal prayer, ‘Arise to help me; look on my plight’ (Psalm 59:4b). We can also cry out to God for help at times of international crisis. The very next sentence is a prayer for the nation (v.5a). At whatever level the opposition appears, ask the Lord for his deliverance, help and intervention.
2. Faith and emptiness
Jesus taught about the centrality of faith. When asked, ‘“What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent”’ (vv.28–29).
When they asked for bread from heaven, Jesus says, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ (v.35). As Joyce Meyer points out, we are called, primarily, ‘believers’, not ‘achievers’. The way we achieve is by first believing.
When we are physically hungry we crave food. But as well as physical needs we have spiritual needs and a spiritual hunger. Faith in Jesus fills the emptiness we experience and satisfies our spiritual hunger for purpose, permanence and pardon.
Physical bread is not enough. Material things alone do not satisfy. Money, homes, cars, success and even human relationships do not satisfy our desire for ultimate purpose in life.
The bread that does satisfy is the ‘bread of life’. This is not a commodity that Jesus supplies. He is the gift and the giver. The words, ‘I’ or ‘me’ appear thirty-five times in this discussion. ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ (v.35).
It is easy, even once you have put your faith in Jesus, to get caught up either in material things or the trappings of religion. But it is actually only a relationship with Jesus that satisfies our spiritual hunger.
The expressions, ‘Believe in me’ (v.29), ‘Come to me’ (v.35), ‘Look to the Son’ (v.40), ‘Eat my flesh and drink my blood’ (v.53 onwards) describe living in an intimately close relationship with Jesus.
We are all going to die. Death is the great unmentionable reality. Jesus says this life is not the end: ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever… I will raise them up on the last day’ (vv.51,54).
Jesus promises to raise us up at the last day and that we will live forever. We can have absolute assurance that our relationship with Jesus will outlast death.
There is both a present and a future dimension to this eternal life. They said, ‘From now on give us this bread’ (v.34). Jesus says it can be received immediately. Yet he also made clear that it will last forever.
Forgiveness is actually our greatest need. The atheist philosopher, Marghanita Laski, said,
‘What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness. I have no one to forgive me.’ We all want to know that we are pardoned for all that we have done wrong.
Jesus said, ‘This bread is my flesh, which I give for the life of the world’ (v.51). His blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins. Every time we receive communion, we are reminded that Jesus gave his life so that we could be forgiven.
How do we receive this bread? Jesus says, ‘I tell you the truth, whoever believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life’ (vv.47–48). While there is no separate account of Jesus’ institution of Holy Communion in John’s Gospel, here we see Jesus’ teaching on communion set in the context of faith. Among other things, communion is a visible sign that helps us receive Christ by faith.
Through faith in Him, we have a lasting purpose in every expect of out life.
3. Faith and fallibility
As we read through the ongoing saga of the people of God sinning, crying out to the Lord and being rescued by Judges, we come across one of the most disturbing stories in the entire Bible.
Jephthah is described as a ‘mighty warrior’ (11:1). His mother was a prostitute (v.1). His half-brothers drove him away (v.2). He gathered a group of adventurers around him (v.3). He became a remarkable leader. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him (v.29), and he was used by God to secure victory over the Ammonites – ‘the Lord gave them into his hands’ (v.32).
However, there is an incident in his life that is almost unbearable to read. He made a vow to God that if God gave him victory, he would sacrifice whatever came out of the door of his house to meet him upon his return. It was his daughter, his only child. And, it appears, that is what he did (vv.29–40).
It is important to note that God never asked him to make this vow. Nor did he ask him to carry out the sacrifice. Indeed, it went against all the teaching of the Old Testament, which forbade child sacrifice. Jephthah never actually seeks God’s will in this situation. It seems to be his own pride that drives him to put his reputation above the life of his daughter.
This shows the fallibility of even great people of faith.
In spite of his weakness, he is listed in the book of Hebrews as one of the heroes of faith whose weakness was turned into strength (Hebrews 11:32–34).
How is your level of faith in God?