The second most popular New Years’ Eve resolution right after losing weight is to get in better shape. Prominently displayed in stores is all sorts of workout equipment. TV ads run constantly about gyms and exercise programs. Why? Because we know that exercise makes us stronger. We build up strength by exercising our muscles.
I’m committed to that. This past week, the first thing each day I walked five times around the block. Then I picked it up and put it back in the grandkids’ toy box. The desire for exercise doesn’t come naturally to me. I want the results, I’m just not willing to surrender to what it takes.
But what about Spiritual strength? How do we become stronger spiritually?
Judges 13:1-5 Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, so that the LORD gave them into the hands of the Philistines forty years. There was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had borne no children. Then the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, "Behold now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and give birth to a son. Now therefore, be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing. For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines."
Without the Nazirite Vow, the story of Samson has no value, Samson has no strength and the greatness of God never shows up. The Nazirite Vow is the key to everything that happens in this story. Where does that Vow come from and what is it?
Num 6:2-8 Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, 'When a man or woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to dedicate himself to the LORD, he shall abstain from wine and strong drink; he shall drink no vinegar, whether made from wine or strong drink, nor shall he drink any grape juice nor eat fresh or dried grapes. All the days of his separation he shall not eat anything that is produced by the grape vine, from the seeds even to the skin. All the days of his vow of separation no razor shall pass over his head. He shall be holy until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the LORD; he shall let the locks of hair on his head grow long. All the days of his separation to the LORD he shall not go near to a dead person. He shall not make himself unclean for his father or for his mother, for his brother or for his sister, when they die, because his separation to God is on his head. All the days of his separation he is holy to the LORD.
A VOW is a solemn promise or commitment, specifically one by which a person is bound to an act, service, or relationship. Our wedding vows were promises of future behavior. The declaration of the Nazirite vow signified the person had separated him/herself from all other interests in order to serve at the Lord’s command. It produced a single-minded devotion for maintaining a life free from any restraints that might interfere with what God intended.
Ever ask someone for help and they said, “Just a minute.” Just a minute says what they are doing is more important than what you need them to do. The Nazirite Vow took away any excuse to being unavailable for God’s use.
It compares with the NT statement Paul wrote: Eph 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit. Wine was and is a controlling substance. At a certain point in consumption it can take over the life. Paul says, “Don’t live under the control of anything that might interfere with your surrender to God. Instead, be filled with that that energizes, equips, motivates and directs your life – the Holy Spirit who indwells you. Be separated – constantly available and ready for His use.”
When Samson’s father wanted to know how to raise the boy to fulfill God’s design, he thought it was his job to make Samson acceptable to gain God’s blessings. The angel said: just maintain the conditions of the Nazirite. In other words, the Nazirite vows were an open-ended promise of surrender to God’s will. God would determine the use. So often, we want a blank check signed by God for our benefits, when actually God wants us to sign the blank check of our lives and hand it to Him.
Others took the Nazirite Vow but we don’t know what God did through them. With Samson we have details. What we find is God manifested His intentions through Samson in the form of super strength. There’s no other evidence God did the same for any other person.
So because of the Nazirite Vow, God made him strong. In other words, separate Samson from the vow and he was like any other man. Samson didn’t possess strength, the strength possessed him when it was necessary to do God’s will.
Judges 15:12-14 They said to him, "We have come down to bind you so that we may give you into the hands of the Philistines." And Samson said to them, "Swear to me that you will not kill me." So they said to him, "No, but we will bind you fast and give you into their hands; yet surely we will not kill you." Then they bound him with two new ropes and brought him up from the rock. When he came to Lehi, the Philistines shouted as they met him. And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily so that the ropes that were on his arms were as flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds dropped from his hands.
Judges 14:5-6 Then Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came as far as the vineyards of Timnah; and behold, a young lion came roaring toward him. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, so that he tore him as one tears a young goat though he had nothing in his hand;
Judges 16:2-3 When it was told to the Gazites, saying, "Samson has come here," they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the gate of the city. And they kept silent all night, saying, "Let us wait until the morning light, then we will kill him." Now Samson lay until midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the city gate and the two posts and pulled them up along with the bars; then he put them on his shoulders and carried them up to the top of the mountain which is opposite Hebron.
God didn’t strengthen Samson just to make him a strong man. He strengthened him for what He needed Samson to do when the moment demanded it. Which makes an interesting connection back to how God strengthens us.
There are strong people and weak people – emotionally, physically and spiritually.
- Emotionally strong people weather storms better than emotionally weak people.
- Physically strong people have greater capacity for exertion than physically weak people.
- Spiritually strong people demonstrate greater devotion to God than spiritually weak people.
It’s not the strong but the weak who gain the most from God. Weakness produces humility. Weakness admits need. Weakness confesses emptiness. Weakness asks for help. Each of which opens us to provisions we cannot produce on our own.
If we think we can…
- Fill the empty void in our life by our own efforts, or
- Pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, or
- Satisfy the longing in our hearts by substituting ungodly pursuits,
…we will never experience the strength God provides to stand strong in difficult times.
What did Paul discover: 2Cor 12:9-10 And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Grace is God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
- Paul understood Grace requires dependency – Dependency says, I need God.
- Paul understood Grace requires capacity – I cannot expect God’s filling when the space for that filling is already filled with the wrong stuff.
- Paul understood Grace produces adequacy – I cannot create or conjure up what it takes to live life fully adequate. Only God can do that.
So, for Paul to boast in the strength he musters in order to serve God, he is boasting in an empty container, a sailing ship with no wind, a journey with no destination, a life with no reason to live. He brings nothing to the table. He can only point to what God has done to compensate for his weakness. By acknowledging he is nothing without what God provides, he can freely admit that though he is weak, in the Lord he is strong.
Samson’s confession: Judges 16:15-17 Then she said to him, "How can you say, 'I love you,' when your heart is not with me? You have deceived me these three times and have not told me where your great strength is." It came about when she pressed him daily with her words and urged him, that his soul was annoyed to death. So he told her all that was in his heart and said to her, "A razor has never come on my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother's womb. If I am shaved, then my strength will leave me and I will become weak and be like any other man."
Samson’s strength wasn’t obvious from the outside. That’s because it came from within. Samson wasn’t a he-man. He was a God-man.
The greatest moment in any believer’s life is the moment he/she realizes: Ex 15:2 The LORD is my strength.
Moses, having discovered this, was highly concerned that the people he had led out of Egypt might forget all God did once they got settled in the Promised Land and mistakenly think they had created their own success.
Deut 8:10-18 When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. He led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water; He brought water for you out of the rock of flint. In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. Otherwise, you may say in your heart, 'My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.' But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
In a speech made in 1863, Abraham Lincoln said, "We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us."
Billy Graham once said: "As an evangelist, I have often felt too far spent to minister from the pulpit to men and women who have filled stadiums to hear a message from the Lord. Yet again and again my weakness has vanished, and my strength has been renewed. I have been filled with God’s power not only in my soul but physically. On many occasions, God has become especially real, and has sent His unseen angelic visitors to touch my body to let me be His messenger for heaven, speaking as a dying man to dying men."
In the past I’ve tried to carry the burden of churches and all the concerns of the people. And crashed multiple times. It was during one of those crashes that God asked me why. By the way, it’s not an unimportant question when God asks why. He asked, “Why are you trying to do My job?” I learned, if I’m worn down, I must be trying to carry all the load by myself.
A dad was watching his son trying to move a heavy stone, but he couldn’t budge it. After a while the dad asked, “Are you using all the strength you have available?’ “Yes,” the little boy groaned. “No, you’re not. You haven’t asked me to help.”
If our only resources are what we bring to the problem, we will get worn down before we can make any difference. We don’t have enough strength. We can’t generate enough strength. So, where does the strength come from?
Judges 16:20-22 She said, "The Philistines are upon you, Samson!" And he awoke from his sleep and said, "I will go out as at other times and shake myself free." But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him. Then the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes; and they brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze chains, and he was a grinder in the prison. However, the hair of his head began to grow again after it was shaved off.
Though Samson betrayed the Source of his strength, that Source didn’t betray him. When Samson acknowledged that God was that Source, the strength returned, as did the power Samson needed to accomplish God’s purpose.
I had a friend in college who’d argue that God only helps those who help themselves. He insisted that it was in the Bible. It’s not. What is in there is a God helps those who ask Him for help. Asking requires humility.
In humility we admit we need help because admitting weakness opens up the opportunity to discover how strong we can be in the Lord. For when I am weak, then I am strong. Why? Because when I admit I can’t handle everything on my own and need the Lord, I’m saying the very words God is waiting to hear.
- Life creates loads often too heavy for us to bear.
- Trying to carry those loads in our own strength is a recipe for failure.
- We are not designed to handle all we face with only what we bring to the problem.
- Admitting our weakness opens the window of God’s blessings to exchange our inabilities for His ability.