Last weekend, I had the privilege of directing the ‘Men of Might’ conference at our church in Dade City, a two-day retreat for young men ages 12-19. The weekend verse was 1 John 2:14: “I write to you, young men, because you are strong.” The theme of the conference was, as you can probably guess, strength.
It’s a passion of mine to encourage guys to “man up”, to be spiritually strong and to understand their distinct, masculine roles in God’s created order. It’s something lacking—but sorely needed—in many Christian circles. We had over 30 guys attending ‘Men of Might’, all of whom I pray were changed by the experience.
Although I went in on Friday as the director and main speaker, I left on Saturday night feeling like I had been the one instructed and disciplined.
In the weeks leading up to this conference I spent hours researching, studying and planning. I came up with the weekend’s schedule, activities, study questions, talks, and how those talks would construct the overall theme of the weekend. I had everything organized and prioritized and ready to go.
Or so I thought.
Two days before the conference, I hurt my knee. I still have no idea how. But I know that I looked like a limping zombie when I walked. At that same time, our worship leader got a frog in his throat. Then one of our speakers got a cold. Our staff started to resemble a sick ward.
Then it got worse. I was supposed to get to the church early Friday afternoon to help set up, but an emergency at work that week meant I wouldn’t be able to leave Friday night until after 6. Less than an hour before the conference started.
But then came the kicker, the main punch in the gut. On Thursday night our church randomly lost power in the sanctuary and most of the classrooms, and lost its running water. There we were, the night before hosting a group and staff of over forty guys for two days, and suddenly we were without electricity or water. Just like that, the whole campaign seemed on the verge of collapse.
An electrician from our church congregation spent Thursday night and all day Friday trying to fix the issue in time for Friday evening, but hope seemed slim. The dead ends kept stacking up, and with each passing hour the sense of urgency worsened.
As I worked late into Friday afternoon, checking my phone every two minutes for updates, unable to be at the church to do anything about it, I felt completely helpless. Powerless. No strength, no ability to change a thing. I had none of the traits that I was about to spend an entire weekend preaching on. The only thing I could do was pray, and wait, and trust.
Then, amidst the fear and stress of it all, realization hit me like a lightning bolt: weakness was the entire point.
I had spent weeks planning and preparing, creating and constructing, scheduling and strategizing. I had put such stock in the work of my hands. I had relied on self-strength, self-might, self-power. And when that was taken away, I had nothing left.
I was about to teach a group of teenage guys the importance of strength, all the while forgetting what real strength is all about. Strength starts with weakness. Strength starts with admitting that we have nothing, that we can do nothing, that we are nothing.
It’s only in that weakness that the strength of God is manifest. It’s only when we fall on our faces, void of any might or ability, that His power is made known through us. It’s only when we’re completely empty that we’re able to be filled with Him. Weakness was the entire point.
I was reminded of 2 Corinthians 12:8-10, when the apostle Paul pleaded three times for the Lord to take away a thorn of the flesh, only to be reminded: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” This humbled Paul and led him to conclude: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Weakness is treated as something ugly. Something vile. But Paul said it was something glorious, something to be delighted in, because it’s only in our weakness that Christ’s power is made perfect in us.
In my determination to teach the teens about strength, I forgot to start with its source. I was so focused on what it looks like that I forgot about where it comes from. Or rather, Who it comes from.
As seven o’clock rolled around on Friday evening, and guys started showing up, I had to let go. I had to realize just how weak and fragile I was, and I had to realize the power and might of the God who was ultimately in control. Despite all my planning and organizing, this weekend was entirely in the hands of the Almighty.
Which is exactly where it needed to be.
Not long after everyone arrived that night, by the grace of God, the power got fixed. I couldn’t have been more thrilled, and a song of praise rang in my heart. But even if it hadn’t come back on, that would have been okay. Because a weekend devoted to “strength” needed to be entirely dependent on the One from whom we receive strength in the first place.
My schedules and methods and electricity were an idol to me, and in His mercy God ripped them down and left me barren and naked, with nothing to rely on but Him.
Which is exactly where I needed to be. Which is exactly where I’ll always need to be.
I pray, no matter the discomfort or anxiety it may cause, that God will always tear those kinds of idols away from me. I pray that He daily keeps me on my knees, that He daily reminds me just how helpless and powerless I really am. And in that, I pray His strength is daily made known through my weakness.
We got the power back on in our church, and the ‘Men of Might’ conference was a great success. But we received a much greater power that night. Not the kind that flows through wires and circuits, but the kind that is most magnified in us when we are most broken and helpless.
We don’t have strength. Nor can we acquire it. But the strength of God can work in and through us, and that’s what it means to be strong. That’s what it means to be a man of might.