I discovered last week that lifting an oversized leather couch needs to be done carefully. I was not careful. I instantly felt a tear in the muscles of my ribcage, known as an intercostal muscle strain. It happens when you twist and lift. Apparently, you can twist OR lift, but not at the same time. I spent the rest of the week going about my chores as I helped my daughter and son-in-law move into a new house gritting my teeth as had to bend, lift, move, and breathe my way through the discomfort. Fortunately, this is a mishap that heals itself, but over a week later I still can’t sleep on that side.

Paul talks about the difference between real strength and teeth-gritting strength. I can relate. Had I had real strength for lifting the couch, I wouldn’t have had to grit my teeth for a week. Perhaps real strength would have involved knowing the limits of my own strength and realizing I was in over my head.

In this letter to the church at Colossae, Paul is commending the people for their growth in their faith. Growing in faith requires some heavy lifting.

Colossians 1 (The Message)

9-12 Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven’t stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works. We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.

In this Message translation, Paul calls the long-haul strength that faith building requires “glory-strength.” Don’t you just love that? He encourages the followers to keep working hard at it, staying attuned to God’s will and learning about how God works. Always the encourager, Paul tells them that in his prayers he asks God to give them wise minds so they might acquire a complete understanding of God. He reminds us that God makes them strong enough to do what they need to do.

Do you need to be reminded of that today?

13-14 God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He’s set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much, the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating.

Some of us may feel that we are still in dead-end alleys or dark dungeons. Sin, hopelessness, addiction, abusive relationships, etc. keep us trapped in doom pits and we need a way out. Thankfully, Christ provides it:

Christ Holds It All Together

15-18 We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.

18-20 He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so expansive, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.

Read that again. All the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe get properly fixed and fit together by Christ. The blood of the atonement brings us to a state of at-one-ment with God and his purpose for our lives. In him we live, breath, and find our being. And he is the greatest fixer of all that is broken.

Are you broken today? Do you need be fixed? Are you gritting your teeth because your strength is failing? Seek God and his glory-strength and he will restore harmony to your soul.

Glory-Strength by Karen DeBellis

When Songs are Silent

A few weeks ago I attended my conference’s Clergy Executive Session via ZOOM. This is an annual meeting where we affirm the commissioning and ordaining of new pastors, remember pastors who have died in the past year, receive reports of those who have chosen to go on leave or exit the denomination, etc. I logged in as I was finishing an outdoor class at my YMCA and the opening session began as I was driving home.

This was not a good plan. I was traveling on our busy bypass when all of a sudden a gorgeous baritone voice came through my phone. He began to sing “Be Thou My Vision.”

My favorite hymn.

When the bishop introduced him, she invited us to sing along from our multiple locations across Georgia and beyond.

I began to sing and immediately started to cry. It wasn’t just a finger-dabbing kind of crying; it was a full blown shoulder-shuddering, snot-flowing sob. This is not a good thing to do while driving on a busy summer day of beach traffic.

Singing is a beautiful, cathartic, uplifting, soul-stirring way to connect with the Holy Spirit. Somehow songs poke us in a place where we don’t usually get poked. Music resonates deep in our core, where we remember our mothers gently rocking and humming us to sleep and our daddies singing silly songs with us on long car rides.

Psalms are both painful and healing to me right now. They are painful in that they were written to be sung out loud on a journey with other pilgrims, which of course we can’t do right now. But they are also healing because I know that there WILL come a time when we can sing together again in large groups. Lord, hasten that day!

But for today, we sing silently with our eyes.

Psalm 105 (Common English Bible)

Give thanks to the Lord;
    call upon his name;
    make his deeds known to all people!
Sing to God;
    sing praises to the Lord;
    dwell on all his wondrous works!

Everyone I know, myself included, is hitting a wall right now. The mask wars, the number of COVID cases continuing to rise, remote learning gearing up to start (causing great stress for teachers, parents, and kids), waiting for days on end for COVID test results to come back, cabin fever, fears for our livelihood, sorrow over the 700,000 deaths worldwide, the lack of healthy social interaction…it is all getting to us. Tempers are fragile, friendships are frayed, families are not speaking to each other, and we need help. We need hope. We especially need to remind each other of the wondrous works God has done, is doing, and will do again.

Give praise to God’s holy name!
    Let the hearts rejoice of all those seeking the Lord!
Pursue the Lord and his strength;
    seek his face always!
Remember the wondrous works he has done,
    all his marvelous works, and the justice he declared—
    you who are the offspring of Abraham, his servant,
        and the children of Jacob, his chosen ones.

When singing brings only tears, it is time to give silent praise. When a simple conversation provokes an angry response, it is time to seek the Lord. When everything you are doing feels overwhelming, remember God’s marvelous works, and let your heart rejoice.

Pursue the Lord and his strength when yours has run out. He will never run out on you.

Sing Songs of Silence by Michelle Robertson