“If you do nothing in a difficult time, your strength is limited” Proverbs 24:10
There’s something in the air. I noticed it on my flight to Seattle this morning. You could hear it in the flight attendant’s voice: “Welcome ladies and…(pause)…gentlemen. Wwwwelcome to Al…aska flight…(more pauses) 643, with service to…(blank).” Maybe he was new and had a case of the jitters. But it seemed to be catching, for the condition was worse in the terminal. “We want to welcome those uh pass…engers seated in rows…(more long pausing)…seventeen through…(blank).” I figured it would be better on the next flight, but almost every announcement came with numerous brain freezes. Maybe it was a distraction–the passenger with the words “Jesus Drank Wine” on her tank top (what does that mean?). Or maybe it was the Alaskan Airlines pledge to cut “operational paper “in half by 2020 (saving 830 trees annually), and those with the microphone have to now do it by memory.
I am sensitive to this sort of fear. I experience it every week I am called to preach. I am aware that a perfectly sound homily can suddenly go south because my tongue gets twisted; or my thoughts converge in a pile up; or I accidently realize I skipped page seven in my notes and now nothing is making sense; or in the middle of sentence I start wondering if I locked my car or turned off the stove; or something much worse—I suddenly feel like the Spirit’s presence has moved off and I am on my own.
All of us have our list of fears. What do you do when you are suddenly in a stressful moment? What happens when—
-you are squeezed out or hemmed in by disconcerting news?
-life throws a curve?
-your ship has not come in?
-what you have poured your life into has just been rejected?
-a letter arrives from a collection agency addressed to your son?
-your spouse interrupts your sleep with, “I think I hear a noise downstairs?
-you are faced with voting this November?
Wisdom would say that your answer depends upon your capacity. If you…
-become slack and your hands literally go limp
-sag under the weight of adversity
-wilt under the heat of bad news
-lose it, give up, and cave in in the face of defeat
-make excuses rather than own up
-shade the truth rather than face the consequences
-freeze and run (e.g. from the pulpit or the voting booth)
-quit the race
…then your grit and determination are restricted. Your presence of mind is thin.
It’s in the hour of distress that a person discovers the kind of resilience one has. If you stood tall and displayed an incredible tenacity; if you maintained a cool steadiness; or if you found a reserve of power, your strength is anything but thin. But if you caved in, then the stressful moment exposed a weightlessness that might have been hidden until now.
Scripture records a number of heroes who—in difficult times—revealed limited strength. Under stress, Abraham lied; Jacob cheated; Moses ran; Job questioned; the Psalmists complained; David caved; Jeremiah whined; and Peter blasphemed. It turns out they are fashioned from the same clay as the rest of us.
This proverb has often been in the shadows for me until I am in a troubled time. When I am about to let go and give up, it sizes me up and sometimes dresses me down. Are you really this hollow? Is this all it took to wimp out? Is there no more weight to your gravitas? If you are slack in the day of distress, your strength is limited!!!! 24:10 works side by side with Jeremiah 12:5–“If you have raced with runners and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?”
It’s wisdom teaching me that the wise build their stamina, knowing tomorrow will be the race. Preparing for the future means giving everything to the present.