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Friday, September 11, 2015

"Stronger" (Clayton King)

TITLE: Stronger: How Hard Times Reveal God's Greatest Power
AUTHOR: Clayton King
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015, (240 pages).

One of my favourite songs is "Give Thanks." When it comes to the chorus, there is a sense of deep comfort to sing: "And now, let the weak say I am strong; let the poor say I am rich; because of what the Lord has done... Give thanks."

When the tough times comes, the tough gets going. Hard times can beat us down, but they can also reveal God's strength in us. This is the essence of this book, written by founder and president of Clayton King Ministries. Also a teaching pastor at NewSpring Church, King lives through really difficult times. One such time is having to deal with nine deaths in his family, and him giving a eulogy for every one of them. He believes in what Tozer said that it takes one who had been deeply wounded to be able to be used by God in demonstrating the deep love of God and the wide extent of grace. For King, hard times may make him unhappy, but in God's grace, they can make him holy. If there is no death, there is no resurrection. If there is no cross, there is no empty tomb. If there is no crisis, there is a lack of opportunity to demonstrate God's power over all. This is not to say that crisis is a tool for God's ends. It is to say that regardless of what happens to us, it is the Lord who always holds up his end of the bargain, even when we feel down and out. Things that break him are the very things that God uses to draw the suffering closer to himself. Ten chapters demonstrate what strength in God means for the author.

First, King starts with what it means to be at the throes of brokenness. All kinds of things from bones to hearts; from relationships to spirits; from physical to spiritual; we are all susceptible to being broken in a broken world. King writes about how he finds strength as he searches for the light amid the cracks in a dark moment of his life. Weaknesses and problems are not to be avoided but embraced. For brokenness often precedes blessings. Second, the things that hurt us can very well humble us and teach us the essence of humility. With humility comes honesty. With honesty comes an open invitation to follow after the ways of Christ, who himself was humble and honest. In Christ, we see the full revelation of how power is made perfect in weakness. He ties in the presence of weaknesses as a way in which we can grow intimacy with God. King says it well: "Hard times make us humble, and humility makes us stronger." Third, we need not be ashamed to share our testimony of our hard times. The scars are real and keep us truthful. With the scars, we are reconnected back to the times of lowliness and learns all over again to be grateful and to be humble. It also tells us what it means to be human. Fourth, when troubles and persecutions come, when tough times and panic situations approach, we become more attuned to the presence of God. Suppose we are exempted from the tough situations of life, will we then fail to appreciate God more? In other words, when there is no going gets tough moments, how is a tough person able to get going? Fifth, we look at strength and learn that the true source of strength and power comes not from within us but from the Word of God in us. It was at the cross where God's power was made manifest in full. Sixth, we need to learn to live a life without regret. It is like crying over spilled milk. Our attitude should be like Paul who leaves all these things behind and to press onward toward the prize that God has called him to attain. For our biggest messes can become our biggest messages from God to us. Seventh, we learn vulnerability need not shut us down but opens us up for courage, for strength, and for truth bearing witness. It is also an invitation toward intimacy with God. Eighth, as we take the bull of hard times by the hands of faith and courage, we grow in understanding. We are able to pray the most difficult prayers, say the most difficult truths, and testify in the most daunting circumstances. Above all, we see God's purposes in all things, even in our suffering. Ninth, we are lifted up above our lives of mediocrity into a life of worship. We want to lift up the Name of Jesus. We move from human positioning toward a heartfelt posture of letting God take control. Worship, weakness, suffering, and submission are all on the same side of intimacy with God. Tenth, at the end of it all, we will find it all worth it because God's glory will be revealed. This eternal glory, just like 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 says, will make all of our endeavours, our sufferings, our pains, our trials, all worth it.

This is a powerful book based on the sheer strength weaknesses, sufferings, pains, and trials. The waves of difficulties may try to wash over us and to drown us. The tsunamis of challenges may not seem to end. Just when it is dark and bleak, the gospel comes like a knight in shining armour to lift us out of the difficult times. This book at times looks like a modern rendition of 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 where Paul himself survives on the basis of Christ's Word, that God's power is made perfect in weakness. If you are discouraged, read this book and recognize that you are not alone in your struggles. If you are in despair because of the circumstances you are facing, there are stories in this book that reminds you that God strength is made perfect in our weaknesses. If you are depressed, disillusioned, or in some sort of distress, work through the specific chapters according to where you are, and let the testimonies of the author and the stories told within bring some comfort and assurance. Above all, may the content of the book draw you closer to Christ, and to remind you in a special manner that God cares for you, and desires greater intimacy with you.

One does not need to feel depressed or disenchanted before picking up this book. You can start preparing it for yourself or the people or community you love. For troubles and challenges of life will come. It is simply a matter of when. Just like Paul urges the Ephesians to put on the armour of God, we can put on the armour of God's Word and presence as we prepare ourselves to battle the onslaught and deceptions of the devil. Be strong and courageous in the power of God's might.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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