Exchanging Weakness for God’s Strength

Guest BloggerAfrican American Preaching

Ralph Douglas West

This is the day the Lord has made. We rejoice and we are glad in it. But I said that I’m so used to my church chiming in, I got to remember I’m not at home right now. I’m delighted to be here today. What a joy. Thank you. Dr. Duduit for the invitation to be here on this afternoon when he volun told me what I was supposed to do.

He commented something that was tender to me. He says, You’re standing in the place where Dr. James Massey used to stand every year to get us started and then on board me because of my relationship to Dr. Massey and what he has meant to me in the here and the beyond as a preacher and as a pastor.

To be here with so many brothers and sisters in the faith and people that have played a part in the shaping of my preaching and pastoral ministry. Again, I’m glad to be here. And so with that said, let me get started with a word exchange that you can find in Isaiah chapter 40, beginning at verse 28. There are a lot of things that have been going on over the last years when we were scheduled originally to be here at this church.

COVID came in and rearranged the world for us. And so today I want to speak about exchanging your weakness for God’s strength. That may be a good way to get started as we prepare to hear the other messages throughout the day And this week, the prophet Isaiah simply says it this way and profoundly. He asked this question, Do you not know?
Have you not heard the Lord? Is the everlasting God the Creator of the ends of the earth? He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall. But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.

They will soar. Wings like eagles. They were run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint. This is the Word of God to us. Newsweek was following up with previous stories of Where are they now? One of the people that they found was Robert Hirsch. Hirsch in the eighties work for Hughes aircraft. He was in upper management.

And when General Motors bought out Hughes, he was replaced from upper management to manage the office. His office responsibilities was to watch over the pencils and the papers, and later he would keep at bay secretaries that were bumping heads with each other administratively, looking for pens, paper and pencil that he ordered, and they couldn’t find it. And he found himself working early and staying late, missing lunch, trying to navigate through the maze of office work from aerodynamics now to administrative work in an office.

He was often criticized about a little things overlooked by his historic and things that he had accomplished. It even boiled down to something as simple as names being left out of of the list for the Christmas party. He couldn’t take it much more. He said that. So much of the pressure from this new assignment was weighing on him, that he lost 20 lbs.

He could barely eat, he could barely keep his stomach settled. Eventually he lost his wife, his home, his family. Everything was turned upside down. Finally, he decided to go to the personnel and he filed for compensation and they granted it to him $20,000. He said. But that was insignificant compared to what he had lost. Family, career, future and broke health.

Where is he now? He says no more than trying to manage with the bad memories. But things have gotten somewhat better. When I read the story in U.S. Newsweek, I began to say, This story sounds so much like if I changed the names and the locations and the IDs of company, it sounds like the average pastor on Monday morning reassigned, given new responsibilities, navigating between some administrative structure struggles just repeatedly, something going on and on.

I don’t want to call any names, but I began again, just reading through what pastors are dealing with, and I just went back to maybe 2018 of the people in Pastor, a ministry who died by their own hands. Prominent mega pastors in California, prominent pastors in the Midwest. And as indiscriminate, you know, pressure and stress, it doesn’t care whether you passed a megachurch or a large a middle of what we may even call a small church.

It’s indiscriminate stress and struggle. It gets everybody gets the best of them. It’s indiscriminate racially to some of these people that died of their own hand were Anglo and others were African American. It didn’t matter where you are, it is is beyond denomination. It doesn’t care whether you are Baptist, whether you’re Pentecostal or charismatic, that care, whether you’re conservative or progressive.

When it comes down to stress, it just gets the best of us, as it then seems to provide some word of comfort when he begins to ask the series of questions. And then he I guess you could then temporize. And I simply said, Are you tired? Do you feel empty? That’s all. Are you running on E? Are you under stress?

Do you feel the pressure of pastoral preaching ministerial life? And if you are he is. This is an invitation to come simply to say this. Bring me your weakness and I’ll give you my strength.

This is a silver tax and a gold and book. And if provides for some kind of avenue on how to manage the stress and strains and struggles that all of us will endure, the disappointments and the discouragement that come our way. And I have, as I said, this is an invitation to you in the same way that it was an invitation to these men and women who would experience what it means to live as refugees on the run, where their resources would be depleted and where the national landmarks would disappear.

He invites them. He invites us and says, When the landscapes of life change, this is an invitation to exchange your human weakness for God’s divine strength. These people who would read this would know exactly what I’m talking about. As many of you know, exactly when you look at where you are, where you do ministry, why you serve God in the world, that we do it in all of the pressures that come with it, it becomes this invitation.

And so how do we do this? How do we exchange our human weaknesses for God’s divine strength? How do we bring our frail days to God’s faithfulness, our incompleteness to God’s fullness? It begins merely by giving us a description of God. One of the weaknesses I think of preaching the day is it’s not much God and preaching it more.

And the God that is presented is so small and so manageable and so domesticated that you can maneuver this God almost any way that you want to. You hear it in our music. We hear it in our prayers, these little gods. And so Isaac gives us this big image of God. He gives us some insights. He starts with a question in the present when he says to us, Do you not know?

He has the repetition of saying, You do this, you work with this book in these scriptures every week. Do you not know? And then he moves to the past and he says, Have you not heard not just the message that you preach, but the messages that are being preached, the word of God that is being announced? Have you not heard?
When was the last time you listened to a sermon? Where was the last time you didn’t just preach to it? All of us are guilty of that. We preach a lot. A lot. But when was the last time you felt your soul with God’s Word? Have you not known? Have you not heard? And then He gives us these four attributes of God, these characteristics of God that lay a foundation that we can turn to regularly in our life when we feel as if we are being empty by the ministries that have been given to us.

Isaiah says When you make this exchange, understand God’s eternity, that’s a big word. Eternity. That God is boundless. God is not restricted. He’s not fired. God is not locked in by time nor by space, that God is eternity. When I was younger, I mean really younger. And when people had these side wall theological conversation. When you were in high school, one of the questions that people would ask is, well, they try to get deep.

Well, how old is God? And it’s an irrelevant question, but it does turn our attention to what eternity looks like. Because in eternity, God cannot be. In other words, you can say eternity plus a year doesn’t change. Eternity. God is just eternity with God. It’s just the eternal. Now, that is the narrowness of life. There’s no progression with God.

There is no first, second or third. There’s no past, present or future. Everything is in the right now. Right. And imagine right now you would go to NASCAR. You see your favorite run in the arena. You have to start with the flag being waved and the cars taking off on its first lap. Who’s in first and then who’s in second and who’s third.

That’s how we manage time. But we got everything is just now. There is no 6000 years ago, 2000 years ago, and Jesus time or 20, 23, God just sees it all right now there’s no difference. It’s all now. God is eternal eternity of God. Now I hope that excites you, because in life people need to have a God that’s bigger than the one that they can manipulate.

They need an eternal, everlasting God. It is the very words that gives us the hymn that the God of our is past, God, of our hope for years to come. So at this time, 90 and 91 all spells out in God is our hope everlasting refuge. This is what eternity is. That is, understand the very eternity of God.

But beyond that, beyond the understanding of His eternity, know something about His infinity that God cannot once again be locked in by time, about space. The infinity of God reminds us that God is God. That can be wherever you are, wherever you are. Yes, that that’s what infinity is. The infinity is is that whatever, wherever you are, whatever location, whatever job, Raphe, whatever situation that God can be in that situation with you.

God is infinite. God is eternal. But that’s beyond that. God is inexhaustible. Now listen to what this Isaiah says. Father Eternity. The Lord is everlasting for us. Infinity, He says to us, the Creator of the ends of the Earth, for his inexhaustible reality. He says to us that he never grows tired, nor is he weary. I need to know that that in life, that when I’m tired and when I’m weary, God is neither tired nor is God weary.

And I can tell you today that that some of you you are here and you are tired and tired. And why Bonners research, Pew Research. You put them next to each other. And what are the number one characteristics of people dropping out of the ministry? It starts off many times. Number one, compensation issues. The lack of compensation, the lack of rest is always at the top, no sabbatical, lack of appreciation.

And all of this spells out enough to make you tired. And when you are tired, there is a God that is neither weary nor is he tired. And this is good news for us to be reminded that God is inexhaustible. Yes. That you cannot exhaust God. And then finally, what Isaiah tells us about this God of ours, that this God is inscrutable, brutal, His understanding no one can fathom that this inexhaustible God or the inexhaustible ability of God, the inscrutability of God, that when my life is all twisted, God can unravel.

Untie the Gordian knot. He can do this. And how does he do it? Because there is no searching of his understanding that that’s what Paul is getting to when he is in Romans Chapter 11 and that beautiful Benedict. And when he begins to talk about all the depths of his riches, of his wisdom and the knowledge of God, you can’t track God out.

You can’t find that God’s way. And yet, because of that, God is able to step into your situation. Have you ever tracked an animal? I have. And it works like this. You all the animals trail. That’s what Paul is getting to. And while you’re on the trail, you follow the animal to a particular place and you know you got it.

And then the footprints get mixed up with other footprints. And then the footprints spread out in different directions until what you was tracking has been found, but lost with the other tracks and gone in other direction. The very moment that you think that you have caught up with God, He reminds us that he’s moving in another direction. What?

Why is that important? It’s important to me because it reminds me and this inscrutability that this God of ours is able is a ball that when we’re following him to say that I am God and I am mysterious and I’m beyond even your comprehension, and I need a God that’s bigger than my imagination. I could stop there and but Isaiah, the Prophet is saying this is just the beginning point of understanding the descriptions of God, the appreciations of God, the characteristics of God knows that about God.

How great thou art. That was a black preacher, James Weldon Johnson. He wrote a series of sermons. They became little poems in our home church. They called them God’s trombones. We would have these nights where we would do God’s trombones. My Barbara, she was the church secretary and and she would always like to recite Johnson’s creation story. And I think James Weldon Johnson, you capture the theology of Isaiah when he talks about God, who stepped out of nowhere and onto something and spoke and words that were not came into existence and how he spread out the seven seas and stopped his foot and raised up mountains and carpeted the grass and tacked it down with daffodils. I believe in that moment James Weldon Johnson was saying to us, We have a God of eternity, a God of infinity, a God of any exhaust ability and a God of inscrutability, a God that’s bigger than your wildest imagination. And when you meet him, God, who’s way out there can step right here and in your situation, God of eternity again, I need that.

I need of God to return it. That’s bigger than my time. Yeah. I need a God of eternity, but I need a God of infinity. I got that. When am out of a place he can step in my place, I need a God of stability. That when I’m tired he’s never weary. Got tired. And I need a God of inscrutability.

A God that come into my situation that when I’m lost, he can find and leave me. But that’s not why Isaiah stopped. No, no, He kept on going after that. Oh, he moves away from a description of God and turns his attention like all good preaches that we start with God and then we move toward the people. We move from the description of God to the situation of the people that are around us.

And look at who Isaiah has in mind. Who are these people that God has brought into this are allowed to be carried away in the captivity? Who are these refugees? Who are the ones that have been caught up or brought in and have been captured? Who are these people? I’m glad you asked. He says even the you grow tired and weary.

I notice that the wording now that Isaiah is about to use when he talks about the youth growing tired and growing weary and how he will give strength to these people that are weary. He starts with God’s choices people. The people that have been carried away. According to the Prophet Isaiah, this princely prophet that right so poetically reminds us that the choices of God’s people have been carried away.

Now, that’s exactly what we deal with now, isn’t it? As pastors, church and school of those that are trying to vie for the best minds and the best creativity and the best of our young men and women to carry them off, and when they are weary and when they are warned, hear what Isaiah says to us. He reminds us he gives strength to the weary in the Latin.

The word upon that speaks of wave upon wave overflowing until something is so full, until the overflow burst edges and cascades on the sides. It’s abundant. He gives strength. Abundance. He gives more than what you need. Yeah. Yeah. To those who are weak. Yeah. And those who are weary. God gives that to you. Yes, It gives you more than that.

What you want? Yeah. And God keeps on giving. Keeps. So we get Paul. Paul. Like that word. Paul loved that word. Paul was a great preacher. And one reason is that he was a good preacher, made him good, is that, like preachers, he knew how to play with words and he knew how to make up words and yeah, yeah.

And so Paul worked with these words and this would be one of the words that he would play with when he would talk about superabundance. Yeah, he would talk about now unto to him. Yeah. Who’s able to give you exceeding abundantly. Above all you can ask a thing according to the power that’s at work within you. And so at that moment as as Isaiah is talking about God giving strength to the weary, He’s talking about God abundantly applies to those that are in need.

That when God sees you in need, he doesn’t just give you what you need. He gives you more than what you know. And by the way, whenever God addresses you, he always gives you more than what you ask for and more than what you need. And God abundantly blesses and you benefit from that. He gives power, strength to those who are weak and to weary, abundant overflow.

This happened to me growing up. My dad was a coffee drinker and I became a coffee drinker and he would allow me to pour his coffee in his cup that sat on a salsa and he would let me put it in and I would. And then he would say, Rap filled to the brim. Now the problem with to the Brim is I’m filling it up and I got to bring it from one place to the next place.

And so all I can think of is if it’s at the brim and I’m taking it from one place to the next, it’s going to spill. Yeah, and it did. And I thought he would be angry about it, but it wasn’t. He said, Just bring it. And so the hot coffee spilled into the salsa. He would take the hot coffee cup and slide it off of the little plate are the salsa and then slide the salsa to me.

And two things happened. It was overflow. But what was hot was cooled off. And that’s what I drank. What was overflow and what was initially hot had cooled off. And that’s what God does to you. Every time you stand up in your weakness, God gives you more than what you asked for and he gives you overflow. So in order that you able to drink and to cool it off, but but that’s not all he said.

He goes back to this and he says, And who to whom do I give this strength? And to whom do I create the power of the week to the youth? Yeah. This is not just in age. It is age. But. But is more of a characteristic description. This description applies to those. Here’s the word for the second time the choices of God.
They were the choice. Intellectually, there was a choice. Militarily, there was a choice academically that these were the people that had been carried away in the captivity. If we were going to rebuild a culture, if we’re going to reestablish a nation, you get it with the young people, you reshape the way that they think. You give them a new vision.

But here’s what Isaiah said. Even to you, grow faint and get weary, even the choices grow faint and grow weary. Now, listen, I’m a preacher and I have been at the intersection of preaching for a pretty good while now. And in the audience like this, you’ve got those who sit here and you are listen and let me tell you in your head what you’re saying, not me.

Here, not where do you keep living? Because I know some of you, God has blessed your church and now you use your church and your ministry as the standard on which you gauge all churches and all ministries. I’ve been here. I know the conversation after services. I’ve been in the lobby, so I know what we say. And you sit there and say, I was all right, but that ain’t me.

My people love me. My people, they dote over me and I’m with you. I say this keep all living. I hope.
I hope that you can survive ministry. Well, that’s your end. I pray 50 years from now You can say that. But chances are, if you ever stand up for what is right, chances are, if you ever decide to be a cutting edge pastor, chances are if you are, preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ uncompromisingly. Somebody ain’t gonna like it.

I know it’s hard to believe the preaching has become so thin in America now. Almost all of what I said just blew right past some folk here. The choices. And you do get weak and you do get weary. I mentioned those, man who died at their own hand. Again, I won’t call their names. Some of you know them.

We read it in Christianity the day we read it in Washington Post, we read it in the New York Times at our local medias. And I mention the second time because some of them were young and promising. And I remember having this discussion with a group of preachers and one of them in the group said these words, It’s a shame I didn’t say anything.

I normally I’m not that quick witted, I’m not that. But every now and then I met my best and that day I was at my best for when these experts in the ministry sat there who had overcome, they said every hurdle and said it was a shame of what happened to them. I looked and said, All I can say is death, but by the grace of God that go and that go, you too.

If but by God’s grace, He gives strength to those that have no might. He and Chris’s strengths. Yeah. He abundantly gives you what you need. And you be careful when God gives that to you, not to use what God has given to you against those who are weaker than you are. Your strength is supposed to be to strengthen somebody else.

I’m down now. So how do we how do we make all of this work? Here it is. And I’m done. But they that weight up on the law. I met King James now in the says it nice when in Athens says that those who hope in the Lord that that’s a nice translation I like that translation but I also like the way that I was reared to memorize this they that wait upon the Lord they that wait upon the law shall renew their strength.

Yeah. That three things of exchange as we appropriate God’s power and our human situation that reminds us, he says to us that we wait, we exchange and then we are strengthened in This makes me think of one writer who talked about the stages of fatigue, and he says that the stages of fatigue are a several things. One, it begins with the challenge to challenge stage.

We like to challenge stage. The challenge stage is fun. You’re looking at that. What can become is the challenge stage. But then the challenge stage gives way to the commitment. That is the commitment stage. What do you have to do to make it Things work out is the commitment stage. This is the time, the energy, the preparation that goes into the challenge.

Then comes the confinement stage. You know what confinement stage is? I’m almost ashamed to tell you, but I will. The confinement stage is that moment when the challenge of pursuing your goals and the confinement steps in or the challenge of pursuing your goals and the commitment that it takes turns into confinement. Confinement then becomes you are no longer pursuing your goals, your goals are chasing you down.

They are pursuing you. This is when you get tired and weary, and this is when you quit. You stumble, you fall, and you start making up all kinds of excuses why to give up. And then the last stage is collapse. Collapse is when you just it’s all done. It’s over. Steel in America, depending on what denomination percentages of pastors are quitting every year.

Yes, quitting where they are quitting, their families are quitting. One of my cousins, Pastor, the church, I can say this now, he’s a blessed memory, memory gone on to be at the Lord. But he didn’t quit. But his family quit it. They quit. I love that family. I love not my family in the West. And my cousin just simply said these words.

I didn’t sign on to be a preacher’s wife trying to help somebody that she said, You don’t have to preach to me about it. I love my husband, but I loved him. But but I told him if ever sat down with this preaching business, I’m going to. And she left alone. Yes. Collapsing. Yes, man. This is. Can we get back on our feet?
Oh, I’m glad you asked. But they that weighed up on the law and and one of the ways we get on our feet is that we learn how to wait on God, that waiting is to fall, you know, is active and it’s passive. That’s passive waiting where you do just what you do. You just you just wait. But then there’s active waiting where you wait by serving, you’re involved.

That’s right. Time did not permit. I used to say that when I was a younger preacher, I had to make up stuff. Now I’m trying to cut back on stuff. Okay, so. So let me. Let me. Because it’s 230, right? Yeah. Okay. Just just want one example of waiting. James Mayes. You don’t know James Mayes. He too has folded up his tent and moved upstairs.

James Mayes was my chairman of deacons. I asked James Mayes if he would serve as our chairman of deacons. I said, Mayes, you’re the person to lead our deacon family ministry. Tears roll down his eyes. I didn’t know this. It was going to be such an emotional meeting for him. And he said these words to me, You don’t really remember me.

You say you do, but you really don’t remember me. I knew this was going somewhere I wasn’t expected. And I said to him, I said, Well, enlighten me. He said, Well, 27 years ago, 27 years ago, Lawrence Herbert Bostick came to your office and said, There’s a deacon on trial. His name is James Mayes. My job made me had me traveling quite a bit.

And you said to L.H. Bostick, these words and I did. I said, I can’t use them right now. I need my deacons here trying to be so pompous. And it was just really being arrogant. I could use another term, but I won’t. But I was being that and this is what I Bostick said to James Mayes, He can’t use you now.

He said, Don’t forget that. He said, James, don’t get disappointed. No, don’t get upset. He said, I can’t use you now. I forgot all about the experience I knew nothing about. 27 years later, he brought that back to my memories. And in 27 years, all he did was serve that church, serve those people without a title, without opposition, without recognition, without honors, he said.

L.H. told me that you said, I can’t use you now. And then he ended by saying, I guess now has finally arrived, that there are some of you here now that that God wants to use, He just can’t use. Now. But while you are waiting, wait, actively serving. Keep serving, keep teaching, keep saying and keep praying. Keep opening the doors, keep locking them because there’s nothing glamorous about ministry.

Keep serving they’ve that weight upon the Lord shall renew that strength. And that’s the exchange that when we wait on God, we give him our weakness and God gives us his strength. They that weight upon the Lord shall. And that’s the word renew us, restore us, replenish us, revive us. I pray these next few days that you sit and listen and I’ll sit and listen critically.

Listen with an open heart. Listen what open mind? Ask God to speak to you in your situation. Ask God to meet you where you are, talk to you where you are, and to renew you. They that wait upon the Lord, renew their strength. They shall mount up on wings like eagles. God would give you the buoyancy that you need to rise above your situation.

When these people heard those words of an eagle, that man immediately went to two or three things. They remembered the old standards that the Romans would have one day of the gold eagle on top of it. Assyrians had it, Babylonians had it, the Persians had it. But they would go out those Hebrews and watch that monogamous little eagle, that bald eagle, golden eagle flying around the place.

And they would run out, slap its wings and then saw it. You know, those eagles out in nature could live 30 years if they were pampered. They could live 50 years. And the older they would get, the higher they would fly. But they weren’t flapping their wings. They were getting caught beneath a thermal current right. And that current would raise them out.

And that’s what I said. I was saying that when we wait upon the Lord God, like give us a thermal current that will give us the buoyancy that we need to rise us above our situations, above our disappointments, above our discouragement. I can tell a lot of you ain’t never been there, but I have. Yes. Oh, yes. No, You name the bad experience.

I can check it. Yes. And I know what buoyancy is. And I wish I could say that you’re going to get through ministry and you won’t need it, but I doubt it. But when it comes, remember, you can’t lift yourself. But they that weight upon the Lord shall renew that strength. They shall minor oh, wings like an eagle, they shall run and not get weary.

They shall walk and they shall never faint. God is able to raise us up and I’m done. He can do that. Several years ago now we were over in Germany and and I’ve gotten better now as I’ve gotten older. But I have always had this daredevil kind of edginess about me that wanted to try everything. And so we had gone a top of the Alps and these kids were on edge with these little aluminum piping and nylon wings, and they were just jumping all I got a lot of courage, but I think that day things changed for me.

I wanted to try. And so I asked myself, How do you do that? And they say, Well, we get to the edge and they explain what kind of material, and then we jump off. I said, Are you flapping? No. And they just simply said that a current comes from beneath gets on the wings and raises us up. It comes a day where all the credentials you have won’t encourage you?

All the recognition, all the invitations. So when people are talking about how great you are, it means nothing. Yeah, it comes a moment that all of the resources that you have accumulated in your pockets, in your bank and your it doesn’t mean a thing where you live, what you ride in, where you vacation. None of that brings you the peace and the comfort that you need.

But Isaiah says that we will exchange our human weakness for God’s divine strength and we would appropriate in our lives the descriptions that characterize God. His eternity is infinity is inexhaustible. Building his inscrutability. If we look at upon the human situation and say to people, Yes, you are God’s choices, that God has even more than that for you.

And when they say that, I just cannot make it, you tell them. But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength and God will renew your situation. I close. I’m a preacher. I want to use all my time today. I said, King James. But now we’re going close with being of those who hold in the Lord because hope is powerful.

Yes. And Pope is all that audacious it is. And those who hope in the Lord it happen at Zion healed Church just outside of Houston. And I used to go to the front door and I would shake hands as the people would leave. And I miss the old days of being able just to be there with those people like that.

Know that all of that names. Lady came to the door. I know who it is, Miss Sams. And she said, Reverend, you hold me today and. I and I told I said, Well, I’m glad I could help you. She said, No, no, no, no. You hold me today and, you know, because I had that grown up in a church, I like to hear that word.

So I said, Yeah. I said, Well, Missy, I’m that’s God bless. I’m glad that glad I can help you. And then she turned. She said, Baby, let me say something to you. If you had helped me, I would have told you. But this morning you hope me and I pray this week that we’ll be able to leave to say you helped me this week.