God Will Give You the Energy
Working Hard in Another’s Strength
Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org
Do you “manage” your energy? A growing chorus of experts have been pointing out the limits of managing our time and commending we pay more attention to managing our energy. According to Tony Schwartz, one of the leading voices for energy-management,
Between digital technology and rising complexity, there’s more information and more requests coming at us, faster and more relentlessly than ever. Unlike computers, however, human beings aren’t meant to operate continuously, at high speeds, for long periods of time. Rather, we’re designed to move rhythmically between high and low electrical frequencies. Our hearts beat at varying intervals. Our lungs expand and contract depending on demand. It’s not sufficient to be good at inhaling. Indeed, the more deeply you exhale, the calmer and more capable you become. (Tony Schwartz, Manage Your Day-to-Day, 51)
I don’t know Schwartz’s religious commitments, but I appreciate the acknowledgment that we are “designed.” Yes, we truly are designed: finite creatures fearfully and wonderfully formed by the infinite Creator. Wisdom entails recognizing that we have limits, and locating them. And yet, as Schwartz continues, “Instead, we live linear lives, progressively burning down our energy reservoirs throughout the day. It’s the equivalent of withdrawing funds from a bank account without ever making a deposit. At some point, you go bankrupt.”
Schwartz’s observation may be insightful, but his solution is thin — and inadequate for those of us who not only acknowledge we’re designed, but claim to know our Designer: “The good news is that we can influence the way we manage our energy. By doing so skillfully, you can get more done in less time, at a higher level of quality, in a more sustainable way.” Many of us may have much to learn about better managing our energy in modern times, but as Christians we have much better and deeper good news to offer than influence, management, and greater productivity.
“We are not resigned to our energy ups and downs as entirely the product of natural forces, of cause and effect, of rest and recovery, of nourishment and exercise.”
To begin with, we do not see our own energy as a closed system. We are not resigned to our energy ups and downs as entirely the product of natural forces, of cause and effect, of rest and recovery, of nourishment and exercise. The natural factors are important; we minimize and ignore them to our detriment, even peril. But as Christians, we are supernaturalists. We know that our world is not a closed system. Neither is our body. God can, and often does, intervene into the normal course of our lives. Jesus Christ upholds the universe, moment by moment, with his powerful word (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17). And not only can he uphold, and replenish, our energy with his own, but it’s actually a repeated (and often overlooked) theme in the letters of Paul.
Fierce Work Ethic
The end of the first chapter of Colossians is where it most recently caught my attention. This is a well-worn passage for many of us in which Paul captures the heart of his ministry as an apostle — which, in this instance, is not distinct to his apostleship but shared by us all in some sense, especially pastors and elders:
Him [Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:28–29)
Paul had a fierce work ethic. No one in the Scripture talks more about work — and specifically hard work — than the apostle Paul. Maybe he would have acknowledged that he had some unusual wiring. Perhaps it was his life of singleness that freed him for extraordinary ministry output. He not only claimed “far greater labors” than his detractors (2 Corinthians 11:23), but compared himself to the other apostles, saying, “I worked harder than any of them” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
Again and again, however, Paul puts his uncommon exertions of energy forward not as an exception to admire but as an example to follow — within the capacity God has given each, and with the understanding that every Christian can grow and expand our capacity for productive labor.
Christ Who Energizes
As he worked harder than anyone, Paul shared “the secret” of his remarkable energy and contentment “in any and every circumstance” (Philippians 4:12). In Colossians 1:29, he says that he labors “with all his energy that he powerfully works within me,” but Philippians 4:13 explains how: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” The him is “the Lord,” meaning Christ, from verse 10, which is why some translations make it plain: “through Christ who strengthens me.” Paul identifies Christ here as the particular person of the Godhead who gives him strength.
“Jesus knows what it’s like to press up against the limits of our flesh and blood and the bounds of finitude in our created world.”
A quick turn to 1 Timothy 1:12 confirms that Paul indeed has Christ Jesus our Lord specifically in mind as the supplier of his strength: “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord.” Similarly, Ephesians 6:10confirms this connection of human strength provided supernaturally by Christ himself, the God-man — the particular person of the Godhead who Christians confess as “Lord”: “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” Finally, 2 Timothy 2:1 makes the same connection between spiritual strength and Jesus as the source: “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
Paul not only claims to be strengthened by divine power — infinitely precious as that is. Paul speaks with more specificity. He testifies to divine-human power, to having Jesus’s own energy — “all his energy” — worked in him, and done so “powerfully,” by Christ himself.
With His Own Energy
When God strengthens us as Christians — when he shatters unbelieving notions of a closed system, not only supplying energy for us through natural means but by supernatural grace — he does so specifically through our brother and fellow human, Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man. The King of kings and Lord of lords, seated in power as sovereign of the universe, is not only God but man. Humanity sits on heaven’s throne.
Jesus knows what it’s like to press up against the limits of our flesh and blood and the bounds of finitude in our created world. He knows what it’s like to have limited capacity, and limited time, and end the day with unfinished tasks. He knows what it’s like to be wearied physically (John 4:6) and what it’s like to need and carve out time for rest (Mark 6:31). He knows what it’s like to have work to accomplish (John 4:34; 5:36; 17:4). He had energy enough to work (almost) tirelessly, even on the Sabbath, when he encountered those in need (Luke 13:14–17; John 5:16–17; Mark 2:27–28). Through his works, his output of human energy, he not only bore witness to his Father (John 5:36; 9:3–5) and demonstrated whose he was (John 8:39–41; 10:25, 32) but also presented himself as the giver and focus of our faith (John 10:37–38; 14:10–11).
“No one in the Scripture talks more about work — and specifically hard work — than the apostle Paul.”
This same Jesus not only calls us his brothers but also fellow “laborers” (Matthew 9:37–38; Luke 10:7) and bids us to work with the energy we have for the good of others (Matthew 5:16). But he also does not leave us to our own energy. He doesn’t abandon us to what verve we can muster on our own, what we can produce merely through wise (and important) energy-management. He works in us — and does so powerfully, Paul says — to give us his own energy for the work to which he calls us.
Ask Him for Energy
As Christians, we will do well to learn to steward the energy God gives us naturally through diet, exercise, and rest. It would be irresponsible and foolish for us to treat lightly the God-created gifts of food and sleep, and presume that he will energize us apart from these natural means. But oh, how foolish it would be to ignore or neglect Jesus’s amazing offer: that he himself, the God-man, would work his own powerful energy in us.
How could we not make this a regular rhythm of our lives, to both faithfully steward and humbly acknowledge the limits of our own energy, and ask Jesus regularly to fill us with his own energy to fulfill the callings which he’s given us? Here, at last, we can lay down our weary sense of independence, and work hard in the strength he supplies.
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Churchin Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.