“Writing a book is an adventure,” wrote Winston Churchill.
“To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.”
Leave it to Winston Churchill to paint a colorful picture with words.
But on a related note, the mistress crack notwithstanding, today is September 1st, the official release date of my new book from Cook Communications, Stronger: Trading Brokenness for Unbreakable Strength.
I’ll be sharing portions of it over the course of the next few days, but for now I’d like to start at the very beginning, because, well, as the song goes, it’s a very good place to start!
It’s been my prayer that the Lord will use this book to help change hearts and lives. I leave its fate and reception in His and your hands.
Thanks for reading along.
Several years ago, when I served in the international division of Focus on the Family, I was in Beijing to explore opportunities to expand our work in China. It was the end of my stay, and I was saying goodbye at the airport to a kind Chinese missionary couple who had hosted me for part of my trip. I’d started to move toward the line for boarding my plane when the husband, an earnest man in his thirties, said, “We’ll be praying for you.”
Normally, my response to a message like that would be, “I’ll pray for you, too.” And I would mean it. But for some reason on this day, the Lord prompted me to say something different. I stopped, shifted the bag on my shoulder, and asked, “How do you pray for us?”
The husband hesitated, glanced at his wife, and then turned back to me. I could see he was struggling to find the right words to answer me.
“Well,” he finally said, “we are praying … for the church in America to get more persecution.”
He smiled to show he meant no offense.
“You see, we see you as rather weak.”
On my flight home, I had many hours to think about this man’s statement. He, and obviously others viewing the United States from the outside, believes that we in the U.S. church are weak, no doubt in both our faith and our deeds. To counter our weakness, we need strength. And their solution to give us that strength is to pray for persecution to land on our doorstep.
That’s not what our prayers are usually about, I thought. We pray for the gospel to reach far and wide. We ask for protection for our families and loved ones. We seek deliverance from trials. And yes, we ask God for strength to get through the hard times. But pray for persecution?
The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that my missionary friend was on to something.
In my various roles at Focus on the Family, most recently as president, I have come into contact with many, many hurting people in the United States and around the world.
These men and women are struggling. They feel distressed, useless, and vulnerable. Some of the most devastated of all are Christians. They gave their hearts to Christ and anticipated a better life. But instead they discovered trial and pain.
You might be one of them.
Yet in my travels I have also encountered another group of Christian men, women, and children. They, too, face trauma and heartache, yet they are not overwhelmed. You could even say that they embrace their pain. Though the anguish is just as real to them, their ability to cope is radically different. At a point of incalculable weakness, somehow they tap into a new power that lifts them beyond where they started.
They are growing stronger.
My conversation with the missionary that day in Beijing led me to reflect on the relationship between troubles, weakness, and strength in God’s sovereign plan. I began to wonder:
- Are the discouraged and brokenhearted actually the people who are closest to discovering joyand power in the Lord?
- Is great weakness the essential ingredient to discovering great strength?
- Have we missed this message somehow?
Is this a wonderful gift that the Lord is holding out to every nation, to every church, to every individual? To me? And maybe to you, too?
In the pages ahead, we will take a look at real strength—what it is, what it isn’t, and what God says about it. I think you’ll be encouraged. The Lord does not waste our frustrations and our tears. I believe that when we let Him, He uses our pain and failures and weakness for incredible good—for ourselves and for His glory.
I hope you’ll join me.