Stretch Forth Your Hand!
"Then Jesus said to the man, 'Stretch forth your hand!' So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other!" Matthew 12:13
It is only in the putting forth of effort, that our abilities are developed. The man with the withered hand was bidden to stretch out his hand. This was the very thing he could not do. Had he so replied to Christ and made no effort to obey—then his hand would have remained lifeless. The new life was to come in the effort to do what he was commanded to do. This was the form which faith must take, the faith that would bring health and power.
It is the same in all spiritual life. Strength comes only through obedience. Even in conversion this is true—there is an active and voluntary element in conversion. That is, we believe on Christ, and make the effort to rise from our spiritual death to follow him. In the effort, the new life flows into our soul just as vitality began to come in the veins of the withered arm as the man tried to stretch it forth.
The same is true of every other development of power in the after experience of a Christian. The effort to do the thing which is commanded, draws with it from him who gave the command, the required strength. God never sends any man to do a thing the man cannot do. The humanly impossible becomes possible, the moment it is a duty. Therefore we may never say of anything that God requires of us, that we cannot do it. To all such thoughts of our inability or insufficiency, there comes the answer, "My grace is sufficient for you!"
We may apply this truth very practically. It is applicable to all holy living. One may say, "It is impossible to do good in any circumstances. All around me are unholy influences. The people with whom I am bound up in my environment are like so many weights dragging me down. I am compelled to live in an atmosphere in which no pure and holy flame can burn!" Yet it is possible even in that man's circumstances—to live a true, beautiful and Christly life.
God commands all men everywhere to repent and to live righteously; and whoever it may be, amid the most unfavoring influences—who tries in Christ's name to obey this command—as he obeys, will receive divine strength. The instant the lamp is lighted it begins to draw the oil from the great reservoir—the infinite fullness of Christ, and no earthly power can quench that pure flame!
The truth is applicable also in the development of Christian character. We do not grow in grace without an effort of our own toward growth. We are commanded in the Scriptures to work out our own salvation—though, and just because, it is God who works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure. God puts the grace into our hearts—but we must work it out into character. He inspires in us the good thoughts, feelings and purposes—but we must voluntarily express them, get them into manifested life.
No one grows in any grace without effort, without striving to attain that grace. God commands us to be patient, to be meek, to be gentle, to be unselfish; and as we earnestly try to obey him and to put on these features of the new man—he pours divine strength into our hearts, enabling us to be what he wants us to be.
This active, voluntary element in all spiritual growth, is important for us to mark. God will never make us holy, but through one's own willing and striving. No one becomes godly, without purposing and striving to be godly.
Then in Christian service, this truth has also its application. Our Lord never gives a commission to anyone, which the person cannot perform. He never sends us out to do a thing we cannot do. He never tells us to go to any place, though at the time it may seem insuperably obstructed, but that he will open the way for us if we only go forward in obedient faith.
The Red Sea divided to make a path for God's people, when they obeyed God's bidding and moved forward. The Jordan waters were stopped, when the priests' feet touched them—because they were doing God's command. The apostles went forth at the Master's bidding, and as they preached divine power flowed into their poor speech and men's hearts were broken and their lives regenerated.
The practical lesson to be learned—and it is intensely practical—is that strength to serve Jesus is given only as we put forth the effort. Seas never open and rivers never divide to feet which stand halting on the brink, waiting for the waters to part. The powerless arm will never grow strong, hanging by the side. The slow tongue will never become eloquent, by keeping silence. The cold heart will never melt into warmth and tenderness, if it puts forth no loving effort.
Seas and rivers only part, to feet that press into the cold waves in confident faith. Feeble arms get strength, only as they are stretched out to do the kind deed or strike the heroic stroke. Stammering tongues wax mighty in speech, only as they struggle to utter the message God gives them to utter. Chilled hearts warm, only as they reach out in love.
There are thousands of gifts and abilities lying unrecognized and useless in Christian lives, which would spring instantly into strength and effectiveness—if only the palsied hands were stretched out. The Christian Church does not know its own power, because it has not faith to believe and obey God. It is weak, cowering in timid distrust before the tasks allotted to it, and not attempting to do them. Shame on unbelief of God!
We are commanded to preach the gospel to every creature, but we preach it to almost none. We fear that men would not listen to us. We dread repulse. We think people would only laugh and that nothing would come of our telling "the old, old story." That is, we have not faith in Christ, that he will accompany our obedience with the needed power of the Spirit, thus making our weakness, strength; and our inefficiency, effective.
It is not ours to win a way to men's hearts with our message. It is ours to deliver God's message in the name of Christ, and with faith in the power of him whose command we are obeying. And as we go forth and speak the word given us to speak, the strength will be given to us. As we do our part, the Divine Spirit will flow into our poor words, making them mighty to convict men of sin and to break impenitent hearts.
The lack of power in the Church, is therefore due to a lack of faith-filled effort on the part of believers. The moment we begin to stretch forth our feeble hands in obedience—strength will be given to us. Let Christian people then cease to deplore their lack of strength, and begin to do the things Christ commands them to do. Let them turn their prayers into obedience, and as they obey they will find grace given to help. It is not the Holy Spirit's presence that we lack, but faith to do our duty as Christ's messengers. As we work for Him, He will provide the strength we need!