I worked (briefly) for a small firm that specialised in the preparation of lenses for spectacles. One of the tasks performed was glass-toughening.
Without wishing to blind you with a science of which I know nothing, I’ll tell you how it worked. The lens was carefully weighed and its proportions noted, and then, according to those exact specifications, it was heated up to a certain pitch and frozen at that point. The particular process meant that though the outside of the lens remained firm and unchanged, the internal state of the lens had changed completely. The molecules had been liquefied and then reset in a new pattern that made the glass virtually unbreakable.
We then tested it, checking we’d got the measurements completely right, by putting the lens under a thin tube, dropping a small metal ball through the tube to hit the lens. If you’d done it right, it wouldn’t break! Otherwise, you had to start again.
Now people are not glass, though sometimes we feel fragile and delicate, and even say, without thinking much about it: “Oh, I feel shattered.”
To us lens-specialists, the expression has a devastating finality about it. You only shatter when you’ve not been properly toughened.
And that’s how Paul prays for the Christians at Colossae, that they would be internally prepared to face whatever was going to hit them next!
The verse reads thus: “As you live this new life, we pray that you will be strengthened from God’s boundless resources, so that you will find yourselves able to pass through any experience and endure it with courage.”
An older version puts it this way: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might.”
There are three words in that phrase, (strengthened, power, and might) that make the point that we need to be properly toughened.
Why? Because there is a fight on, and we are involved in it, like it or not. Paul explains this in more detail in his letter to the Ephesians (6:10-18). The passage starts: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand…”
So what is the toughening process? How does God get me combat-ready?
First we are weighed up.
It should come as no surprise that the God who created us knows everything about us. “He knows our frame and remembers that we are but dust…” “O Lord, you have searched me and known me!… For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”
But how do you measure up to God’s examination? “You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.” “All have fallen short…” The Bible is pretty clear on how thoroughly God weighs us up.
And it was essential that we measured those lenses with absolute accuracy. You have to know what you’re dealing with. “Search me, o Lord…”
So second, we are internally transformed.
“Why are you surprised that I said you must be born again?” “In Jesus Christ, I am a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come.”
The inner being of that lens was changed forever. It looked the same from the outside, but inside everything was shaped in a new pattern.
And so it is with us. We are not conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewal of our minds, so that by testing we may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12)
And so third, we are tested.
Carefully, precisely, lovingly. Now the Greek word for “test” is the same as the word “temptation.” So notice 1 Cor 10:13:
“No temptation [test] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
God does not test us in order to break us, but in order to prove us. Jeremiah saw that the potter never gave up on the clay but kept working on it to achieve the desired result. And “He who has begun a good work in you” is going to see it through.
And so Paul prays, knowing that that toughening process is completely within God’s will and purposes for those Christians, no matter what it looks like to those outside -or even to us going through it!
“We pray that you will be strengthened from God’s boundless resources, so that you will find yourselves able to pass through any experience and endure it with courage.”
Today Lord, I’m looking to you,
and to your “boundless resources”
and trusting that I will find myself
“able to pass through” today’s experiences.
Enable me to toughen up under the pressure
of these circumstances,
to endure today’s challenges
with grace and courage.