WHAT is spiritual strength and how do we build it? In his poem Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense, W. H . Vanstone famously offered a Christian perspective. Spiritual strength is the ability to love well.

If we look at the beauty of creation, we may feel the presence of a good and loving Creator, and we may even feel ready to return that love. But, Vanstone provocatively asked, do we really understand the kind of spiritual strength involved in the highest forms of love?

“Morning glory, starlit sky, soaring music, scholar’s truth, flight of swallows, autumn leaves, memory’s treasure, grace of youth. Open are the gifts of God, gifts of love to mind and sense; hidden is love’s agony, love’s endeavour, love’s expense.”

Vanstone writes beautifully about the paradox of love. Spiritual strength involves embracing a kind of poverty, or vulnerability.

“Drained is love in making full, bound in setting others free, poor in making many rich, weak in giving power to be.”

Physical strength does not have this paradoxical aspect. You can either lift the heavy object, or you can’t. But there is still an interesting analogy as to what it takes to get stronger, physically and spiritually.

If I asked how you could get physically stronger, you would not find it too difficult to answer. Train - take some more exercise, perhaps get back to the gym – and eat well.

In our spiritual lives, to build the spiritual strength and resilience which we need in order to live and love well in the modern world, the answer is the same. We need some training and some nourishment. In this season of Lent, and all year round, both these are available. To train we have to test ourselves, and we can find inspiration in Jesus facing 40 days of testing.

“Command that these stones be made bread,” the adversary says to the starving Jesus. Can we test ourselves to reject the easy option, which seems to give quick satisfaction, and instead walk the way of patient faith and perseverance?

“Cast yourself down spectacularly, for he will give his angels charge over you.” Can we test ourselves to resist doing the thing which will turn all the attention on to us, trying to prove we are special, and instead walk the way of humility and self-acceptance?

“All these things will I give you,” the adversary says again, “if you will fall down and worship me.” Can we test ourselves to resist those desires which go against our deepest values, and instead walk the way of integrity and inner peace?

As Jesus responds to these tests, he takes the next steps in the way of self-giving love, which will bring him in the end to the ultimate sacrifice. His life, death and resurrection are sources of spiritual nourishment and sustenance, bringing us the love and peace for which we yearn.

“Therefore he, who shows us God, helpless hangs upon the tree; and the nails and crown of thorns tell of what God’s love must be. Here is God: no monarch he, throned in easy state to reign. Here is God, whose arms of love, aching, spent, the world sustain.”

Rev Philip Krinks