Here are some previous thoughts on the subject of Strength. When you have finished on this page, click Back to look at other topics.

Staff at The Weekend Telegraph recently held an egg-tasting session. The Neuhaus Milk Chocolate egg, pictured here and priced at £54.95(sic), was praised for its “stunning” wrapping, with its “nice kitsch ribbon” and “frou-frou flower”. A majority liked what was inside too. The Fortnum and Mason Milk Chocolate Egg, priced at £35, had a similarly “classy” exterior but its innards were disappointing. “Full of nasty surprises” said one taster, after meeting a coconut truffle. “Too sweet” said another. Among the highest scoring eggs on flavour was the Bendicks Mingles, at a mere £4.99. “A knock-out” apparently. But the pasty green and brown packaging was pronounced “dated and cheap”.

You clearly can’t judge an egg by its wrapping. Nor should people be judged by appearances. Apparently unlikely people display remarkable inner wisdom, strength and humour. The disciples of Jesus were a motley group and probably no more inspiring to look at than any random group of people. Yet the power of the resurrection and the coming of the Spirit must have given them enormous inner power and courage. It was they who “turned the world upside down”* as the proclaimed the good news of Jesus rising from death and set in motion a movement of people that today numbers 2,000 million.

Today we can be grateful that our quality is not commensurate with the outward impression we give. Let’s delight in our inner strength and wisdom, some of which will be derived from whatever faith we hold. Let’s be open to any new influence (for Christians it could be the power of the resurrection) which can make us even more courageous and effective.

*Acts 17:6

The main Examining Boards have deprived students of a range of excuses for not doing well. The effect of traumatic experience close to the time of the exam will now be reflected by adding a percentage to their mark. Recent death of a parent or close relative will mean the addition of 5%, witnessing a distressing event on the day of the exam - 3%, hay fever - 2%, death of family pet on day of exam - 2%, headache - 1%.

Adam and Eve reputedly found an excuse for their decision to disobey God. Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. Their failure to take responsibility for their own behaviour symbolised as much as anything else their fall from the kind of humanity God had intended.

There are often very valid reasons why we don’t achieve what we otherwise would, or why we fail to reach our potential. The Examining Board’s new rules recognise this and sensibly take account of the kind of uncontrollable events which can affect a student's performance. But it’s important that they don’t encourage the student automatically to blame external circumstances for a poor result. It’s an important part of growing up to accept responsibility, however adverse the circumstances, for what we do or for any failure to achieve our goals, .

Today we might perhaps wish to check that, however many very reasonable excuses we might use to justify any mistake or inadequacy, we accept responsibility for it. To do so is part of what it is to be fully human.

Popeye’s 75th birthday was being celebrated last weekend in Chester, Illinois, the home town of his creator, Elzie Segar. Initially a minor walk-on character in a comic strip which revolved around Olive Oyl's family, Popeye quickly "muskled" his way into the limelight. His character, an underdog with a long fuse, a keen sense of fair play and constant woman trouble, quickly endeared him to millions. The only rival to his devotion to the fickle Olive was his passion for spinach.

There are many who would be glad to discover for themselves a source of strength as effective and readily available as Popeye’s spinach. The Biblical character Samson thought his was in his long hair. But at the end of his life, unwillingly shorn, he discovered that, when trusting in God’s power, he still had great strength (Judges 16.28).

Wimpy, Popeye’s friend, and Swee’Pea, his adopted son, give him encouragement and support, though equally often they let him down. His great adversary, Bluto, challenges him in such a way as to bring out his latent bravery. His love for Olive inspires him. But in the end it’s spinach on which he relies.

In our lives too, there are those whose support, though often fallible, gives us strength; circumstances and colleagues sometimes provoke energy by infuriating or making us feel threatened; people and causes we feel committed to inspire us to exert ourselves. Let’s be grateful today for ways in which the best is brought out of us. Let’s consider too where deeper strength might come from; it’s unlikely that spinach will prove for us to be the panacea it was for Popeye.