Are you up to the task?

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Due to this pandemic-shift in my weekly routine I have more time.  One activity I have taken on is teaching 3 of my grandchildren beginning Spanish, via Zoom.  Two live in Florida and one in North Carolina.  Now, you have to know that I am only an intermediate-level Spanish speaker.  I’ve been working on acquiring Spanish, not yet two years. Being fluent in French has helped. God also has given me years of assisting kids acquire a language.

I do not FEEL up to this new task. But it’s not my limited Spanish that unsettles me, it’s my fear of not ‘being ENOUGH’ as a language teacher. I have doubts about creating and engaging my 3 students competently enough to hold their attention so that they both learn and enjoy Spanish.

This feeling of ‘not enoughness’, of not being UP TO the task is not new.  I struggled with that same sense of inadequacy during the 27 years I taught French.  I cannot remember one day when I ever approached my classes feeling confident in myself OR competent.  In fact, I had a love-hate relationship with this career.  On the days when a lesson would go well, I rejoiced and felt energized.  But a previous day’s success never translated into the expectation that tomorrow would deliver the same outcome.

I know I am not alone.  A pastor friend of ours ALWAYS asks Mike and me to pray fervently for the preparation and delivery of his occasional sermons.  Like me, he evidently struggles with doubts and fears about being ‘up to the task’, as do many others I can think of.

What about parents raising kids?  Do they ever have confidence in their ability to nurture, discipline and teach their children?  I don’t know a single mom who does! I never did, that’s for sure.

Mike, my husband, rarely feels self-confident.  During our 6 years in Western North Carolina, he would ask me to pray for EVERY radio script he researched, wrote and recorded, for EVERY article he composed for World magazine, for EVERY Sunday school class he taught, as well as for EVERY session meeting in which he took part.  Here in Huntsville, he continues to ask for and I know he depends on my prayers to our good God on his behalf.

One of our sons who is an Army lawyer texts us to pray for each court appearance and airborne jump he makes. We also pray for the weekly work, travel and parenting needs of our other son and his wife. They regularly share the tasks that face them that keep them ‘needy’.

So, I ask you, is self-confidence wrong or is it the norm?  Could it be there is something weirdly weak about me and the people I’ve mentioned?

Tabletalk, the devotional monthly magazine published by Ligonier ministries, reassured me this week that not feeling UP to it, to the assigned task, is normal.  Pastor David Strain wrote in his March 21-22 weekend devotional (page 57 of the March 2020 issue):

…..the infinite God…only (is) enough. (This doctrine of God’s infinity) reminds the anxiety-riddled introvert: “You are right to feel your limits so keenly. But you are wrong to think you should be up to the tasks before you.  You were never meant to be enough.  You were meant to live depending on Me. Only I am enough! My grace is sufficient for you, and My grace is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9).”

What a relief!  No wonder I don’t feel up to teaching the kids Spanish.  I’m not supposed to.  That uncertainty, that fear is a gift from our good Father. He created us to be needy, right from our conception.

I love 2 of the looser translations of Matthew 5:3 where Jesus proclaims the poor in spirit to be blessed.

Contemporary English Version: God blesses those people who depend only on him. They belong to the kingdom of heaven!

God’s Word© Translation: Blessed are those who recognize they are spiritually helpless. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

Is there no room for confidence in the Christian life?  You know the answer to that!  We put our confidence not in ourselves but in the One who is infinite, powerful, good, wise and sovereign over every one of us whom He created: whether rock, butterfly or human being.  What a relief NOT to depend on Maria!

What precedes worship?

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2 Samuel 22:4 I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, And I am saved from my enemies.

Psalm 50:15 Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me

Isaiah 43:7 .…..everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made

Prayer is our life blood, in this body.  But we will not pray forever. When we find ourselves face-to-face with Jesus, we won’t need to ask for anything. We won’t need faith. We will SEE.

ONE activity we WILL continue in heaven is worship. Praising God, enjoying His worth, and making much of Him will be a pleasure.  If joy in worshipping God seems fleeting here and now, it won’t be when we are in His presence.  After all, scripture gives us glimpses of the angels thriving on worship.  Their experience seems so qualitatively different from mine.  But when we join the angelic host, worshipping God will be a natural and beautiful way of life.   And if that is so, then doesn’t it makes sense to take it seriously now? To practice it?

With that idea as a backdrop, something I read triggered the following thought.  When I rely on myself, I deprive the LORD of worship.  And I, myself, LOSE an opportunity to grow in my enjoyment of making much of God.

What do I mean?  Just this – when I rely on myself and things go well, whom do I thank? I probably don’t even think to ask. Why should I thank anyone since I was the one who came through?  My own initiative, experience, skill and wisdom led to the good outcome, right?

What’s wrong with this thinking? For one, if the situation turned out well, it wasn’t because of me, but God’s mercy.  I’m just blind to that FACT.  And second, who granted me the necessary tools to do ‘good’ work?

But worse than my faulty analysis is that I have just stolen worship that belongs to God.  Yes!  Number me among the glory thieves.

For how does God get any glory when I rely on Maria? And if I do acknowledge the Lord, my hat-tip to Him is more like the smug pharisee who thanks God he is not like the tax-collector. He’s really praising himself, not God.

But when I throw myself totally on Him to come through in the ‘hards and impossibles’, when I count on Him to provide energy and wisdom in the ‘ordinaries’, THEN after every provision, I have AMPLE reason to thank and praise the Lord!

It’s plain and simple.  Isn’t this why God in His Word commands us:

  • to hand over our situations that drive us nuts and count on Him?
  • NOT to trust ourselves or our insight in situations but to look to Him to show us what to do?

The Lord has even built into this broken, fallen universe a practical design feature to help us REMEMBER to depend on Him.  What is that?  He has created us as needy, finite, people desperate for help. Why pretend otherwise!! The psalmist knew this fact and was not ashamed to announce it.  See how his very dependence on the Lord produces praise:

Psalm 71:6  I depended on you since birth, when you brought me from my mother’s womb; I praise you continuously. (ISV)

How has this realization changed my attitude?  Each morning when I am getting dressed, I bring to mind how my neediness is God’s good gift to me, not a deficit.  Not only can I relax and count on Him coming through in all my situations for the day, I am also practicing my eternal career – worshipping and enjoying the One who is the most worthy person in the universe.

 

The danger of NOT being needy

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A friend unburdened herself to me last month that she was scared to find herself in the midst of a dry spell with God.  She doesn’t sense His presence any more.  He seems distant.   When she reads her Bible, she feels nothing.  She once felt alive to God, close to Him.

Now she finds herself going through the motions.  When I gently probed about what brought on this change, she didn’t know.  She couldn’t pinpoint exactly when her intimacy with God, her excitement of belonging to Him had waned.  She had woken up one day, all of a sudden aware that He ‘was gone’, as she explained it.

She asked me what she could do to get the old feelings back.  We talked about the external behaviors of Christian discipleship such as prayer, worshipping with other believers, thanking God, regular Bible reading, journeying.  She admitted that although she still attended church most Sundays, she had stopped both reading her Bible on a daily basis and pursuing regular time with God in prayer.  She felt hypocritical and mechanical in doing them.  Doubt about the efficacy of our prayers had crept into her mind.

As we were brainstorming and thinking about the practices of believers, God suddenly brought to mind what I think is the key to a close relationship with God.  Neediness.

I feel needy EVERY DAY and many times throughout the day.  I could chalk it up to my age and growing awareness of the fragility and incertitude of life’s circumstances. Or maybe I simply have no more qualms in admitting that in my own strength and resources I can’t do much of anything well, I’m just plain NEEDY!

Stop a moment!  Isn’t ‘neediness’ the very essence of being a created being?  But God as Creator, what does He need?  Not one thing!   To be God is to be self-sufficient.  To be creature is to be needy.

O, the happiness of being in want! That neediness keeps me begging God, scouring my Bible for His sure promises of provision, guidance and wisdom.  Daily, I journal about what I find in Scripture.  Likewise, I talk about the truth of God with my husband, other family and many friends.  I pepper emails with encouragement from God because when I point to God and His greatness, I FEEL renewed and strengthened.  All through the day, I thank Him as I see His provision.  When I start to dread tomorrow, I’m learning to rehearse why I don’t need to be afraid.  When I catch myself worrying, I repent of my unbelief and ask my husband to pray for me to trust God. I’m in constant dialogue with God because I live out of the insufficiency of Maria.

Yes, His mercies are new every morning, because my needs are new every morning!

Financial and health needs, relationship challenges, work problems, decision conundrums and other suffering have turned out to be God’s greatest gifts to me. I knew that at one level. But listening to all my friend is suffering and trying to DO to regain her once close relationship with the happy Triune, all-powerful God of the universe scares me.  I don’t EVER want to lose that.

Nothing compares to knowing God.

Where I used to begrudge any circumstance of neediness, I now THANK Him specifically.

Here’s how I have reworded Paul’s description in 2 Cor 12:10

Original: For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

My version:  For the sake of a close relationship with Christ, then, I am content and thankful to be given weaknesses, neediness, hardships and problems.  For when I am needy, I am strong in the Lord.

For…..The fear of (losing) God is the beginning of wisdom” Proverbs 9:10

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