Face the facts…pray…work and trust God!

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Haggai 2:3 Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Is not this in your sight as nothing in comparison to that? Yet now be strong, alert, and courageous, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; be strong, alert, and courageous, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, alert, and courageous, all you people of the land, says the Lord, and work! For I am with you, says the Lord of Hosts. (Amp)

Facts are never a problem for God. Rather, He, the Creator of these ‘facts’ calls us to face circumstances and name them.

But He doesn’t leave us alone in the midst of our overwhelming situation to stew in our ‘not-enoughness’. Not up to the assigned task? That is how He has planned this moment, for the Lord of the Angel Armies is WITH us. He assures us that He will provide what we lack, making up for our God-designed deficits. Ever our Father, He pushes us forward, gently but firmly, TOWARD the situation that scares us.

Last Tuesday at the local pregnancy resource center here in Huntsville, I faced the facts. Nothing as scary as what the returning Hebrew exiles were up against, (the book of Ezra details this ‘adventure’) but unsettling enough for me to ask Mike and my friend Joyce to pray!

Every Tuesday morning, I meet with women who believe they are pregnant and turn to us for verification and assistance. They also want to find out how we can help them during their pregnancy. My role as an intake counselor is to meet with them, listen and learn what they are facing, administer the ‘pee test’, discuss our cost-free services, share something of the Gospel and to pray with them.

My husband Mike always asks God urgently to provide for me throughout my morning shift because of the gravity of these one-on-ones. All of us who volunteer and work at the center recognize that the life of the baby is sometimes in jeopardy because of the possibility of abortion. Even more important, these appointments can be occasions where questions of the eternal destination of the gal (and her partner) arise. With so much at stake, these 45 minutes or so ALWAYS feel weighty and I depend on God entirely for His direction – what to say and how.

Nine months before I left teaching Middle School French full time, I started working on my Spanish. My motivation? – a planned student trip to France and Spain the following summer. That never happened because we moved to Huntsville, changing my life dramatically. But already hooked on Spanish, I continued my language-learning journey in order to be more useful to God in a volunteer capacity here.

A data geek, I track everything about my personal Second Language Acquisition process. It’s been 27.5 months since June 2018 when I began from scratch. I employ the same method I used to teach French, that is acquiring the language through input, not via grammar or explicit learning. Starting first with simple videos and podcasts, I now read in Spanish and have some weekly conversations (language exchanges). I am at the intermediate level. The ‘problem’ is: I know what it FEELS like to be fluent in French. I can’t help but compare my skill levels. I call my level: Broken Spanish. A Mexican colleague has assessed my speaking as ‘adequate’.

Obviously just where God wants me, forcing me to depend on Him!

Back to ‘facing the facts’ this past week. Arriving at the center, I knew that all 3 of my appointments for the morning were going to be with Hispanic gals. A first for me!

No point informing God: ‘I wish my proficiency level were more advanced!’ He knows because I remind Him often. Daily, I plug on, continuing my Spanish journey, through comprehensible input (my goal is 3 hours with Spanish a day).

So, this past Tuesday, I JUST KNEW that His will for me that morning was to move ahead with my meager ability, trusting Him to make it enough.

Of course, He came through. No, I didn’t suddenly experience a jump in proficiency. My Spanish STILL felt broken and IN-adequate. But it was enough. The Holy Spirit made up what I lacked. The gals helped me as well. (They spoke NO English and two of them from Guatemala were illiterate as well – how scared THEY must feel, far from home!) And I served ‘my clients’ well enough, I think.

I didn’t get to ‘share the Gospel’ in the full sense that I am able to with English-speaking clients. With my limited Spanish it was enough for me to get through the content of their pregnancy status and services and set them up for a follow-up ultrasound appointment. BUT……I wasn’t at all afraid to pray in Spanish. For a year now, I’ve been enjoying my morning time in God’s Word using a Spanish study Bible. (Thank you, Michael!) I have acquired much of the Spanish specialized vocabulary that goes with talking about God.

But get this! I would have been thankful enough, just making it through the appointments without serious misunderstandings. But God gave me MORE.

For the first time, walking to my car at the end of my shift, for the VERY first time, I FELT upbeat about my Spanish. Serving here at the pregnancy center, using my limited Spanish is a GOOD challenge, a ‘meaty’ dig-your- teeth-into kind of worthy goal. Maybe this will turn out to be a ‘turning the corner’ marker in my quest for Spanish proficiency.

More importantly, I learned, yet again: daunting circumstances are no obstacle for the LORD.

With this ‘language high’ so vivid in my mind, this morning’s reading in Haggai struck me as a needed pep talk from God to these 5th-century BC folks (as well as an encouragement to me!) Under the Holy Spirit’s power, the prophet Haggai speaks pointedly FIRST to the elderly returned exiles from Babylon. They are the ones who likely remembered the much larger dimensions of Solomon’s Temple as youngsters in Jerusalem before it was destroyed and they were taken captive. God, through the prophet speaks to:

(Haggai 2:2) ‘….. Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to……’ the returnees who chose to journey and undertake the rebuilding of the Temple:

  • saying in effect…..Yes….this is going to be a smaller temple…and these rebuilding conditions are very, very difficult and dangerous BUT…
  • and the LORD cites those wonder-filled reasons above NOT to be discouraged.

So, it is with me, and with you, with Christians everywhere. God has created us on purpose NOT to be up to the tasks He assigns. That’s the whole point, don’t you think? Each time He comes through, our faith and awe deepen and He gets the glory. My habitual fear of failure and occasional balking alert me to my mis-guided assumption that completing this assignment, this Mission Impossible, is up to me. Yes, I need to face the facts, but I also need to focus more on the Truth. That God is my ever-present Helper. Hebrews 13:6

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!

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