The Strength in Weakness

Acknowledging weakness is the toughestButThat's when God is the strongest.

Often, as a control freak, we do a great job of highlighting our strengths. There are some things we do very well and we feel great about that. We can discuss our strengths in detail, we know just how to place ourselves in position to maximize our gifts and talents and we feel best when we are working in capacities that best align with our skill sets. Something we often shy away from addressing, is our weakness. Even in job interviews we have learned and mastered the answer to the question “what are some of your strengths and weaknesses?” turning both into answers highlighting things we do well. That’s all good. There’s nothing wrong with finding comfort in your gifts and talents. When you do something well and you know you do it well, there’s no question you should be using those to to your advantage and to the advantage of those around you.

But what happens when we get a little too high and mighty? As much as we like to avoid the conversation, there isn’t a person living who doesn’t have a weakness. There is no person living who is the best at everything and that’s exactly how God intended for us to be. We should all be living and serving in complimentary fashion alongside others, using our strengths were someone else may have a weakness and vice a versa.

Too many times we are taught that being a Christian is to strive for perfection. That is not the case at all. We are to strive to love God and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We are incapable of perfection. God knows that and has extended us grace in the areas where we are lacking.

There is a place in the bible where Paul is speaking and he’s telling of a wonder vision God gave him. He says that the vision was so clear and he was so sure that it was from God, if he bragged about it, it would be warranted because it would be truth. However, he says that even having been exposed to such greatness, he was given what he calls a thorn. He had a supposed ailment that kept him humble. Whenever he started to feel himself, he was reminded that he’s not perfect, he has a weakness. The best part about his realization that his weakness would keep him from thinking of himself more highly than he should is what he said about how God regarded his weakness each time he asked God to take it away.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12: 8-9

Paul had a weakness that he felt like was hindering him so he asked God to take it away. Instead, God told him grace was all he needed. God basically said to him, I see your weakness and I haven’t counted you out. You’re still valuable to me, I see you trying so wherever you fall short, I will stand in that gap and be sure that the vision I gave you is still fulfilled. Here’s the best part, “My power works best in weakness.” God is able to get really creative when there’s literally nothing else in our own physical power left for us to do. That’s so amazing! So Paul encourages us not to be ashamed of our weaknesses. He even says to take pleasure in them. Because as soon as we recognize we are incapable of doing anymore than we have tried, we can show God we trust God to do the rest and God will also take pleasure in that and leave you and everyone around you wondering how you could have possibly pulled that off. And that’s where you tell them, it wasn’t me, that was all God.

Challenge:

Here’s something I started doing about 4 years ago. I would have ideas or goals that I knew for sure God was inspiring me toward but I kept running into roadblocks. There were skills, resources, connections etc that I just didn’t have. I would get so frustrated feeling so powerless to certain situations. But I’d say this prayer, “God, I know you see me trying and I just don’t think there’s anything else I can do. If I’m missing something, please reveal it to me. If not, please work this out in a way that I won’t possibly be able to take credit for. So when people ask me how I did it, I’ll remember to tell them it was you. In Jesus’ name, amen.” At a time when I had no idea how I was going to pay for graduate school, I applied to school and then prayed that prayer every night. A month before school was supposed to begin, I was offered a job AND a scholarship, neither of which I had applied for. I have no doubt in my mind it was that desperate prayer and my willingness to acknowledge my weakness and have faith that God would work things out that excited God to stand somewhere I had never been on my behalf. If you’re reading this and you feel powerless to any situation at all, I challenge you to pray that prayer or your own prayer with that same sentiment and watch what God can and will do!

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10 to the End Day 8: Redefining Success

success

One of the biggest things I’ve struggled with as a type A personality who is also trying to yield my obsession with control to God, is my idea of success. I’ve been given a vision or an idea and I’ll begin planning it, then I’ll get completely stuck when it’s time to put the plan into action because I’m too busy trying to visualize it all the way to the end and I can’t quite see what kind of success it will have. The idea of one of my ventures not being successful can sometimes cripple my entire progress toward its completion. Many of us even work in career fields that encourage this and we let it bleed over into our personal lives as well.

After evaluating my year, I got really frustrated with this. I began beating myself up a bit for being too afraid to move on things I’ve had on my heart for literal years, simply because I was afraid of the outcome not being successful. Then, I paused and asked myself, well what exactly do I consider successful or unsuccessful? Then I answered myself and it all had to do with how other people may perceive my vision. I was so worried that people might not like it, or it might not be as impactful as something similar I had seen, or it wouldn’t get as much attention as I thought was acceptable. All things that you can’t always plan for. As a PR and Marketing professional, it’s very normal for me to think a project all the way through to its impact. But it’s also common for people in my profession to over AND underestimate the impact or reach of a project, leaving you surprised by its success or unsuccessfulness. That was still scary to me so I began thinking more about my idea of success and wanting to revamp this entire idea going into 2018.

There’s a place in the bible where Jesus is speaking to a crowd and woman basically says that Mary’s womb is blessed for having him and Jesus says

“Blessed, rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Luke 11:28

Now, though this was in response to a specific statement by a woman in a crowd, it still spoke to me in my dilemma with successfulness. Mary obviously is a blessed woman for her role in bringing us Jesus but Jesus was basically saying, she’s not simply blessed because of what she was able to produce, she’s blessed because when God told her what she was about to do, she was obedient to the instructions. Her obedience alone is her success. That realization has changed my entire outlook on my own success. Though I do want to make sure that the vision God gave me is carried out in a way that has a positive impact on others, my entire success is in my ability to carry out the vision God gave me at all.

In all of my plans for this coming year, my goal is simply to start and finish with the simple purpose of being obedient to God. In that, I truly believe God has full control of the outcome. Whether its impact is “large” or “small” by people’s definition is less important than whether or not I have done what God asked me to do. Last year, I can honestly say I was not obedient to God in all that was placed on my heart and it was simply because I was afraid of failing in people’s eyes. Now, I know, my obedience is my greatest success and it’s far more important for me to be successful in God’s eyes than in anyone else’s. I’m sure, that as a type A person, I will continuously have to struggle with this idea, but my prayer for myself and for everyone else like me, is that we can take more pride in being obedient than being “successful.”

10 to the End Day 3: Proverbs and Priorities

Gratitude (2)

If there’s anything a Type A person is serious about, it’s our time. There never seems to be enough of it to accomplish all of our plans AND rest. There’s always a task that demands much of our time and attention and many of us struggle with balancing things of importance and prioritizing things that don’t bring us immediate results. So here’s a question, in 2017 what got the majority of your time and attention? Did you procrastinate? Did you neglect one area of your life to prioritize another? Was there anything you rushed toward in this last year that could have waited?

There is a proverb that says,

The plans of people who work hard succeed. You can be just as sure that those in a hurry will become poor.

Proverbs 21:5

There you have it, a scripture praising work ethic. But there is much more to explore here that can help us wrap up 2017 with honest evaluation. The scripture says those who work hard succeed, it doesn’t say that only people who work hard on things that are good will be successful. Some of us, myself included, worked very hard toward some things in this past year that did not end up serving us well. We spent much too much time working toward some activities, or relationships that were not in God’s plans for us simply because they seemed to make sense to us or because they were what we wanted. And that work was successful at something, but not at elevating us closer to our purpose in the body of Christ and in our relationship with God.

We must be careful next year where we spend our time and energy being mindful of the results it my yield us. Too much time at work will lead to success in your respective field but could also lead to unsuccessful personal relationships if you’re not careful. Spending big chunks of time with friends or a significant other may lead to success in those relationships but could you be neglecting time with family or on school or work? Spending too much time obsessing over something that is out of your control, or dedicating too much energy to negative feelings will make you successful at keeping yourself in a constant negative state of mind. And in all of these things, are we spending enough time growing our relationship with God?

Rushing toward the plans we’ve made for ourselves while overlooking the need to prioritize other areas of our lives, including our relationship with God can certainly leave us poor in the areas we neglect. So in the coming year, let’s make sure we are creating balance. Try setting alarms for prayer times, designating a day/time per week for strictly family activities (if your schedule allows such), using phone apps to make to do lists and hold yourself accountable to putting them in order of priority and holding yourself accountable to that. We are only one person so we sometimes can’t be perfect in our priorities, but recognizing that as a need, is important to being well-rounded and being focused on our calling.

Priorities Activity:

Write down the answers to these questions for consideration:

  1. How did you spend most of your time this year?
  2. What got most of your attention?
  3. What needs more of your attention?
  4. Where did you fit in relationship building time with God?
  5. What can you do to make better use of your time in the coming year?

If any of your interpersonal relationships suffered this past year as a result of time management, try asking the people in your life what they would like to see from you and reaching a compromise. This often lets people know they are important to you. 

 

10 to the End Day 4: Who was God?

Gratitude

As we’re having our moments of introspection to close out our 2017, it’s important that as we’re looking at ourselves, we also look to God. We have all, at some point, asked God to be head of our lives but surrendering to God is not a 1 time activity. We need to challenge ourselves to continuously surrender our fear of not having control to God.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

Revelation 3:20

We have already expressed we’d like a relationship with God and to know God is to know that you will never be totally left to your own devices. However, Christ does not force His way into our lives. God is always who God is, but we have still have to invite God to be who God is personally to us.

So, very simply, who has God been to you this year? Was God your go to consultant when you needed to make heavy decisions? or was God your back up plan when what you planned to do did not work? Did you trust God to be your provider this year? Or were you constantly stressing about how the things you need would materialize? Who were you to God? Were you a close friend or a distant relative?

Before we truly move forward into a new year with God being examples of Christ’s love, we have to be honest with ourselves and with God about where we are in our relationship with one another. Some of us may be able to celebrate immense growth in our spiritual lives, while others of us may notice the points in our lives where we used God instead of loved God. Some of us may be able to celebrate and challenge ourselves to do better at the same time.

Ultimately, as we move forward, it’s important we recognize who we are moving forward with.

Who is God activity:

  1. Make a list of who you allowed God to be for you this year? What areas of your life did you willingly invite God into?
  2. Next, make a list of who you needed God to be for you this year? Where didn’t you allow God to take full control that you need to reevaluate for the coming year?
  3. Look at both of these lists and take time to envision how you will merge the two in the coming year.

10 to the End: Day 2 Learn and Let Go.

For many of us who seek to be in control of every aspect of our lives, acknowledging our shortcomings either comes with immense guilt and shame, or we don’t acknowledge them at all. We’re either beating ourselves up for allowing ourselves space and opportunity to make such mistakes, or we’re refusing to address a shortcoming at all hoping we can just forget it and move on. Neither is a very healthy way to deal with disappointment or failure.

If you’ve had a year like mine, maybe you may have set some goals for yourself and fallen short of where you imagined you’d by at this point in the year. Whether this was a career expectation, a vision for your personal life, or just simply a goal to be a different kind of person by now. The first thing we should do is to acknowledge that. It is obedient for us to acknowledge our shortcomings. Even if there were other factors that lead to you being thrown off course, you can only take responsibility for your piece of that puzzle. If you could have been more diligent, if you shouldn’t have revisited a door that God already previously closed, if you just simply lost sight of the goal altogether, we can use that as our starting point.

Once we’ve identified the places in our lives where we could improve, before you decide to gather the broken pieces and attempt to move on, it’s important to take into consideration that these shortcomings will not be your demise. As long as you desire to be in God’s will, God is able and willing to use those very mistakes to continue elevating you to exactly the place you were intended to be in the first place. If you recall in a previous devotion Chasing After You, we discussed and rejoiced in the fact that God is not surprised by our ability to fall of course. In fact, God already anticipated that and already set a plan in motion to chase you down and redirect you.

Psalms 119: 71 says, “It was good for me to be humbled so that I could learn your justifications.”

Although we strive each day not to make decisions that are not good for us and our journey with Christ, we must also acknowledge the lessons we are able to learn from our mistakes. It is true that some of the lessons we learn through our mistakes could have been avoided, but let’s not spend the time we could be using to gather lessons, on wishing that things were different. What is done is done and God is still who God always is; and that is a God who is capable of taking our wrongs and using them to elevate us and to glorify God.

Picking up the Pieces Exercise

Before moving on, let’s spend time reminding ourselves of what God is capable of doing with our mistakes with a short exercise.

  1. When you think of the words “failure” or “Shortcoming” what comes to mind for you this year? Write them down without censoring yourself.
  2. What were some of the repercussions of those failures or shortcomings? Write those down.
  3. Try to think of some of the lessons you can recover from these instances. What do you believe you should have learned from making these mistakes. Write those down on a seperate piece of paper. (Some of these lessons may not be evident to you at the moment and that is ok. God will reveal them in time).
  4. Isaiah 43:25 says “I, yes, I alone — will blot out your sins for my own sake and never think of them again.” God doesn’t hold our failures over our heads which is our permission to release the guilt and shame from our lives as well. This could be a long process but as a symbol that we recognize we don’t have to live victimized by our mistakes,  find a way to destroy the paper listing your failures or shortcomings from this year. Try tearing the paper, burnin the paper etc. Anything that makes it impossible for you to revisit on paper.
  5. Display the paper listing the lessons you should have learned from your mistakes somewhere visible to you. You don’t need to make these public. Truly make an effort to remind yourself of the lessons and NOT the failures.
  6. Pray a prayer for forgiveness from God and for yourself. Invite forgiveness into your own heart so that you can continue living and working toward your goals without crippling regret.

Get Some Rest

get some rest

Hey you. Yes you. The one who is always available to help. The one who always assumes a leadership role. The one who is periodically on the verge of burning out but feels bad about taking time off. God wants you to sit down somewhere.

Church culture often reminds us that “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” It is quite common for us to experience an abundance of work being done by a handful of people. Being overwhelmed for the work of the Kingdom is to be expected. If you have grown up in a Church setting, or if you’re just a common Type A person, we often grow accustomed to the feeling of being overwhelmed by tasks. So much so, that we sometimes don’t feel validated in the work that we’re doing unless we’re stressed out and on the brink of nervous breakdown.

Some would have us believe that feeling of having too much on your plate is a feeling we should strive toward. That if there’s work to do and it must get done, YOU must be the one to do it and you must do it without complaint even to the point that it can be frowned upon to request a moment of solitude. While it is true that there will always be work to do and that there will always seem to be a shortage of people doing it, the idea that we should always be eager to take on more than we may be able to bear can be dangerous to our mental and physical health and, quite frankly, is not what is pleasing to God.

31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Mark 6:31

The above verse is taken from a text in which Jesus and the disciples had been traveling and working hard to win souls for Christ. Jesus saw the work they were all doing and noticed that they were overwhelmed so he tells them to go take some quiet time to rest. As simple as that is, this is what is pleasing to God. We all have so much work to do and the work will always need to be done by someone. While it is certainly God’s will that we do the work and that we excited about it, we are only human and humans get tired. We should never be ashamed to admit that we may have overextended ourselves and need a moment to recharge.

My prayer for all of us is that we commit to the following things:

  1. Be mindful of our minds and bodies when they tell us we need a break.
  2. Say no and be intentional about it. You don’t always have to be responsible for every single task available. If you feel like you will not be able to handle too many tasks, you can decline a few responsibilities to save your sanity.
  3. Hold your brothers and sisters accountable. When you see that someone you love has a lot on their plate, offer to help when you can so that they can take time to themselves and help them to feel good about doing so.
  4. Get some rest. Whether it be taking a vacation to enjoy your friends or family, or taking quiet time alone, we all need time to replenish ourselves after we have give time and service to others.

Just as Jesus was divine he was also human. If he had to take time to rest, so should you.