Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Intersection of Self Worth and Strength

I've recently run into a bit of nearly overwhelming unexpected stress and anxiety from work related areas. It got so bad the other day I actually considered throwing in the towel and going back to an old career path that leads nowhere good, but pays very well.

Last night, I got on the phone with one of my best friends and he brought up Elijah sitting by the stream, watching it dry up. Elijah knew God's calling in his life and when all was said and done, despite the unexpected stress and anxiety, God's will prevailed and everything worked out for Elijah.

Since he and Paul are my two favorite biblical figures, and I'm very familiar with this story - which seems to have bookended our recently ended, two-year trip through the Kerith Ravine, when my friend Gary brought this up it hit me like a hammer.

Then, this morning, I opened up a few devotional emails and started reading. Oddly enough (or just as expected for those who know God's craftsmanship in our lives) the first two I read dove-tailed together and into this overall journey of the last few days. The first is from Bayless Conley, the second from Joe Gibbs.

Here they are:

Your Weakness, God's Power

2 Corinthians 12:9 is a powerful reminder of God's provision for you and me when we reach the end of our strength.

"My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness."

When Paul wrote these words, he was being harassed everywhere he went by an evil spirit that he referred to as "a thorn in the flesh." It was a messenger sent from Satan to buffet him, to constantly harass him.

The constant harassment of this spirit finally got to him, and he begged God three times to take it away. Paul was clearly at the end of his rope.

But, even though Paul prayed for God's intervention three times, the spirit did not depart. And God's response to Paul was the verse we read above. His strength is made perfect in weakness.

What does perfect mean? It means that His power comes to full maturity…it blossoms…it is fully expressed in our weakness.

What was Paul's response? He went on to say in verses 9-10 of that same chapter,

Therefore most gladly I would rather boast in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions and distresses for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

It seems that sometimes we have to get to the end of ourselves before we will look fully to God. But when we do, we find that He is more than enough. If you are there today or close to that point, take hold of God's strength.

Put your trust in Him. He will bring you to the place of your breakthrough, and you will find the strength and direction you need.

This really resonated with me because it's so universal to first rely on our own strength and understanding and then feel like the walls are closing in when things don't go all roses and sunshine for us. But it reminds me of the old saying "If life was perfect, why would you need God?"

Then, as I contemplated that, I read Coach Gibb's devo:

Room to Be Human

We definitely live in a celebrity culture. How many industries—from sports talk to memorabilia sales—are manufactured on the backs of a culture that can't get enough scoop or goods on today's headline makers? We know they're just people, but somehow we're willing to let them be larger-than-life. It's in our cultural DNA.

But even those who impress us with their skill and swagger—the ones who are among the best at what they do—miss a lot of reads in the course of a game. They foul a lot of balls into the stands. They push a lot of shots wide of the fairway. Success is a matter of consistent skill and effort, but nowhere near perfection. There's never been a superstar who didn't know how it felt to pace the sidelines, frustrated with his play.

If you're in one of those funks where you're down on yourself for making an unwise decision at work, or underestimating how long something would take, or guessing wrong on a snap judgment call, maybe this would be a good day to cut yourself some slack. Nobody gets everything right, and God understands that about us. "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust" (Psalm 103:13-14).

Be fair with yourself today. Don't let a little pop-out keep you from swinging for the fences.

Pray this prayer: Lord God, thank you for knowing me better than I know myself, for being willing to forgive me when I foul things up. I pray for the courage to get back in and try again—for your glory.

So, that brings us to a crossroads. If things aren't going your way and you make a bad move or decision or action, it compounds things. That's when the doubt creeps in. That's when the enemy starts whispering in our ear, telling us all sorts of devaluing things.

"You're worthless..."

"You're an idiot..."

"You don't deserve the outcome you want..."

"Your life was meant to be terrible, look at you..."

And, it's at that point where we need God. In Exodus, God's presence is described like that of a mighty storm. Well, when things don't go our way and we compound that with mistakes, it's definitely a storm of sorts.

But at the eye of every storm is the Hand of the One Who Loves Us.

So, if you're struggling with a stream that's drying up, or living with the outcome of your less-than-perfect actions or decisions, look to God. It's hard to be influenced by what's wrong when you're focusing at all that's right.

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