He Remains Unfailing: Puny Strength, Patient God

“But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst of sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in Him and receive eternal life.”

1 Timothy 1:16

After months of praying and holding our breath, another brain MRI is in the books for Benaiah, and it looks like slowly, very slowly, his ventricles are shrinking. No surgery at this point. It is so, so rare that a case like his can be managed with medication alone. We begged the Lord to intervene and He heard our prayers. I should be dancing for joy. I’m relieved. But it feels like the kind of relief at the end of long, tense movie where the suspense would not let up for a second and you’re exhausted from the adrenaline when it’s over. I feel absolutely drained.

He’s okay. He’s going to be okay. I’m so glad he’s going to be okay. I wonder if I will be.

We talked through some of the challenges we’ve walked through and are currently facing with our mission’s member care team and they pointed out that I use the word “should” a lot. They explained that “should” tends to describe our expectations and that constantly comparing reality to our expectations sets us up to feel guilt, anxiety, and discouragement over things we cannot and do not control. “Yes, that’s about the sum up of it,” I responded. We laughed. I cried.

Man, I am hunting for some new “should’s.”

Dancing for joy? Not so much these days. Begging for joy while I drag myself out of bed after a night of getting up with the baby to make breakfast for a high-strung toddler that will demand to have his eggs cut just a certain way? That’s happening a lot more often. Groping for joy when I feel spent after working like crazy to get ourselves set up to serve overseas only to watch all we’ve worked for get pushed further and further back on the timeline? You bet.

Is it enough, when you don’t feel joy, to bring your request before the source of joy?

Is it enough to ask for new mercies this morning when my heart is tired and teary instead of thankful?

My heart often tells me, “You should be handling this better.” But I think it would be more helpful to tell myself, “You should take this to the Lord.”

“Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust Him, and He will help you.”

Psalm 37:5

He. Will. Help. You.

I do not have the promise that I will be strong enough. I have the promise that He will help me when my strength fails. When my joy fails. When my endurance fails. When my love fails. When my heart feels drained and I fall short of all the “should’s.” He remains unfailing.

“…For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness!”

Lamentations 3:22-23

One step at a time, one morning at a time, we are going to get through this. And when we look back, we will not be impressed with how I did what I should have. We will be blown away by how God was faithful and merciful to me when my “should’s” gave out. How He crafted a story full of things I did not expect, and worked through every detail of my disappointments.

I’m still processing through having to step away from ministry in Papua New Guinea for a season, facing one health crisis after another, a car accident, the loss of our trailer, moving from house to house, feeling at a loss with my toddler, and finding myself on my knees for my baby. I want to be over it. With the good news about Benaiah, I want to dust myself off and move on full speed. But there is some brokenness that’s taking time to smooth out.

Here’s what I’m working to remember. People are not necessarily drawn to the Lord because I serve Him so flawlessly and my life is so exemplary and I move through difficulty so gracefully. My faithfulness to Him is not the point or the power of this story. It’s His faithful love to me.

Oh Lord,

Thank you for having mercy on me. May others see in me the evidence of your great kindness and patience, and so be drawn to trust in you. Remind my heart that I am not the hero of my story, you are. When I am disappointed and aching over how I fall short; over my weakness, my issues, my wrestling to believe you, my self-centeredness, pride, impatience, and anxiety – May I remember that you are patient with me.

You are steadily working transformation in my life – the things that are pleasing to you. However it looks right now, as I gaze on you, you will keep changing me. I can have hope. Not because I am performing well, but because I am your work.

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For WE ARE God’s masterpiece. He created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

Ephesians 2:8-10

Awkward: a new way to cut grass and do life

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love…let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.”

Ephesians 4:2, 23

Let me tell you a story about a missionary I recently got to visit with here in Papua New Guinea.

After years of living in the jungle, learning language and culture, and the excitement of presenting the Gospel in their heart language, he was preparing to teach the brand-new believers in his village through Ephesians chapters 4 and 5.  During lesson prep, he was considering God’s instructions for husbands and wives and how mind-boggling and challenging they would seem to these couples who have never, until now, even attempted to build a marriage based on Christ’s example of laying down every right for the sake of the other. He knew that trying this out was going to feel awkward for them; it would be totally different from the way things have always been. So he decided to use cutting the grass as an illustration.

This people group grows a lot of their own food, and they often prepare the ground for new gardens by clearing the grass. Except they have no lawnmowers.

They use a blade attached to a long handle. It’s shaped a little like a hockey stick, and in Tok Pisin, they call it a sarep. To use it, they walk back and forth, back and forth, forcefully swinging this tool to chop the grass right at the level of the dirt. It is hard, tiresome work, and there is definitely a technique to it.

The missionary asked this brand-new church: “What if you had been cutting grass with your right hand, year after year, your whole life, since you were a child?”

His lesson went something like this: What if, suddenly, you were told that you need to use your left hand instead? When it came time to cut the grass again, it would feel right to reach for your tool with your right hand. Every time you went to pick it up, you would have to fight that habit and remember to stop and reach with your left hand instead. It would take slow, awkward growth toward doing this work in a new way. That’s what it’s like to “throw off your old nature and your former way of life.” That’s what it’s like to “let the Spirit renew your thinking and attitude.” When you go to do the work of marriage, you are used to reaching for your own strength and understanding, and that’s what feels right. But you have to stop and choose to reach for something better. You have to let the Spirit teach you a new way to cut the grass.

This week, I was listening to a video teaching session on Colossians by Ruth Chou Simons, and I jotted down this quote, which I thought explained really well why we so badly need to switch hands:

“I thought it would be possible to have enough self-control to be the kind of wife I wanted to be…but I couldn’t make progress toward [it] because I was motivated by my own reputation, my own ideas of success, and my own ability to achieve. Love on the other hand is a greater motivator.”

I loved the insight that we often tackle good goals with weak motivations. Scripture calls us to be humble, gentle, and patient; to plan on each other screwing up, and to plan on making allowance for that. To look at our relationships, and budget for the forgiveness we will need to extend.

Why? To look good? To get my family to change by what a good job I do? To guarantee an outcome? To secure God’s help?

No. Because of His love.

As I become more and more like my Savior, and do the awkward work of yielding to His way of doing things, I start to speak and act in a way that is driven by love. Not by outcomes, not by lust for control or approval, but by a determined pursuit of what is best for someone else.

That is not my normal way of thinking. I am used to a different mentality and I slip easily into old thoughts and attitudes. So I need to throw them off again and again, to fight against old habits, reach with my left hand, and let Him renew my whole mindset.

“Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.”

Ephesians 4:21-22

So here I am, learning right alongside these brand-new believers, the uncomfortable, humbling work of exchanging my weak motivations for the compelling love of Christ and my flagging determination for a source of strength that never grows weak or weary.

Oh Lord,

Please do this in me this morning. Humble my heart, draw me to the place where I behold your love and I’m awestruck by it. Let it flow through me so that in all my interactions, I am gentle, patient, and ready to extend grace. Change me more and more so that, because of you and your work in me, I cherish others.

As I decide how to respond to whatever this day before me holds, help me to lay aside the old way of thinking and my self-dependence, and to reach, however awkwardly, for you.

Not By My Own Effort: on blood, sweat, and tears and grace given freely



…We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us
. We put no confidence in human effort.

Philippians 3:3
 

I wrote a letter this morning, and as I worked to frame words that might lead to a resting place, my eyes burned. I realized that I was also pleading for myself. Maybe this morning, it’s a prayer breathed for your heart, too:

I see you and your desire to grow and to learn and to do such a good job serving and taking care of others. I see how hard you are working and how desperately you are trying. I’m praying this morning that you would feel settled in this truth: God is not disappointed in you or hoping for more from you.

So the question is this: are you hoping for more from you?

All that yearning can produce an unbearable amount of pressure, and it only helps us when we let it drive us to the cross and remind us that our best effort will never be enough, but because we have placed our trust in Christ, that longing and reaching are met in him. In him, we are perfect, well-pleasing, enough, praiseworthy, beautiful, satisfactory.

I want you to rest and to know that it is okay to be right where you are, offering yourself to Him, learning, and still finding some things difficult. 

Philippians 3:16 says this: “But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.”

Our successes and our progress are gifts. They are not earnings. And that is hard to remember when we have been laboring hard. But our hearts are reassured and strengthened for the tasks ahead to the extent that we accurately identify grace and gifts given freely to us rather than marveling at what we claim our own hands have built. 

When we lay down the illusion that we have reached this place by our own blood, sweat and tears, we also lay down the pressure to tackle the next mountain short-handed.

Instead, we can look back and trace the path of his faithfulness. We can revel in gift after gift; each reflecting the generous character of a lavish giver. And we can have confidence that no matter what we face next, no matter how spent we are, we will continue to receive good things, and we will continue to be a channel of good things to others. Not because we’re trying so dang hard, but because our unfailing fountain of life will continue to be who he is toward us. 

He is ever able to keep giving as we look to him, as we keep asking for help, and as we keep thanking him for how far we’ve come. Not by our own effort, but by his undeserved grace.


…And what do you have that you did not receive?... (1 Corinthians 4:27)

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

 

Lay Out the Welcome Mat: on how to take pleasure in weakness

“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness…”

2 Corinthians 12:9

Here it is. The great, paradoxical secret that unravels the way I think.

God faithfully uses the gifting he has given me. He asks me to be a good steward of my strengths.

But his power does not work best in my strengths. His power works BEST in my weakness.


Last month, I had the privilege of contributing as a guest writer for one of Man in the Mirror’s monthly newsletters. I mentioned it (okay, I announced it with celebration and a happy dance) to my dad, who simply said, “Good. I’d like to see what you write reach a larger audience.”

I explained that I’d like to be published here and there, but I would sort of prefer that my reach stay small because I love attention and I’m doomed to become self-absorbed and inauthentic if I ever become well-known.

My dad said this:

“I’d like more people to read what you write because it generally carries a theme of dependence. And that is so needed.”

His words humbled me. It’s not about the writer. It’s about the message. And this is a message worth calling to the attention of as many people as I can possibly summon, because our souls so easily forget:

I need Jesus. I need him desperately. I must depend on Him. For my salvation and for absolutely everything after that.

“Don’t be selfish. Don’t try to impress others…We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort.”

Philippians 2:3 and 3:3

More and more, may this become my hallmark:

Dependence on the Impressive One. Awareness that without him, I have nothing to offer (John 15:5).  An ironclad grip on the truth that he deserves all the honor for anything good in my life (Romans 15:17-18), and that when I start to be impressed with myself, I have become enchanted with a sad lie; because I have absolutely nothing that I have not been given. (1 Corinthians 4:7)

May I learn to be at ease with my weaknesses and with my short supply of resources, stamina, and even the desire to produce what is good.

These are opportunities to invite him to step in, not set-ups for failure. My bad attitudes, short temper, and need for transformation are the canvas upon which he does his best work. And it. Is. Breath-taking.

May I refuse to hide my frailty. May I learn to humbly lay it out and take pleasure in it. It is the welcome mat for his grace to enter in. It is the holy place where my strengths bow out of the way and his power takes the stage. It is the starting place of every good story.

When I see my inadequacy and I decide to I call it what it is instead of hiding or posturing or striving to be enough, that is when his unimaginable endurance, creativity, hope, and light seep into the most desperate places.


Pray with me:

Lord,

You are the unfailing answer to my cry for help.

My inadequacy, my frailty, my weakness: these are your gifts to help a blind heart see how badly it needs you. They are ever more precious than the gifts I so often plead for.

Transform how I view weakness, hardships, insults. Paul learned how to lean into them and take pleasure in them. Teach me how this is possible for my heart, too, because my giving up place is your giving place.

So help me to lay out the welcome mat boldly.

“So now I am glad to boast in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in 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 12:9-10