At times I feel I need 8 arms like an octopus, just to have hands on everything that is going on. But I don’t.
The other day I spoke to God about the moments when I do not feel the peace of God, when I feel disconnected from the God of peace. I concluded that I feel anxious and frustrated whenever I am overwhelmed with all the people, projects and places I am unable to sufficiently connect to and serve.
I find that (my) life is simply too demanding to do everything well. As a husband, I am at times unable to connect to and love my wife the way I want to. As a father of two beautiful young children I find that I am at times to busy and too drained to bless them the way I would want to. As pastor and overseer I am thoroughly aware of all the people going through hardships whom I would want to spend time with to comfort and care for – as well as the people with great potential whom I would want to coach and encourage. What drains my peace is that in every area of my life I feel that I am falling short; I am too busy to give my wife, my children, my congregation, my friends, my community, my studies and my God the time and devotion I want to or feel I should. As such I am always aware that I can (and should) be a better husband, better father, better friend, better pastor, better steward, and better Christian. I am failing everyone, mostly God and myself. I don’t do (well) enough, and I am not (being) enough for anyone.
These are the moments when I am acutely aware of my inadequacy, my insufficiency to be everything for everyone. My emotions dashboard lights up with anxiety, frustration, disappointment, shame, and that familiar sense of being overwhelmed. At these moments I am acutely aware that I am not enough, and that I just don’t do enough.
I want to be more. I want to do more. And I feel I should.
If you can identify with these emotions, then cheer up – we’re in great company!
Joshua felt insufficient
Joshua was apparently also overwhelmed with a sense of being insufficient, unqualified, and uncertain of himself. Moses was dead, and Joshua had to take the reins of leading Israel to occupy the promised land.[i] Joshua certainly had the faith in God to face those giants in their fortified cities,[ii] and had shown himself competent in combat.[iii] The Bible writes that Joshua was faithful,[iv] and full of the Spirit of wisdom, [v] and knowing God intimately.[vi] Moses had mentored him for 40 year, and now God himself called him to step up and take the lead.[vii]
In spite of all these qualities Joshua was intimidated and for the task at hand. He needed much encouragement, or rather, much urging to step up and lead. It was not the giants or the combat that freaked him out. He felt insignificant, insufficient, incapable compared to Moses whose shoes he had to fill – a mighty leader who regularly demonstrated the power of God.[viii] And who can blame Joshua for feeling small in comparison to the man who stood in front of Pharaoh and brought down ten plagues that plummeted the mighty Egyptian empire? Or the man for whom the Red Sea opened up, mountains shook, manna rained down and water gushed out of rock? The man who brought identity, moral law and formalized worship for the Israelites? Who would not be intimidated?
The irony is that, when God at first called Moses for his task, he also felt intimidated. He declared himself incompetent and insufficient for his task. And I’d say he had a good enough reason – this leader couldn’t speak in public, and had the bad reputation of murderer and deserted in Egypt. Moses of all people knew where he fell short, where he was not qualified, not good enough for the role he was called to fulfill.
But Moses was not merely sent to do a job for God; he was called to do something with God. He was not called to bring down Pharaoh and his oppressive empire for God, but with God. He was not sent to lead the people out of Egypt, through the Red Sea and the wilderness into the Promised Land for God. He was called to follow God and walk with God as he led the people. Moses’ significance and success were not determined on his own performance and perfection but on God’s presence and power. He just had to stay in step with God.
Yes, Moses was incompetent, insufficient, incomplete as father, as husband, as leader, as worshiper. The Bible records his flaws on purpose. But Moses appears larger than life in the Sacred Text because in spite of all these imperfections and shortcomings, God was with him. All the successes attributed to Moses were God’s miraculous compensation for human shortcomings.
Therefore, all Joshua needed to hear to be brave, to be strong, to lead God’s people and to possess the land was the promise that “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you.”
I’m insufficient. God is not.
Back to my weekend encounter with God about my insufficiency to do everything well: I poured out my heart and told God how I felt insufficient, how I felt that I did nothing good enough because I am too busy, too scattered. If I had less commitments, perhaps I could do at least a few things well. But what can I cut from my life? I am quite confident that I am connected and committed where God has led me. I feel that it is in fact God’s tasks that make me feel insufficient and incompetent. Could that be?
As I was praying, I heard God clearly answer me: “I know you are insufficient. I called you, knowing you are not perfect. I don’t expect perfection from you. I don’t expect more from you. But I am with you. My grace is sufficient.”
These words were as refreshing and revitalizing as cold water on a hot day. I felt as though weights dropped off my shoulders, a burden left my chest. God does not expect more from me; he knows my insufficiency.
Simply the Gospel
Over against a striving culture that that celebrates performance and perfection, the gospel of Christ sounds the invitation that God’s sufficiency in Christ qualifies and compensates the insufficient and imperfect. His invitation to the weary and incomplete is to find rest in his sufficiency.[ix] In Christ, God does not frown upon the insufficient nor does he reject the imperfect. Rather, God is compassionately drawn to our brokenness and weakness,[x] “because he remembers that we are dust.”[xi]
And that is the gospel: that the Perfect One redeems and embraces the imperfect ones through the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. God is always with us.
God with me
“I am with you,” God said to the stuttering Moses,[xii] to the hesitant Joshua,[xiii] to the fainthearted Gideon,[xiv] and the youthful Jeremiah.[xv] The list goes on. Yet, aware of (and even intimidated by) their insufficiency in the face of their calling, these believers were inspired to step out, assured of God’s empowering presence.
That’s how the stuttering Moses lead 4 million Hebrews out of Slavery, hesitant Joshua conquered the Promised Land, fainthearted Gideon defeated the powerful Midianites with 300 men, and young Jeremiah faithfully proclaimed God’s word in wicked times. God’s grace proved sufficient, his strength was perfected in their weakness. [xvi]
Imperfect, but worthy
Realizing our insufficiency is a good thing. It does not help to brainwash ourselves with Ted Talks, nor to try and persuade ourselves with “mirror-mirror” pep talks that indeed, we are sufficient and have what it takes. Our inner and outer reality clearly shows that we fall short. But our imperfection does not diminish our worth or our work.
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.[xvii]
Our (in)sufficiency does not (dis)qualify us from salvation. Quite the opposite! The reason why God sent his son into the world was because everyone fall short of God’s perfection; therefore God in Christ has made a way to impart his sufficiency to us, that we might stand sufficient before him. [xviii] Whoever humbly asks for this gift we call salvation will be made right before God.[xix]
Our (in)competence does not (dis)qualify us from service. God is not intimidated or irritated by our shortcomings! Comparing yourself to the accomplishments of others is futile. Accomplishments does not qualify us before God, the true eternal judge: God alone calls, God alone qualifies, God alone commends us before him.[xx] Every character in the Bible who played a meaningful role in history reminds us that God calls, qualifies, commends and empowers imperfect people to accomplish significant work with him. That’s still his way with me and with you.
In those moments that I feel strong, that I feel on top of everything, I usually have courage to exert myself for concerns bigger than myself. I have courage to stretch myself beyond my own needs. But God challenged Joshua to do just that when he was intimidated by his own imperfections: to be strong and act courageous in the face of his incompetence. How? By the assurance of the Sovereign Lord’s personal presence.
Think about it: what could Joshua possibly face that is too big, too hard for God? Not the Jordan river in flood, not Jericho with its high walls, not the seven mighty nations in Canaan. No, not even the rebellious people God had entrusted to him!
That invitation to walk towards God’s Promised Peace today is the same: in spite of my insufficiency, God is with me. And that is how my heart is encouraged to act with confidence. Today, in every place and every situation, God has my back to compensate for every inadequacy and insufficiency.
What would I say to myself next time I am overwhelmed by my own incompetence and insufficiency. I would remind myself that God is not irritated with my imperfections, nor is he not disappointed with my defective performance. I will remind myself that his grace has made me both accepted in he presence and empowered by His partnership. He has not sent me to do work on his behalf – he has invited me to live a life of service with him. I will remind myself that God does expect perfection of me – he knows that I am dust and has perfected me in Christ. I will remind myself to look beyond my inabilities, to discern God’s presence and trust in his God’s sovereign power. I will urge myself to look to him and be strong – because it is not the “perfect ones” that do great; the ones who know their God will do great exploits.[xxi]
[i] Joshua 1:1-10
[ii] Numbers 13:16-14:9
[iii] Exodus 17:8-13
[iv] Exodus 32:1-17
[v] Exodus 33:11
[vi] Deut. 34:1-12.
[vii] Deut. 31:14-23
[viii] Deuteronomy 34:12
[ix] Isaiah 55:1-2
[x] Psalm 34:18
[xi] Psalm 103:14
[xii] Exodus 4:10-12
[xiii] Joshua 1:2-6
[xiv] Judges 6:12-14
[xv] Jeremiah 1:6-9
[xvi] 2 Cor 12:9
[xvii] 1 Pet 5:5-6; James 4:6
[xviii] Rom 3:23, 6:23
[xix] Romans 10:13
[xx] 2 Cor 10:18
[xxi] Dan 11:32