"That was dumb!"
"I don't know what I'm doing. How did I get here?"
Those were yesterday's questions--not from someone else; from inside my own head. When we come alongside others or serve in ministry, God is good to put us in deep water from time to time. My feelings of inadequacy weren't just the result of comparing myself to those who know more--although that is a reality. They weren't just a close-up of my own personal sins and flaws--although that, too, is a reality. As I viewed circumstances and potential consequences I sensed failure. Criticism. Pain. Complications. Confusion.
Not only did I feel inadequate, I saw the reality of my limitations and heard that voice, "Who do you think you are? How can you help others when you can't even help yourself?"
That's why we need the gospel. We cannot change--we cannot help ourselves, or others--apart from the transforming Word and work of God through Jesus Christ and His Spirit.
Last week we cleared brush as part of a mission trip. Branch after branch, tree after tree, we cut, carried, and discarded wagon loads of brush. Applying God's Word is like that. (Thanks, Allison, for the illustration.) Our thoughts take the path of least resistance. If you're into the science of the brain, here's some background info. Left to themselves, they carry us down a path of worry, regret, disappointment, failure, bitterness, despair. When we remain unaware of our thoughts, they take us to dark, lonely, despondent places.
There is another option. We can replace weak, lazy, often sinful, thoughts with God's Word, by creating new paths through our brain. We do this by intentionally choosing God's Word over ours. The more frequently and intensely we pursue a thought pattern, the more quickly and easily our thoughts will choose it. The Holy Spirit wants to take us down God-honoring, true paths, but He can't if they don't exist. This is why memorization and meditation of God's Word is so vital to our Christian walk.
Little by little, thought by thought, circumstance by circumstance, we can renew our minds (literally, physically) to think God's thoughts instead of our own (1 Corinthians 2:16). We can see the world through God's eyes instead of our limited, human ones. We can see ourselves and others from a spiritual point of view.
In Jesus Christ, I am not just myself, I am a new creature. I have access to His Spirit. His Spirit is in me. With me. Abiding. Through the Spirit of Christ, I can read, understand, and apply the Word of God. It becomes my reality and, though I am aware of my sinful limitations and the world around me, I am not bound by them. I can choose to submit to God, put to death the thoughts and works of the flesh, allow Him to work through me, and love others. With the help of the Holy Spirit and reminders of His Word, I can trust God with past, present, and future circumstances, believing He is already using them to do a good work in my life and the lives of others.
Because of Jesus' Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, my sin is not a detriment, but a tool. God is greater than my failure and limitations. Jesus Christ gave up His right to remain in Heaven for me. He took on a human form and likeness for me. Limitations, pain, loss, hunger, weariness--for me. Physical and spiritual death, torturous death, in exchange for my sin. He knows and understands my weakness. He died to pay my punishment. Because of Jesus, I walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).
When fear of failure, difficult circumstances, or overwhelming odds come my way, I can continue down a path of fear, false bravado, and resignation...or I can create and choose the path of God's design.
...we confidently say, "The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?"
Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace...(Hebrews 13:6-9)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your body
And refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:5-8)