From the Basement

July 26, 2010

Youth is not a Limitation for God

In the last blog, I wrote that these last few months have been turbulent times filled with spiritual challenge and learning and growth, but also pain, heartache, doubt, fear, and anxiety. This week – the last few days – in particular have brought an avalanche of revelation.

What I would like to focus on tonight is one lie that has seeped into my life: that my youth and inexperience will keep God from using me, particularly in my calling. I put my faith in conventional wisdom that says that countless rejections must be collected before “breaking in”; what’s more, I measure success in human standards of being published. And when it comes to the ever-frightening idea of writing a non-fiction book on Christian living, or just meditations on faith from an unemployed college graduate, I practically freeze with fear, knowing that I lack the credentials – the degrees, the experience – to be published.

It’s really hard to put it out there and say that yeah, I have those dreams.

One caveat here. Over the last few months, I’ve read a flood of articles on unemployed college graduates and on the “Entitlement” complex of Generation Y – how we think we’re entitled to better work and whatnot. Personally, I’m totally willing to do the grunt assistant jobs. Get coffee for someone for years before “making it”? Sure! I’m willing to pay my dues. And similarly, when it comes to publication, I’m willing to start at the bottom. Rejection will happen and a thick skin is necessary. I recently sent out my first story to a professional publication, and I hold no illusions about making it in – it’s valuable experience and you know, I’m putting myself out there. We’ll see what happens.

Here’s my issue: conventional wisdom says that youth = inexperience = lack of wisdom, lack of success. And it’s common wisdom for a reason – it’s common!

BUT. With God, all things are possible. Do we really believe this? Youth is not a limitation for God. Inexperience is not a limitation for God. And it is dangerous when the youth internalize this “conventional wisdom” – that they must wait for wisdom, wait to be used, wait for Their Calling, simply because they are young.

It’s about keeping a right perspective. The fact is, feelings of inadequacy and inferiority are some of the most powerful tools Satan can use to keep us down.

It is crucial to remember that God doesn’t call the equipped – he equips the called. We are called to lean on him and not on our own understanding; we claim that the joy of the Lord is our strength and our salvation. God does not require an advanced degree or decades of experience to be used. In fact, he delights to show his strength in our weakness. In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Paul writes:

“And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

A dear friend of mine is going to a foreign country for ten months to set up an organization in a field she is not trained in. She’s the one who first told me that God equips the called, and it was a blessing to be able to repeat her words back to her when we had lunch a few days ago. Skills and knowledge can be learned – the content she’s working with can be learned – but she has an invaluable knowledge going in: the knowledge of the mercy and grace of Christ Jesus and her ability to show His compassionate love to others. Jesus will make a way where there is seemingly no way.

Our youth and inexperience are perfect opportunities for the Lord to make manifest His glory, for we really cannot boast on our own wisdom and understanding. Indeed, God recently slammed a door in my face that would have brought me that advanced degree and the worldly respect that accompanies it.

It is not wishful thinking or naiveté that gives me so powerful an assurance in this wonderful quality of God’s, but rather His own words. God delights to use the ill equipped, the young, the “wrong” choice to bring about His glory. Two examples come to mind: Moses and Esther. When God drew Moses to Himself via the burning bush (such an awesome idea), He said: “Come now… I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10). Moses’ reply falls from his lips before he can stop himself – “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

He protests. Even though we can see how Moses is uniquely, wondrously called to this task (saved from Pharaoh’s edict as a baby, raised in the palace, familiar with Egyptian customs, and y’know, he’s sort of the brother of the current Pharaoh) – in spite of all this, Moses clearly felt himself ill qualified. He doubted himself. He didn’t think he was worthy.

God’s response to Moses’ fears? “I will certainly be with you.”

We are never enough; He is always enough. His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

Of course, God’s assurances do not assure Moses – a chapter later, Moses is still arguing with God, saying he’s not eloquent enough to speak. And yet God provides for this weakness, as well (Moses’ biological brother, Aaron, is a gifted speaker).

God will make a way where there is no way.

Similarly, Esther is called to act in a radical way. She is a young Jewish girl hiding her beliefs from her new husband, who just happens to be the King of Persia. She’s inexperienced and, in spite of the presence of her cousin Mordecai, frighteningly alone. However, she is thrust into Purpose headfirst when one of the king’s advisors, Haman, hatches a plot that would destroy all Jews in Persia (the Holocaust, only thousands of years earlier).

Mordecai implores Esther to go to the King and beg his mercy, and she protests, reminding Mordecai that no one can enter the King’s inner sanctum unless personally called (death is a possibility for such radical disobedience). Mordecai’s response to Esther’s fear is famous: “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14)

In spite of their youth and inexperience, even in the face of their fear and anguish, God used Moses and Esther to deliver His people in marvelous ways. In fact, he positioned them perfectly. They acted against convention, against “common wisdom” – they were willing to risk death in order to obey the call of God on their lives.

They were willing to be used. Humility and submission: these are the qualities we are all to cultivate in terms of obedience to God. The aged and the young, the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated – regardless of status, a humble, submissive spirit before the throne can and will be used by the Father.

One example of awesome humility and submission was Mary, the mother of Jesus. When the angel Gabriel came to her, she was 14 – eight years younger than I am right now. Luke tells us that Mary was “troubled” at the angel’s appearance and greeting; Gabriel exhorted her to not be afraid. When he told her of her calling – to bear the son of God! – her one question was an understandably logistical one (that she was sort of a virgin). The angel answered her question, finishing “For with God nothing will be impossible.” Mary then replied, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

Wow. Wow.

Mary then visits her cousin Elizabeth (who is preggers with John the Baptist) and her song is just incredible.

My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior.

For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;

For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.

For He who is mighty has done great things for me,

And holy is His name. (Luke 1:46-49)

She is 14, engaged, pregnant with the son of God, and about to face ridicule, condemnation, and public gossip. (Remember that Joseph almost leaves her over this.) She is no fool – she is well aware of what happens to women in her situation, and yet her faith is absolute. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior” – let that be an inspiration and exhortation to us today.

(I realize that it may sound as if I am implying that youth and inexperience are inherently limitations and weaknesses. Not so! We all are possessed of limitations and weaknesses that seem like mountains, but these are nothing for our God.)

How glorious it is, as a young person, to know our savior, redeemer, lover, friend. How wonderful is it to be pursuing His heart, His right thinking this early! To not waste decades and years on the pursuit of vanity – things that cannot possibly fill us. How awesome to be walking in His light, to be seeking Him, to be latching onto our callings at such a young age! Oh, my prayer, friends, is that we would all walk in our callings, for how beautiful will they unfold – like flowers opening under the sun – over the years and decades of our lives to come.

I would like to offer a snippet of a sermon from John Piper on this subject of youth and wisdom. He uses quotes from Ecclesiastes and Job that are just outstanding sources of encouragement on this topic.

To bring our minds into conformity with God. Job 32:8: “But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.” To walk in the Spirit, pursuing His calling on our lives in our youth, for indeed, we are not guaranteed tomorrow.

I really like the song “Song of Hope (Heaven Come Down)” by Robbie Seay Band. And there’s one line that gives me chills – it’s the first line of the chorus.

I will sing a song of hope, sing along

God of heaven come down, heaven come down

Just to know that you are near is enough

God of heaven come down, heaven come down

I will sing a song of hope. That is our calling – all of our calling – on this earth. Not literally singing, perhaps, but proclaiming the perfect Hope we have in our Creator.

Lord, I pray that I would have the courage to sing a song of hope, in whatever form you want me to sing, to whoever you want me to sing to. That I would not let my own fear get in the way. My own insecurities, my own anxieties about youth or inexperience or pride or whatever else I’m dealing with. Jesus, your strength is made perfect in my weakness. You are enough. All of you is enough for all of me. I pray for the strength to proclaim your word boldly, to love boldly, to sing boldly, to hope with a boldness and strength that can only come from you. Amen.

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April 23, 2010

Happiness vs. Contentment

Filed under: Choices,Faith — jeannablue @ 2:37 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

So often, we hear “I’m just not happy” as an excuse, whether for leaving a relationship, a job, an obligation, a family. While a continued lack of happiness may be indicative of an issue in your life, happiness is an emotion that is impossible to sustain 24/7. Contentment, however, is something that can be sustained, primarily because it comes directly from the Creator.

There is a reason why the Bible does not often talk about happiness but rather joy and contentment. To be sure, happiness is a good emotion! We may be extraordinarily happy when witnessing the work of the Lord, be it through a sunset or a newborn baby. I know that I am happy when I see a loved one after a time apart. Happiness abounds when friends unite for good conversation and laughter. But happiness cannot be continuously sustained, and consequently, it cannot sustain us.

And this makes sense: happiness is a uniquely temporal, earthly emotion, I think – an honest one, a good one, one that can be wrapped up in joy and contentment, but one that is altogether divorced from joy and contentment.

I’m mentioning joy and contentment together, but I really want to focus on contentment because it is such a different animal than happiness or even joy. In Philippians 4:11, Paul says, “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content.”

Contentment happens in all situations, good and bad. You can be content in the face of anything. You cannot be happy in the face of anything. At least, most people find it difficult to be happy in every situation.

Happiness and contentment are different in the ways they play out in our lives. Personally, contentment is a lot harder. Happiness is an emotion often induced by action – be it laughter, good conversation, or going down a zipline over volcanoes in Guatemala. Contentment, on the flip side, is similar to peace in that it’s not initially an action. We can choose to be content or to accept the peace of the Lord, but it’s not something we can strive for.

Contentment is something we rest in and accept. Happiness is the result of something we do. Do you see the difference?

Contentment comes through resting in the everlasting arms of our comforter, our lover, Jesus Christ. Are you resting in His arms? Or are you striving against them?

Christ gives us so many reasons to trust Him, so many reasons to rest in Him. The beautiful promises of our awesome God abound throughout the Old and New Testaments. The following are a random assortment of promises spoken by Jesus in the some of the Gospels…

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

“The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore: you are of more value than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:30-31

“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free…. If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed!” John 8:31, 36

“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10

“I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by my own…. My sheep hear My voice… and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” John 10:14, 27-28 (italics mine)

“In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 17:33

Do you hear the voice of your beautiful Savior? His very words promise knowledge of His truth, an abundant life, gifts that are good in His sight. He promises that He has overcome the world – for us. He sets us free from the confines of worry and pain, anxiety and a troubled heart… who the Son sets free is free indeed!

One of my favorite passages in all of Scripture is when Jesus tells us that He is the good shepherd and that we are His sheep. It is so humbling. I have no idea why He chooses us, but I am so very grateful that He does! What awesome gifts He gives us! What a blessing it is to be able to rest. In a troubled world filled with turmoil and tension, we as the beloved of Christ are offered rest… it is a free gift to any who believe in Him.

“I know My sheep, and am known by my own…. Neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand…”

That is why we can be content. Paul has learned in all things to be content – through shipwreck and snakebite and illness and prison and being jeered at and tormented… and this verse goes a long way in explaining why He is content. He knows his Savior, and his Saviors knows him, and Paul is able to rest in that. In the face of everything else, Paul knows that Jesus is right there with him. Paul was not alone, and we are not alone, either.

We are known by our Savior. You are known by Him. I am known by Him. Even when we do not acknowledge Him, He knows us. He loves us. He is the good shepherd who goes in search of His lost sheep.

Happiness comes and goes, and it is certainly fun, but I pray that it is not the litmus test that we measure our lives by. It is so inconstant, so reliant on our own selves and those around us. Contentment, though, is a guarantee from the one who put the stars in the sky. Contentment enables us to respond in faith to every situation. It is also perspective – contentment in the Lord gives us a good perspective on our lives.

Contentment = peace. No striving. No anxiety. No worry. Just an utter trust in our Lord and Savior. He is our Deliverer – He always delivers on His promises. His love never fails.

In all things, indeed, I am learning to be content. Lord, let that be so.

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