Thursday, May 3, 2007

How Low Can You Go?

Have you ever had a time in you life where disappointment seemed to be waiting for you around every corner? You feel ineffective at work. You seem to fade into the background at church. You sense your weakness as a spouse and your shallowness as a parent. A big red neon sign seems to hang over your head flashing “FAILURE”. Or so it seems…

It’s as if someone pulled the release valve when you weren’t looking and all of a sudden, the pressures of the world seem to push all the air out of your spiritual and emotional balloon. Limp and ashamed you feel lost in a cloud of insignificance. Your self-esteem looks like the bullet riddled street sign found along a lonely country road.

“God must be trying to get your attention”, some might suggest.

“Fine”, you respond. “But I really wish He would get on with it.”

Ever been there? I have. More often than I would like to admit.

As I considered this repeating episode in my life, I began to consider what it means to be disappointed. Webster says that disappointment is quite simply: the failure to meet expectations.

OK, fine. But whose expectations? If I seem to be plagued by disappointment, whose expectations am I not meeting? What is the standard I am being judged by?

I know there are times I look to others to determine this standard. I presuppose that my wife would like for me to perform in a certain way in order to demonstrate that I am worthy of her respect and admiration. I assume my sons have a predetermined ideal of the dad they would be proud of and I must strive to match that profile. At work I must be a leader worth following. A person with uncompromising vision and endless ideas for ever increasing levels of success. As an elder, of all people, I need to have the answers. After all, I spend endless hours in Bible study resulting in a flawless theological framework and a firm grip on all things Biblical.

Or perhaps they are my own expectations. Goals I set or objectives I strive to meet. But are they really? What am I using as the acceptable standard for comparison? All too often the expectations I have for myself are determined by the expectations I perceive from others. They are not my own after all. They are an unachievable, always changing, impossibility. The inevitable result…disappointment around every corner.

Yet the Bible repeatedly demonstrates what God does with those of us who struggle with their own inadequacy. Consider for example Elijah, “a man of like passions as we are,” who ran from his enemy Jezebel. Yet when he admitted his fears, God listened and used him powerfully. I think of Jonah, with whom God used dramatic circumstances to gain his attention. In His grace, God still used a bitter, reluctant man to save an entire nation. I think of Paul’s self-seeking contemporaries mentioned in Philippians 1. They were preaching the gospel out of unworthy motives, and were causing Paul distress, yet he acknowledged they were being used by God to spread the Good News.

Even Charles Haddon Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers in recent history knew well the limitations of his own self. Based on his enormous reputation and accomplishments, many people assume Spurgeon must have experienced great peace, contentment, and prosperity. After all, his dedication to God and the power with which God anointed his life and ministry were obvious. Surely his was a life of satisfaction and fulfillment.

The facts, however, are vastly different. Spurgeon carried a heavy burden throughout his years of ministry. Wrote Richard Day, one of his biographers, “There was one aspect of Spurgeon’s life, glossed over by most of his biographers, that we must now view with utter frankness: he was frequently in the grip of terrific depression.” Further, he was often ill, spending weeks at a time in bed, so many that he told the leaders of his church they ought to replace him. (They wisely chose not to.)[1]

Spurgeon, like the rest of us, was a man of many weaknesses. He had his doubts, his anxieties, his struggles with emotion. He wrestled mightily with the tension between being holy and being human. Yet the God he served is one who seems to specialize in making tremendous use of flawed instruments. I sometimes think, in fact, that God chooses to make the greatest use of those people with the greatest flaws.

In that I take comfort! I remember the Lord’s words to Paul when he says, “My power is made perfect in weakness,”(2 Cor. 12:9) to which Paul responded, as we should, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.… For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Except for Jesus Christ, God has always used flawed instruments. Always. It is a gift of grace I thankfully accept.

[1]Jay Kesler, vol. 13, Being Holy, Being Human : Dealing With the Expectations of Ministry, The Leadership library (Carol Stream, Ill.; Waco, Tex.: CTI; Word Books, 1988), 179.

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