How do I defeat my worst fears? Part 4

11 So the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? 12 Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.’ ” Exodus 4:11-12

In Exodus 3-4, we are learning from Moses’ interaction with God how to defeat our worst fears. The Lord told Moses to go back to Egypt to lead His people to freedom. But Moses had many fears that impeded him from doing God’s will. Those fears included the fear of inadequacy (Exodus 3:11), embarrassment (Exodus 3:13), and rejection (Exodus 4:1). God diffused these fears with His responses (Exodus 3:12a, 14-15; 4:2-3).

But this still wasn’t enough for Moses. “Then Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ ” (Exodus 4:10). Moses was also struggling with THE FEAR OF COMPARISON (Exodus 4:10). Moses is saying, “I am not a good speaker.” Compared to whom? His only audience is sheep. How does he know he is not a good speaker? It is not like he has other shepherds to listen to on the TV channel. How does he know? He is comparing himself to others.

Or perhaps he is comparing himself to when he was living in the palace of the king of Egypt for forty years and received the best education in the world (Acts 7:20-23). But after listening to sheep the last forty years “baaaaing” in the wilderness (Acts 7:23, 30), he had lost his eloquence and confidence.

All of us have a lot of abilities and talents to serve God with, but we don’t know that yet because we have not tried to use them. People have said to me in America, “Jeff, I can’t talk about the Lord in America. Why in the world should I go overseas to do it?”

How does God respond to this fear of comparison? 11 So the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11).

“When God commanded Moses to speak to Pharaoh on his behalf, God was not unaware of Moses’s weaknesses. Similarly, when he calls you to kingdom service, he knows about your fears and your shortcomings. This, in fact, is a reminder that God didn’t choose you to serve him because he desperately needed your qualities on his team. He chose you so that you could reflect his glory to the world. Paul told the Corinthians, ‘Consider your calling: Not many were wise from a human perspective, not many powerful. . .. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong . . . so that no one may boast in his presence” (1 Cor 1:26-29).’ ” 1

God wasn’t concerned about Moses’ eloquence or lack thereof. Moses was God’s man regardless of how Moses felt about it. Therefore, God said to him, “Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.” (Exodus 4:12). The deliverance of God’s people from Egypt did not ultimately depend upon Moses, but on God.

But you may say, “That is great, but that is Moses. What about me?” Did you know that God has made the same promise to you and me? Jesus said, “Don’t worry about what you’ll say or how you’ll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words.” (Matthew 10:19-20 MSG). That is a promise to you and me if we are doing what God calls us to do. By God’s grace, I have experienced this promise repeatedly, and you can too if you do what God calls you to do.

Prayer:  Almighty God, thank You for reminding us that Your presence in our lives will provide all that is needed to accomplish Your will. As our Creator, You not only know all our fears and weaknesses, but You also have the power to overcome them and display Your glory through them. We are humbled that You would even choose us to be a part of Your redemptive plan for the world. Thank You Almighty God. In the matchless name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 198.

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 2

“And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’ ” I Kings 19:4b

We are learning from the prophet Elijah how to climb out of the pit of discouragement. After experiencing a tremendous spiritual victory on Mt. Carmel against the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18:20-40), Elijah encountered resistance from the vicious Queen Jezebel whose god Baal was defeated and her prophets killed (I Kings 19:1-2). When Jezebel threatens his life, Elijah gets scared and runs into the desert and prays that he might die (I Kings 19:3-4). He has gone from the mountaintop of victory to the bottom of the pit of discouragement.

Last time we saw the first step to take out of the pit of discouragement was to focus on the facts, not your feelings (I Kings 19:1-4). To climb higher out of the pit of discouragement, DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF WITH OTHERS (I Kings 19:4b). “And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’ ” (I Kings 19:4b). When Elijah said, “I am no better than my fathers,” he was comparing himself to his ancestors who failed to remove Baal-worship completely from Israel. He was feeling guilty for not being any better than they had been.

When we start comparing ourselves with others, we are going to get discouraged. We may try to motivate ourselves through criticism and condemnation. We do it by “shoulding” ourselves. “I should be more like that person. I should be able to act better and feel better like him or her.” Nagging ourselves like this leads to discouragement.

There is only one person that you can be, and that is you. That is all God expects. When you get to heaven, God is not going to ask you, “Why weren’t you more like him or her?” Most likely He will ask, “Why weren’t you like the person I created you to be?”

The Bible tells us, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10). Before we become Christians, we are defined by our “trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). That is what defined us and drove our lives. But now we are “in Christ” (Ephesians 2:10). We used to be “dead” spiritually (Ephesians 2:1), but now we are God’s “workmanship” (Ephesians 2:10).  

The word “workmanship” comes from the Greek word poiēma which is where we get our English word “poem” from. A poem is a collection of words that are specially chosen and put together so that they make a powerful statement that lasts. God is saying that you are His heavenly poem – you have been specially chosen by God to make a powerful statement about His grace that endures forever.

Another word that describes poiēma is the term “masterpiece.” Like a painting that has been specially created or like a potterer carefully creating something out of clay that is unique and has His personality and stamp put on it. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are God’s Masterpiece – something He has poured Himself into to change your life. You used to be defined by sin and shame, but now you are defined by being in Christ. And God sees in you holiness … beauty… and goodness. Everything He sees in Jesus Christ He now sees in you.

You may see yourself as this person who has failed or who lacks certain abilities, but God sees you as royalty… as His masterpiece. Perhaps the voices from your past have told you that you were a mistake… that you can’t do anything right. But God is now telling you that you are His masterpiece – a beautiful work of heavenly art that He is putting on display for all to see and admire just how great His grace is toward you. 

The last part of Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are … created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” This verse tells us why God created us. We are “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” That is God’s plan for us. Before we were even born, God planned the “good works,” the specific ministry, He wants us to have. We don’t have to make things happen. We can rely on the Lord to show us the good works He wants us to do.

How do we know God’s plan for us after we believe in Jesus? We look at the way God has shaped us. I have borrowed the acrostic S.H.A.P.E. from Rick Warren’s ministry. God has uniquely shaped us for a reason. Let’s look at five things that shape us to serve the Lord:

S – Spiritual gifts (I Peter 4:10). Ask yourself, “What am I gifted to do for the Lord?” God has given believers in Jesus one or more spiritual gifts with which to serve Him in ministry (Romans 12:3-8; I Corinthians 12:7, 11; Ephesians 4:11-13). The best way to discover your spiritual gifts is to start serving the Lord Jesus in a local church. He will manifest your gifts as you begin to serve.

H – your Heart (I Samuel 12:20b; Romans 15:20; Galatians 4:18; Colossians 3:23-24). Ask yourself, “What do I love to do for the Lord?” There are some things we love to do and there are some things we hate to do. The things we love to do reflect our hearts. Where did we get that natural inclination? God put it in us. The Lord wants our ministries to be a blessing, not a burden. So it is a legitimate question to ask yourself, “What do I love to do?” Why would God give you a ministry that He hasn’t given you a heart for? When you look at your gifts and your heart, what do you love to do? What are you passionate about? What motivates you?  What gets you excited?  That is your heart. Some people love to serve or help others. Others love to influence, improve, perform, repair, prevail, follow the rules, or lead and be in charge.

A – your Ability (Exodus 31:3; I Corinthians 12:6; 2 Corinthians 3:5). Ask yourself, “What natural talent and skills do I have?  What vocational skills have I learned?  What natural talents have I been given by God?“ God wants to use the natural talents and skills you have in ministry. Some of you may have skills in arts and crafts, childbirth, computers, cooking, communication, construction, counseling, decorating, graphics, law, management, mechanics, media, music, safety, security, sewing, singing, song-writing, speaking, and teaching, etc. Be open to God using these natural talents or skills in your ministry.

P – your Personality (I Corinthians 2:11; Galatians 1:13-14). We are all very different.  We have all got different personalities, different blends of temperament.  Ask yourself, Where does my personality best suit me to serve?” If you are an introverted person you would probably not want to get involved in being a greeter at church. That would place a lot of additional stress on your life. When you have an area that you may be gifted to do and a heart to do, but you don’t have the personality to do it, it puts enormous stress on your life. God doesn’t want you to have to do that. 

E – your Experiences. There are four different kinds of experiences you want to look at when you are trying to discover the shape God has given you. First, ask yourself, “What kind of spiritual experiences have I had?” (Galatians 1:12, 15-18; Hebrews 5:12-13). This has to do with the times you have had with the Lord. Maybe you encountered God at a retreat or campground or at home, or as a young person, or during a crisis you went through, and that brought you closer to the Lord. 

Next ask yourself, “What kind of painful experiences have I had?” (2 Corinthians 1:4; 11:23-27; 12:7-10). God often allows us to go through a painful experience and then heals us and comforts us in that experience so that He will give us the ministry of helping other people in that very same thing. Who can relate to somebody who is struggling with alcoholism better than somebody who has been an alcoholic?  Who can better relate to somebody who has lost a child in miscarriage or stillbirth than somebody who has had a miscarriage or stillbirth. God never wastes a painful experience. Even the painful experiences we bring on ourselves through our own decisions, God wants to use in ministry.

Next ask yourself, “What kind of educational experiences have I had?” (Acts 22:3). What have you learned? Maybe you have educational training in computers or dance or debate or auto mechanics or teaching children. God wants to use these experiences in your ministry to others.

Then ask yourself, “What kind of ministry experiences have I had?” (2 Corinthians 9:13). Some of us have already served the Lord in ministry and we have proven ourselves in the body of Christ and can see what God has done in our lives. Others of us may be new to the Christian faith and have not yet served God in a ministry.  

All five of these things shape you and make you, you. When you understand how God has shaped you, then you will know His plan for your life, and how and where He wants you to serve Him.

When we trusted in Christ for salvation, we probably did not realize how much everything changed. We thought we were just forgiven and going to heaven. But God has so much more for us here and now. And He wants us to be encouraged and see ourselves as the new person we are through His eyes. Because when we do, being a Christian is not a matter of living by rules and trying to clean up this and that. It is a matter of living as the royalty that God has made us by the blood of His Son. When we understand this, there will be no need to compare ourselves to others. We will be free to be the unique person God created us in Christ to be.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, when we take our eyes off of You, it is easy to compare ourselves with others and become discouraged. Right now, Lord God, we want to pause and reconnect with You. Please restore our union with You. Help us to see ourselves through Your eyes in Christ. Before Jesus, we used to be defined by our sin and shame, but now we are defined by being in Christ. And You see in us all the holiness … beauty… and goodness that You see in Jesus Christ. Everything You see in Jesus You now see in us. Thank You for the good works You have prepared for us to walk in. Please help each one of us to identify the shape You have given us so we may bring You the most glory by following Your plan for each of our lives. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

How can we follow the risen Lord Jesus without reservation? Part 1

21 Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, ‘But Lord, what about this man?’” John 21:21

Last time in John 21, we finished focusing on the feeding stage of discipleship where Peter began to minister to others out of his own brokenness and love for Jesus (John 21:15-19). The risen Lord Jesus appeared to Peter after His death and resurrection to reaffirm Peter’s leadership position as one of His apostles. After Peter had publicly denied knowing Jesus three times, Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to confess his love for Jesus (John 21:15-17). After Peter did this, Jesus tells Peter how he is going to die, and then he tells Peter to follow Him (21:18-19). Peter knows now that following Jesus means he is going to have to die. Jesus knew Peter was affectionately drawn to Him, but now Jesus tells Peter to be totally committed to following Him without any reservations. According to church tradition, Peter would ask for crucifixion upside down because he felt unworthy to suffer as Jesus had. This is followed by the focusing stage found in John 20:20-22.

In the next scene Peter is walking along with Jesus away from the other disciples who had gathered for breakfast on the beach. “Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, ‘Lord, who is the one who betrays You?’ ” (John 21:20). Not wanting to miss any of Jesus’ teachings, John, “The disciple whom Jesus loved,” was following a short distance behind Jesus and Peter. John was already doing what Jesus commanded Peter to do – he was following the Lord Jesus. The relationship between Peter, John and Jesus is a most interesting dynamic. Peter is the Lord’s obvious choice as leader of the disciples, but John is Christ’s closest friend. Surely the memory of the Last Supper is fresh in Peter’s mind. The future leader of the church had to depend upon John to find out who would betray their Lord (John 13:21-26). 

So, when Jesus solemnly predicts Peter’s future crucifixion on the cross (John 21:18-19), Peter’s immediate reaction is what John could expect. “Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, ‘But Lord, what about this man? ‘ ” (John 21:21). Peter had just learned from Jesus that following Christ would cost him his life. Now he wondered what John could expect. “What about John, Lord? You are asking me to follow You unto death… What about him? Aren’t you going to give him the same responsibilities and perils as I?” It seems like Peter is comparing his relationship with Jesus to John’s relationship with Jesus? “I always knew you liked John best, Lord, and he would have it better than me.”

Let me ask you this: Who is your John? Who is it that you present to the Lord and ask, “What about this person, Lord? Why does he or she have it so good when I have got it so bad? Their marriage is marvelous but mine is miserable. His ministry is soaring while mine is stalling. He gets all the attention, but nobody even notices me.” Or “It seems they never have any problems, but we are drowning in ours. It just isn’t fair!” we say. Do you struggle with this? You don’t like God’s will for your life, so you focus on His will for another’s life. If we cannot control God’s will for our own lives, we will try to control His will for another person’s life – and on and on it goes, the games we play with the Lord.

From this we learn that the first way to follow Jesus without reservation is to AVOID COMPARING OURSELVES WITH OTHER FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST (JOHN 21:20-21). When Jesus instructs us to do something we are uncomfortable with, it is easy to avoid it by focusing on His will for someone else. This is what Peter was doing when he asked Jesus what John could expect. When we start comparing God’s will for us with His will for another Christian, we can easily start to feel sorry for ourselves. Why me? Self-pity can quickly lead to failure to follow Jesus. Why? Because if we are using all our energy on self-pity, we will not have any energy left over to follow Christ. Self-pity takes all the energy that we have and more. It drains the energy right out of us. 

The great thing about Jesus is that He knows our future. He knew what Peter was going to face in his life as he followed the risen Lord Jesus. So, He told Peter about the difficulties he was going to face in advance (John 21:18-19). Although God has not told us specifically that we are going to be crucified in the future like He did with Peter, He has told us that we can expect “hatred” (John 15:18-19; 16:1-4) and “tribulation” (John 16:33) in the world. Following Christ includes pain and suffering. To think otherwise is unrealistic.

Therefore, the apostle Paul wrote when he was in prison for preaching Christ, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29). Suffering for Jesus’ sake is purposeful, not purposeless. God uses suffering in our lives for our good and for His glory. “As believers in Christ the Philippians could expect to suffer for Him as did Paul. Suffering for Christ matures a believer (James 1:2-4), and Christ will reward those who persevere through suffering (Matthew 5:10-12; Romans 8:17b).” 1

When Peter’s focus was directed toward Christ’s will for John, it reminds me of something significant about Peter. His problems always came when he got his eyes off Jesus. For example, when Peter and the other disciples were caught in a storm and Jesus walked on water to them, Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus (Matthew 14:22-29). But when he took his eyes off Jesus and onto the wind and waves, he began to sink in the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:30). After Jesus predicted His upcoming death and resurrection, Peter gets his eyes off Jesus and onto the success the disciples are having (Matthew 16:21-22), so Jesus chastises him, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”  (Matthew 16:23). When he takes his eyes off Jesus and onto his fears, he denies Jesus three times in the courtyard (John 18:15, 25, 27). And then when he takes his eyes off Jesus and focuses on another disciple, he is drawn away again (John 21:20-21). He is setting himself up for another failure.

Whenever we compare ourselves to another Christian, we are setting ourselves up for failure? Why? Because God doesn’t intend for us to be carbon copies. Just like no two snowflakes are alike, no two people are alike. We are not in competition with anybody else. It can be tough for us as Christians to believe we are unique because there are two competing pressures in the world: 

First, the pressure of conforming in everything – peer pressures, advertising, pressures to conform to be alike. We are pressured to do what others do; to look like others look.

Then there is the pressure of comparing. In America, we have made comparing a science.  In this competitive environment, we compare everything – how we look, our clothes, our cars, our homes, our intelligence, our background, social and economic status – as if it really matters. You are unique and nobody can be like you so why compare?

The Bible says that since we are all unique, we should not compare ourselves. “Each person should judge his own actions and not compare himself with others. Then he can be proud for what he himself has done.” (Galatians 6:4 NCV). Don’t compare yourself to others; just be proud of what you have done by the grace of God.

Also, when we compare ourselves to others, there will always be someone worse off -which can lead us to become prideful. Or there will be someone better off – which can lead to discouragement. Either way, we become more vulnerable to failure.

None of us are responsible for another’s commitment to Christ, only our own. When it comes to doing God’s will, God has not said we must answer for anyone else except ourselves. When we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ in the future to receive rewards from Jesus, each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10-12). We won’t stand before Christ to give an account of other Christians. We will only speak for ourselves when Jesus asks us to tell Him what we did with what He gave us.

If you have never been tempted to look at another believer and focus on somebody else, you probably have not been a Christian more than ninety seconds. The truth is it is a temptation in all our lives. Jesus is reminding us to keep our eyes on Him, not on someone else. When our eyes are locked onto Christ, we will find unspeakable joy, peace, and life.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we must confess that all of us can fall into the comparison trap just like Peter did, especially when Your will for our lives is difficult for us to accept. It is easier to focus on Your will for another’s life when Your will for our lives is not what we want. Forgive us our Lord and our God, for focusing on Your will for others instead of Your will for us. Lord Jesus, we want to follow You. It does not matter to us what other disciples do. It doesn’t matter to us what other Christian leaders do. We are not following them. We are following You. So, Jesus, tonight, we renew that simple commitment to follow You no matter what the cost. In Your matchless name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1081.