“My own strength has saved me”

Daily Readings: Judges 7-8, Mark 10, Psalm 69

Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’ Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.

But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.”

So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.

The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.” So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.

Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. During that night the Lord said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp. The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.

Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.”

His friend responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.”

When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside.

Gideon 7:1-16

I love this story in Judges.

You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’

Sometimes I wonder how many times God has done in this my life without announcing it to me. I wonder how many times God has thought to himself, “Aaron has too many men in his army right now. He might begin to think any success he has is of his own doing. I need to thin this out a bit…”

When I look back over times in my life where I have faced quite a bit of adversity and really needed to lean on God to get through it, they have almost always been preceded by periods where I have been feeling pretty darn good about myself and what “I have been accomplishing”.

When the Lord chooses to bless us in our families, careers, ministries, etc. it is natural for this success to draw attention to us. It is natural that people can’t help but ask, “How did you do it?” At these moments there is the temptation for false humility that takes the shape of, “Well, God has been really good throughout…” and then launching into ten minutes of tactics, strategies, etc. that ‘actually brought about our success’. We know we are supposed to credit God in the beginning, but our heart is not really in it even as we say those words.

God doesn’t mind you sharing helpful strategies with others that might help them in their family lives, careers, etc. However, we short change God if we are not also sharing the times where we totally dropped the ball, had very little to do with our own success, and had no idea how things were going to come together; and then God stepped in.

Success in our lives can be a blessing with which we can bless others if we are able to share our shortcomings as well.

This is also true in advance of potential success.

When people ask you, “How is everything going in your career?” or “How is your marriage going?” or “How have your kids been?” the natural tendency is to want to make things sound rosier than they are.

If the true way you are feeling about your career is, “I will be honest with you, I have been sick with worry a lot recently and I feel like God is the only thing keeping it together right now” say that. By going with, “good, really good” we rob people of the ability to come alongside us in support when we need it most.

We also rob God of future glory.

When he works the miraculous and there is an incredible, unexplainable comeback story in your business, marriage, or as a parent; no one knows about it. There is no glory given to God. People are not able to look and see 300 men with Gideon routing the Midianites. They just see “business still going well, marriage still chugging along, kids still appearing to be good kids”.

I wonder how many times God has thinned out my army so that I would turn back to him in desperation and tearfully proclaimed, “God, I don’t know what I am going to do!”

In these moments, if we genuinely turn to God and place our challenges in his hands, I think he frequently does for us what he did for Gideon.

“Go down into the camp and hear what they are saying.”

God wants to encourage us. He wants to let us know that everything will ultimately be ok.

Sometimes this might take the shape of divine inspiration on things you should do to right the ship. Sometimes it takes the shape of a kind word from a friend speaking truth to you and lifting you up. Sometimes it is a dream, a passage in the Bible you read that morning, or a line from a worship song that speaks directly to your heart and the situation you find yourself in.

God says, “I have got this, if you will just trust in me.”

I don’t want to be an unaware Gideon. I want to be honest with challenges in my life and give God the glory in advance, not just in hindsight. I want to push boldly into challenges with full confidence that God will work in this situation in one way or another.

I want to take my 300 down into the camp expecting victory.

Thought to ponder

What is my Midianite army currently? What area of my life do I need to turn over to God instead of leaning on my own strength? Are there any recent successes in my life where I have been tempted to take all of the credit and not allowed God to get the glory?

 

True Humility

Daily Readings: Joshua 3-4, 2 Corinthians 10, Psalm 58

By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away! I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

 You are judging by appearances.

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in someone else’s territory. But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

2 Corinthians 10:1-5, 7, 13-17

One of the biggest fears that hold most people back from fully living out the calling God has for all Christ followers is the fear of rejection. The fear of being judged, talked about, smirked at and dismissed. The fear of not being enough.

In 2 Corinthians today we see Paul dealing with this fear actually manifesting itself amongst the church he planted in Corinth. It is obvious from reading this portion of Paul’s letter that there has been some grumbling amongst the church about Paul. Certain people have been stirring up anti-Paul sentiments.

“Who does this Paul guy think he is anyway? His teaching is really pretty weak and timid. I didn’t find him all that compelling while he was here and now he is trying to be the ultimate authority? He sure is talking a big game now that he is gone!”

I know personally, this would be one of my greatest insecurities realized.

“This guy sure thinks highly of himself!”

It is a pretty tough critique to just shrug off, even for the most mature, grounded and centered follower of Jesus. None of us likes to feel judged and having our intentions be the very thing that is being picked apart is one of the worst feelings there is.

I don’t mind if someone wants to critique my knowledge, delivery, presence, etc. However, having my motives and integrity questioned, that stings…

I think we can all relate to how Paul probably felt when putting pen to paper at this moment. We have all been there at some point in our lives. In today’s world, the fear of coming off wrong in a world that is quick to label Christians as hypocrites, bigots, judgmental, etc. can be a bit overpowering.

“Maybe it is just safer to focus on my own relationship with Jesus, going deeper with friends who already know Christ, and just leave it at that!”

I love Paul’s response today.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

I can almost see him shaking his head with a smile and saying, “Look, as you are all focused on my delivery, I am going to be over here absolutely DEMOLISHING STRONGHOLDS of the enemy. I am just going to continue helping people find freedom from the things that have held them captive through saving faith in Jesus. You keep worrying about worldly concerns, I am going to keep breaking chains and setting captives free!”

The way he closed this section of his letter really spoke to me as well.

But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

People in today’s world are always going to question motives.

“Are they just trying to build their own brand? Are they just trying to get their own following? Are they just using ‘Jesus’ to advance their own agenda?”

Sadly, there are many times where the answer is yes. However, even Christians with the purest of hearts will have their motives questioned if they are confidently speaking about their faith long enough. It is inevitable.

We can’t control the thoughts that others are going to have about us, but how we choose to respond is up to us.

Paul says, “This really isn’t about me.”

Paul wasn’t out there trying to build “Paul’s brand”. He wasn’t basking in his fame and notoriety. He was focused on continually building the kingdom. He was focused on the harvest.

If we let the opinions of other people build our confidence too much, it is easy to make sharing the good news all about us. And on the opposite side, if we care too much about those opinions, we frequently never even get started.

C.S. Lewis said that, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.”

Striking that balance where we are unafraid to share about Jesus confidently, but not fall into the trap of making it all about ourselves is tough. However, true humility is not something we can obtain by chasing after it. In fact, if we are thinking about whether or not we are demonstrating enough confidence or enough humility, we should stop for a moment and laugh, realizing that we are still thinking too much about ourselves!

Both pride and under confidence are from the enemy. And he is incredibly good at his job!

We need to turn all of it back over to Christ, get out of our own heads, and just be in the present moment. The moment we are in is where the magic happens.

True peace comes from true humility, which only comes from completely turning our ego over to Jesus and focusing on his will instead of our own.

Paul demonstrates that for us today.

This is so incredibly challenging, but being self-aware enough to recognize when we are straying down the path of under confidence or pride, is the first step. When we are self aware, we can catch ourselves and immediately ask for God’s help at the moment it is happening, instead of asking for forgiveness later.

This true humility Paul models for us, and which C.S. Lewis so articulately describes, has immense power to impact others. An army of Christians demonstrating this true humility has the power to change the world.

Thought to ponder

What are warning signs I can be self-aware of that could signal to me that I am heading down the path of making things all about me? Knowing our typical triggers and what the first step down that path usually looks like has a huge impact on our ability to turn back to God in the moment when the enemy first starts to attack and tempt us to focus on ourselves!

Remembering the desert in times of abundance

Daily Readings: Deuteronomy 7-8, 1 Corinthians 11, Psalm 48

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today. 

Deuteronomy 8:10-18

This passage rings true today more than ever. In our current world we value our own personal hard work, ingenuity, and ability to make something of ourselves above almost everything else. We preach the American Dream.

As a result, it is so easy as a follower of Christ, to look around when things are going well and say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 

There have been many phases in my life where God has humbled me in enough circumstances that I am able to step back and truly appreciate the blessings in my life and see his hand on all of it. I can say with confidence, “This was all because of God.”

However, if I were being honest, I must confess that more frequently throughout my life I would express that same spirit of thankfulness towards God out loud to others, while simultaneously trying to convince myself that it is true even as I am speaking the words and a large part of me feels like these successes in my life are mostly me.

We might not consciously think these thoughts, but subconsciously my brain frequently falls into the following pattern: ‘God certainly played a role, blessed me with certain talents and abilities, and brought opportunities into my life; but ultimately I worked really hard, took risks, constantly sought knowledge to improve personally, etc. God obviously played a role, but I deserve some credit too.’

It is extremely easy to fall into false humility. It is incredibly natural to embrace the type of humility that we see throughout our culture where people deflect praise somewhat disingenuously, but even from their delivery you can tell they think pretty highly of themselves.

On the other hand, it is so refreshing to see Christians not afraid of embracing the gifts that God has given to them, fearlessly seek to maximize those gifts, don’t feel the need to artificially deflect praise, but genuinely give all of the glory to God instead; not as a tactic to appear more Christian, but because that is the true posture of their heart.

So difficult…

When I find myself struggling in this area the question I naturally ask is, “Well how do I do that? What should I say in response to someone who is giving me praise for accomplishments or anything else?” I think these questions miss the mark. They are still focused on tactics. They are still worrying about how our response will come off to others. “What will they think when I say that? Will it seem genuine?”

Me, me, me, me, me.

It is akin to reading a self-improvement book on how to build better rapport with others, make others feel important, make people you lead feel more valued, help people feel heard, etc. without actually viewing them as more important, sincerely desiring to understand them better, truly wanting to hear them more, and ultimately having your focus on them instead of your own personal response to them.

It is about the heart, not tactics.

The exact same response of, “Thank you. I really appreciate that. It has been pretty amazing seeing God’s hand through all of it.” can sound very differently depending on how much we actually believe it. It can come off as genuinely understanding where all of our blessings flow from or it can seem like typical false humility from a posing Christian.

It is not about the words, it is about the heart.

Here is the other thing Christians need to embrace; you are not responsible for how they hear your response. You might sincerely believe what you are saying and there still might be jaded people that think you are just giving them a fake line because it is what you are “supposed to say as a Christian”. That is totally ok. If you are worrying about how they interpret your response, you are still thinking too much about yourself. You are still operating from a “me centered” posture instead of centered on Christ.

Give glory to God and trust the result.

For me, whenever I am feeling a bit too proud about any single thing in life that is going pretty well, I try to take a step back and remember how many times throughout my life things just about went off the rails. I take myself back to situations that went poorly or almost went poorly, but where I could see God’s hand redeeming the situation. Immediately my heart is back in a posture of extreme thankfulness.

That is the advice of Moses today to the Israelites. He knows they are on the verge of being the generation that experiences massive blessings at the hands of the Lord and the human nature that is about to set in. He encourages them to always look back. He encourages them to catch themselves in moments of pride and remember the moments of wandering through the desert.

He encourages them to intentionally cultivate a heart of gratitude.

It is advice that we could all use from time to time.

Thought to ponder

Where is my heart towards successes I have seen throughout my life? What are some ‘wandering in the desert’ moments that would be helpful for me to remember to keep my heart truly thankful to God during moments of abundant blessing?

Staying humble

Daily Readings: Numbers 27-28, Proverbs 8, 1 Corinthians 4

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.  We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment. I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children.

1 Corinthians 4:8-14

There are some letters from Paul back to churches that he planted where you need to look a tad deeper to discern exactly what was happening in that particular church at that particular time. The Book of 1 Corinthians is not one of those books! It is clear throughout Paul’s first letter back to the church at Corinth that a large number of church leaders have become quite pleased with themselves and the successes they have been having and that this arrogance is beginning to cause divisions within the church.

I have heard it said that you judge a person less by how they handle failure and more by how they handle success. I have seen this to be true over and over again.

This is such a critical thing to remember as marketplace missionaries. It is easy, during periods of abundance, to feel like God is smiling down on us and that our walk being in line with his will in our lives is the source of all of these blessings. That is close enough to accurate to feel biblically sound, but far enough away to be extremely dangerous.

It is true that all of our blessings come from God. This is undeniable and a fundamental truth that is so important to remember as a Christian. Anything that we have here on earth is a blessing that we should show constant thanks for.

However, when we begin to say, “Look at how closely I am walking with Jesus! No wonder things are going well! God is blessing me because of what a faithful follower I have been!” pride can very quickly set in. We begin to feel like these blessings are something that we have earned and are entitled to “because of our amazing faith”.

It is pretty easy to see this happening in the church Paul planted in Corinth.

Paul has some pretty sharp words for them and challenges them to think twice before embracing this logic.

I have many friends and family members that are working diligently as overseas missionaries in incredibly difficult locations to minister to. They have far fewer luxuries, face constant threat, and from the outside looking in it would appear that they have far fewer worldly blessings than we have. In some of these regions of the world it takes years to break through to even a handful of people. If, in the meantime, things are going relatively well over here on our side of the Atlantic in terms of income and we have also seen numerous people coming to Christ, does that mean we must be walking more closely with Jesus and that is the source of our blessing? Does that mean that we are doing a better job and preaching a truer version of the gospel message that is breaking through in a more powerful way?

Arrogance is a dangerous poison to allow into the lifeblood of a church. Once we begin to view a specific pastor, church leader, author, speaker, etc. as the key to why the church is thriving, we take the focus off of Christ. We take the focus off of the gospel.

The best leaders within the Christian community operate with humility. They understand that they are simply vessels for God to utilize and not the authors of the message itself. A key distinction.

Many sin issues we struggle with, as Christians, are far easier to diagnose than pride. It is much easier to know if you are struggling with jealousy, lust, anger, etc. Pride is sneaky. Pride disguises itself well. Pride is one of the most useful weapons the enemy has to take well meaning, actively engaged Christians off course.

Paul offers us the same warning that he offered to the church at Corinth.

As marketplace missionaries, especially when things appear to be going well, it is a warning worth listening to!

Thought to ponder

When have I recently fallen into an attitude that might have resembled the attitude of self-righteousness seen in the Corinthians? When this occurs, how can I refocus on Christ and giving him the glory?

Show me your ways, Lord.

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Daily Readings: Exodus 21-22, Psalm 25

Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you, Lord, are good.

Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way.
All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.

-Psalm 25:4-10

It takes a great deal of humility to pray the prayer that David wrote in Psalm 25 with sincerity. I have caught myself at many times in my life wrestling with a decision and not wanting to pray that God would show me his ways. In these moments I didn’t want to know which path God would prefer me to head down. During these instances I wanted to fall back on the fact that God gave me a brain and I wanted to use it!

He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. 

The truth, in these moments, is that I typically didn’t want to turn this decision over to God because I was afraid of what the answer might be and not sure I wanted to walk down the path that I had an inkling God might send me down. I might say a quick little prayer for 30 seconds so that I could say that I did, but there was no sincere meditation upon the topic. I wasn’t turning to scripture. I didn’t really want to spend enough time in peace and quiet where God could actually place something upon my heart.

When Christian friends would ask, “Well, have you prayed about it?” I could respond with, “Yeah, you know, I have, but don’t really feel like I have gotten a clear answer.” without it being too big of a lie…right?

I imagine I am not alone in this.

This doesn’t just apply to big decisions. God wants to walk with you all day, every day. He wants us turning to him constantly and not just in the big decisions. He wants us, like David, praying, “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”

This is so challenging in our western world where we are constantly told the value of self-reliance, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, and being the captain of your own ship. We have been coached into the opposite of humility and submission.

As a missionary in the marketplace, there is no better example we can set than one of humility. There is so much power in people seeing Christians who are unafraid to live their lives in complete submission to the will of God. There is a different level of peace and tranquility surrounding a Christian who is allowing God to guide their path and consistently allowing God to show them his ways. Even in the midst of chaos and stress, they seem far less flustered. Their faith is built on the rock and not the sand.

It starts with the little decisions. I am a big believer that 98% of the time we all know the right thing to do because God’s truth is beautifully simple. When we walk with integrity and simply choose to do the next right thing, each and every day, God shows up. When we form the habit of submitting to God in these little moments throughout the day, when we are tempted to take a shortcut from God’s path, it becomes easier and easier to invite God into the big moments as well.

The good news is; life becomes so much more peaceful when we do this as well! It is easy to believe the lie that following God’s will is hard, requires discipline, is less fun, etc. And yet, I have found over and over again in my life the opposite to be true. When I am choosing to make the next right decision, to do the next right thing, life becomes so much more fun and I have so much more peace.

All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant. 

Today I will choose to embrace this truth and enjoy walking with him because all of his ways truly are loving and faithful.

Thought to ponder

What are areas of my life where I tend to avoid turning to God for advice? What are little decisions on a daily basis where I have not fully embraced simply doing the next right thing?

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