If I'm being honest, the past couple of weeks have been incredibly difficult. Not so much because of things that have happened to me, but more because of things that have been happening inside me. This all came to a head on Sunday morning. As soon as I finished preaching, I walked into a side room off of our stage, and I sat in the dark for about 20 minutes. While sitting there, a few thoughts ran through my mind.
- That sermon wasn't helpful for anybody.
- Why do I think I can do this?
- These people deserve a better pastor.
These thoughts were the culmination of several weeks of sharp self-criticism. The criticism started in small ways. "I'm not the husband I want to be." "I'm really failing my kids in some important ways right now." "I'm never going to be like these successful pastors I see on Instagram." "These people deserve better."
However, those thoughts that were few and far between came much more often and much louder in the coming days. It reached the point where I felt this constant wave of anxiety rush over me. I couldn't sleep. I physically felt sick. I was exhausted. The weight of who I wasn't was crushing me.
Following church on Sunday, my wife could tell something was wrong with me. We were standing in her grandmothers living room, and she was asking me what was going on. Finally, after a few minutes, I looked at her and exclaimed: "I can't live like this anymore." I burst into tears (which is unusual for me), and we went out to the garage so I could compose myself.
This kind of thinking has always been a struggle for me. I've always tended to dwell on the things I'm doing poorly. For some years, I was able to soothe my conscience by telling myself "You're only ____ years old, you have time to get it together." However, with each passing year, it's gotten harder to convince myself that all I need is a little more time to become the person I want to be.
At the root of this anxiety is a realization of what I'm not. I'm not the husband I want to be. I'm not the father I want to be. I'm not the pastor I want to be. I'm especially not the person I want to be. Over time, I had convinced myself I just needed a little more focus, self-discipline, or motivation to get my act together. I realized that those things weren't going to do the trick.
Sunday night, my wife and I were laying in bed, and she took the opportunity to remind me of something I had said in my sermon that morning (she has a habit of doing this). Earlier, I had told my church that a real relationship with Jesus couldn't begin until we were willing to admit that we need His help. We can't receive the gospel as good news until we're ready to accept that we can't clean ourselves up. Belief in Jesus is an admission that I need someone to save me. I need someone to do and be what I can't on my own.
I told my church these things on Sunday, and I meant it...for them. However, that truth was still having trouble penetrating my own heart and mind. It's easy to tell people that they need Jesus. It's a lot harder to believe that for yourself. Other people might not be able to get their act together, but I can. Just writing the words I see how foolish my thinking was.
I'm never going to be the person I want to be or think I should be. I'm not as good, talented, or strong as I think I am. I'm a person in need of help. These are hard realizations to come to, and they can cause someone to have one of two reactions.
1. It can lead to despair.
When I realized my weakness, it led me to a dark place. I despised myself for coming up short. I assumed others were going to reject me for the ways I failed them.
2. It can lead to freedom.
When we're willing to admit that we're weak, we're also ready to ask for help. God's work in our lives begins at the moment we come to him with our hands open, wholly dependent. "Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling."
God can use our weakness to drive us closer to Him. If we're not willing to believe that we're weak, we won't ask Jesus for help. If we can't own our shortcomings, we'll not need the gospel.
Martin Luther has been quoted as saying, "“We are all mere beggars showing other beggars where to find bread.” I knew I was a beggar, but I thought that meant I needed to work hard to earn my bread. I had been unwilling to ask my heavenly father to feed me.
The Apostle Paul was a man who understood the value of his weakness. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 he wrote to the church, "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." When we're willing to come to God in our weakness, Christ can move in our lives in power.
Maybe some of you are in a similar spot. You're frustrated with who you are. You feel like you can't get your relationship with God figured out. However, if you're honest, you're still trying to please God by your goodness and works. Your weakness has been driving you to work harder, not to rest more deeply in the power of God. Maybe what you need right now is to know and believe a few important things.
Your Father saved you, "not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy" (Titus 3:5).
Your Father "works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).
Your Father is the one, "who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 1:8).
There is a lot to be done in this life, and you can rest in the fact that you serve a good God who is at work to make those things happen. You can't do this on your own. It's impossible.
You and I are weak, and that's one of the most important things we can ever come to know.