Encouragement is the oxygen of the soul.
George M. Adams
Do you know the joy of a well-timed word? The sweetness of an apt reply?
Those sort of words met me this morning. Some timely words caught me by surprise before I even left my bed. But before I share those words, I’ll quick explain the season.
We’ll make it short and start last night. I spent a good part of the night in fighting the sulks. The triggers were clear: low blood sugar, the time of month, and a visit with a friend enrolled in a degree program in which I’d love to be.
Even though that credential could open more ministry doors and lend influence and credibility to current ministry, for now that door is closed. This opportunity is not knocking. But hearing the joy behind my friend’s open door at once exposed an old idol and scraped up feelings of inferiority.
Inferiority. Influence. Idol?
My idols are familiar to me. I’m on to my influence idol.
Influence in itself isn’t bad. In fact, we should seek to have influence, provided it’s focused on making God in Christ- not ourselves- look grand. Jesus explained influence like this: “Let your light shine before men so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Influence is light. Christian influence is living in ways that reflect God’s glory and have a positive effect on the character of those around us. We’re mirrors and our words and our blogs and our giving and good works can help others worship God.
I like to be influential. I like to know I’m building the kingdom of heaven and making God look good. But influence turns idol when craving it means I’m ungrateful for the gifts he’s given and discontent with my lot in life- which God alone holds. (See Psalm 16)-
Good Thing Or Ultimate Thing?
There is a holy ambition. Romans 2:7 is about “seeking glory, honor and immortality.” A while back, I shared 9 Quotes For Glory-Seekers and #3 was an oldie-but-goodie from Matthew Henry:
There is a holy ambition which is at the bottom of all practical religion. This is seeking the kingdom of God, looking in our desires and aims as high as heaven, and resolved to take up with nothing short of it. Those that seek for the vain glory and honor of this world…are disappointed, but those that seek for immortal glory and honor shall have them.” (Commentary on Romans 2:7)
For the record, the things we turn to idols aren’t necessarily in and of themselves bad things. They can, and usually are good things: food, children, nature, influence. Good things.
But, like Tim Keller says, idolatry is turning a good thing into an ultimate thing.
We think that idols are bad things, but that is almost never the case. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything can serve as a counterfeit god, especially the very best things in life.
And so my influence idol was exposed. I know: UG-LY.
Wield Faith’s Weapon
But God’s grace teaches me. So I wielded the weapons, preached truth to myself and did the next thing.
Translated: I unloaded the dishwasher, wrote out a birthday card, chopped some kohlrabi and snipped yellow wax beans, all the while reminding myself to give thanks and DIGLI.
I reminded myself that God arranges the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. (1 Corinthians 12:18) and that He scatters grace and mercy as he wishes on whom he wills. That God loves inequality and dispenses his gifts and open doors as he wishes and that it’s for me not to envy and wallow in inferiority, but give thanks and keep on.
Because gratitude drives out self-pity and thanks trump grumps.
Friday was my early morning, the only day woke at 6:00. So I got into bed, set the alarm, and-with a mix of success and lingering sulks- I turned out the light.
How The Well-Timed Word Came
Beep-beep-beep-beep. I hit the button and let the radio talk. Here’s what I heard:
Hi, I’m Joni Eareckson Tada with a funny story.
Not long ago at a conference, I was introduced as “Dr. Joni Tada.” When I wheeled up to speak, I confessed to the audience, I said: “Friends, I may have been given a couple of honorary doctorates from seminaries, but hey, look, I’m only a high school graduate. I’ve never even been to Bible College!” Most in the audience looked a little surprised, and there was a time that fact used to embarrass me, I wouldn’t have told anybody that I had no real scholastic degrees. If a person’s wisdom and expertise were measured by their M.Div.’s or their PhD’s or even their bachelor degrees, my goodness, then I’m not competent to speak alongside Christian leaders who have actually earned those degrees…
Did Joni see last night? It was as if she was sitting beside my bed, speaking straight to me. As if she knew comparison and inferiority and envy were on the march to cripple me. Because I didn’t have the right degree.
The Word from Joni, and God
Then Joni told how someone had shared timely words from 2 Corinthians 3:5-6:
Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
The 4- minute spot continued. By now I was on the edge of my bed lacing my running shoes, letting these delightful, timely words land.
No, I haven’t spent 4 years in Bible school. But I have spent over 50 years in a wheelchair, most of those years studying the same books and scholars as my friends who graduated from The Masters University or Wheaton College…Look, I’m just a quadriplegic! But that’s just it! God delights in teaching us powerful lessons through our weaknesses and limitations…
Plus, it’s my weaknesses that keep pointing me to the source of all authority and ability, God and God alone. Praise the Lord; He is the one who makes us competent as ambassadors of the new covenant! God takes our inadequacies and, as we lean on him and learn from the trials he sends, he makes us competent.
Now you may think, ‘who am I that anyone should listen to me? Why should anyone care what I have to say?’ Oh friend, don’t fool yourself; in Christ, you are completely competent.
That was the how the well-timed word came to me, On the only day last week I woke to the radio, after the only night I had a fight like that, here was Joni, giving an apt answer, the perfect truth to address my immediate need. Here was Joni, speaking a timely word to me.
And friends, degree or no degree or three degrees, be encouraged to know: Your competence comes from God.
But more, I hope that in every good and well-timed word, you hear a loving Lord.
A man has joy in an apt answer,
And how delightful is a timely word!