chicken-3530189__340

On Influence, Inferiority & The Goodness of a Well-timed Word

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!

Proverbs 15:23

chicken-3530189__340

When Opportunity Doesn’t Come Knocking


I’ve been arguing with myself a lot lately.  
Maybe you’ve had a dual like this too? It goes something like this.

Play By Play

Ready? Allez!

You so enjoy the ministry stuff you do. Counseling and teaching and online- it’s so fulfilling. Just think what could be done with better PR and another degree!  Greater opportunities for the message you love to share. 

Then Me-Two interrupts Me- usually long before that’s all out- and lunges.

If God wanted that for you, someone down here would have made it perfectly clear. When was the last time a Leadership Development Head tapped you on the shoulder? And when was the last time you got asked to speak?  Leave well enough alone. 

But I don’t. Not yet anyway.

I’ll go for it- God can always close the door, says Me.

Don’t get too big for your britches, thrusts Me-Two.

But good desires can be from God, gingerly sidesteps Me.

Mid-life crisis, jabs Me-Two.

Nah- This  degree has been on my mind since I was 23, parries Me.

But God’s using you without those extra letters behind your name, says Me-Two.

Yes, but God ordains means- including training and degrees, strikes Me.

Me-Two lunges, now, sharp and true, Be content with what you have.

I am grateful, says Me, disengaging sheepishly.

That’s about it, how the match plays out.

Get Out Of God’s Way

Enter Pastor Crawford Loritts and his right-on-point, 90-second broadcast, I just so happened to catch.

Loritts has spoken a ton and led a whole lot. But he says he’s never asked for a speaking engagement or sought a leadership position. “While that sort of self-promotion may be appropriate for others,” Loritts said, “it’s not for me. God won’t let me do that. Maybe to keep my pride in check.”

He cited Galatians 1:22-24 to show how God prepared the way for Paul, without Paul doing a bit of his own PR.  And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They kept hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.  

“They kept hearing.” The Judea Christians were hearing good words about Paul- praise of Paul-  without a bit of self-promotion from Paul. God went before Paul. He prepared the way for his messenger Paul. God set the stage and Paul obeyed the call and climbed on.

Then Loritts shared this principle: When God wants the Word to be spread, He’ll get it done. PR can be a tool in God’s hands, but we need to get out of the way and make sure what we do honors and glorifies Him. 

Me-Two was right. But it wasn’t the end.

Put in a Good Word

Because the very next day, I tuned inagain.

This time, in a message called, “Help Others Be Used By God,” Pastor Loritts explained how God raised up leaders who put in good words for him. Loritts credits his ministry opportunities to the goodness of those who came along and said, I like Crawford. Give him a chance.

Pastor Loritts described a time when this happened for Paul. And when James, Cephas, and John who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship that we should go to the heathen and they to those of the circumcision.  

The right hand of fellowship, explains Loritts, was an endorsement. It was leaders saying, We stand shoulder to shoulder with you. We’re gonna speak up for you and what you’re all about. Then with God’s big grace, and the leaders’ good words, Paul began a ministry that shaped the history of the world.

God uses encouragers to propel us and open doors. Their handshakes and ‘Atta boy’s” and “You go girl’s” push us on. God has marked every one of His children for usefulness, Loritts said. So let’s help them to be used.  

We all stand on the shoulders of others. Who of us can’t name a teacher (Mr. Baughn, English Lit), coach (Koceja, Track and Field), co-worker or friend (Traci, “Maybe start a blog.”) who encouraged a gifting or put in a good word? Their praise then pushed us to enter that race or hone that skill or take that class.

So don’t save your praise. When the opportunities we await don’t come knocking, we can still use what influence we do have to put in a good word where we can. 

Let’s help them be used. 

Do Unto Others: Encourage

Me and Me-Two still fight sometimes, about knocking on doors and doing more.

I could wish I had leaders opening doors for me the way Crawford Loritts had for him. I could. 

But I will do what I tell my boys to do, when they wish they’d been treated differently: Do to others as you would have them do to you. And this one’s not holy writ, but Be the change you want to see, also fits.  

The old-time pastor Matthew Henry had it right, There may be a just occasion for us to vindicate ourselves, but it does not become us to applaud ourselves. Proprio laus sordet in ore—Self-praise defiles the mouth. Or, Praise in one’s own mouth stinks. 

Self-promotion might get IN God’s way. But using your mouth to encourage others IS God’s way.

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.

Proverbs 27:2