“What on earth am I supposed to wear to this thing?” That’s not a question I ask often, but an occasion almost a year ago called for it. We were in a hotel in Liberal, Kansas trying to figure out what to wear to the annual Vision Night at Fellowship Baptist Church. The events of the evening didn’t call for the normal suit and tie, but I didn’t think to bring many casual clothes for a visit to a church. To be honest, my confusion over the clothing had nothing to do with the contents of my suitcase; it had everything to do with nervousness about the contents of my future. I wasn’t nervous because I was meeting new people; the good people that make up Fellowship Baptist Church were pretty familiar to me by now. I had been to the church many times to visit and preach while I was in college. I was nervous because this night would be the beginning of the next big step in my life! Though the church didn’t know it (although many seemed to be catching on), Pastor was going to announce during Vision Night that my wife and I would be joining the staff of Fellowship Baptist Church. All sorts of thoughts ran through my head:
• Will I be able to connect with the people of the church?
• Will my current skills be an asset or help to the rest of the staff?
• Who will God allow me to reach in Liberal?
• What if I don’t reach anyone?
Here’s what was truly behind my nervousness—inadequacy.
Inadequacy can come in a variety of situations. I remember sitting in my church office when I received a random call from my wife, who was crying (not usually a good sign). While another person simultaneously knocked on my office door, she managed to squeak out through the tears, “I’m pregnant!” Now, how focused do you think I was on the conversation with the guy in my office? While feelings of excitement have rushed through me repeatedly since that day about the idea of being a dad, I’m also finding that I have experienced plenty of moments filled with inadequacy. I’ve found myself deep in thought about how on earth I’m going to be able to parent a girl: I have enough difficulty understanding my wife! I’ve been struck with doubts about my ability to truly shepherd our baby girl to grow up and serve Jesus with her life. Here’s what I’ve found at every turn of my life: Feelings of inadequacy come as a packaged deal with God-given responsibilities.
Inadequacy is Normal
It’s normal to feel inadequate: Every assignment from God should humble us! When was the last time God called you to do something that appeared well within your capabilities to accomplish? God is constantly calling people to accomplish tasks that seem to be larger than life. Think about it—how many men and women in the Bible didn’t feel humbled by the task God called them to do?
Think about Noah. From my reading of Genesis 6, it doesn’t seem like there was anything different about Noah from the rest of society, apart from his righteous character. He was just a normal guy who was trying to live for God in some spiritually dark times. Then, all of a sudden, God spoke to Noah. He told Noah that he planned to destroy everything—with the exception of Noah and his family. Noah would then have the job of starting society from scratch. Don’t you think Noah felt inadequate in the face of the vast responsibilities of saving his family and the animals God created and starting everything over after judgment?
Now consider Esther. She didn’t enroll in Persia’s Got Talent to attract consideration from King Ahasuerus; she was just a young lady growing up in the household of Mordecai when, “Esther was brought also unto the king’s house.” Esther had no idea how God was working backstage to use her eventual position as queen to save the Jews from being wiped out. Don’t you think Esther’s stomach sank with some feelings of inadequacy when it struck her that God truly had placed her in the palace “for such a time as this?”
There are plenty of examples that could be brought out of men and women who must have felt humbled, and even doubtful, when called upon by God. For many of them, their feelings of doubt aren’t recorded in the pages of Scripture, but the doubts of at least one man are clearly recorded for us—Moses.
In view of Egyptian law, Moses was an illegitimate child. He shouldn’t have been alive; he should have died after he was born to a man and woman of the tribe of Levi. If that wasn’t enough, he was also a fugitive—on the run for killing an abusive Egyptian slave driver. By age 80, his leadership résumé only consisted of leading his father-in-law’s flock across the backside of the desert. To his credit, Moses was burdened for his people; he hated to see them in bondage to such cruel masters. But, since he murdered that Egyptian, he planned on leaving his burden back in the sands of Egypt and settling for a quiet life in Midian. Like many others in God’s Word, Moses was about the ordinary when God called him to do the extraordinary. I’ve felt heavy under the burden of an added responsibility, but I can’t imagine what it would be like to have God call me to lead millions of people (who don’t trust me) out of slavery.
Can we just sympathize with Moses for a moment? The guy wasn’t qualified! How could a guy who grew up in the luxury of Pharaoh’s household gain the trust of Hebrew people who grew up under the hardship of enslavement? How on earth would Pharaoh agree to letting his slaves go? His entire empire depended on the production of the over-worked Hebrew people. If he let them go, he would have to pay a fair wage to his own people to build the many structures he had planned. If that wasn’t enough, Moses wasn’t an eloquent speaker either. Forty years living as an introvert in the backside of the desert didn’t include lessons on How to Win Friends and Influence People. Motivational speeches don’t quite have the same punch when they come from a stuttering shepherd. Moses had some legitimate reasons to feel inadequate. But, according to God, he had no reason to feel incapable.
For each of Moses’ objections, God gave an answer. God gave him a name, I AM, to equip him to tell the Hebrews who had sent him. God gave him a rod that could turn into a serpent to show he was truly form God. God gave him Aaron, who would serve under his authority and take care of speaking to the people. Yet for all of the answers God gave, it all went back to one indispensable resource that Moses couldn’t live without—God’s presence. Without God backing Moses, his words would fall flat, the rod wouldn’t change into a serpent, and Aaron’s best speech would be ineffective. Moses had nothing to qualify him for the task, but he had God, who was all he needed to be qualified for leading the Exodus of the Hebrew people. Moses needed to stop focusing on the “I can’t” and start looking to the I AM.
If God’s presence was enough for Moses, then surely it is more than adequate for any believer who is doubting their abilities. While it’s easy to look back on my college training, ministry experience, skills, or gifts to feel adequate for my job at FBC, the truth is that all of these things would be worthless if I didn’t have God’s presence. It’s right that I read parenting books and seek counsel as I prepare to be a dad, but none of that can compare to the importance of my own personal time with God each day. It’s not skills or resources that equip me to measure up to the task I’m given; it’s the transforming presence of the Lord Jesus that equips me to complete every divine assignment.
There could be a wide array of assignments from God that, when truly thought upon, make you feel inadequate. Maybe you occasionally feel sick thinking about your upcoming wedding because, as much as you are committed to your future spouse, you are terrified you might fail them. It could be that you constantly sulk in self-doubt when you try to wrap your mind around the idea of pastoring the church to which you’re called. For many, it may be that you are terrified by the simple task of sharing the gospel with someone you know.
Allow me to encourage you the same way God encouraged me: Stop focusing on the “I can’t” and start focusing on the I AM. He is what will make every bit of preparation effective. He is what will get you through the moments you couldn’t possibly have prepared for. He is all you need.