Last Friday I gave the, what we call, talk on Hebrews 4-5:11 at our weekly large group Bible Study and worship time to a crowd of 20 some students. I devoted a huge amount of time over the last two weeks to preparing the talk.
There are many things in life that I am not good at and have now have no problem having everyone know that, such as math or most kinds of art. I don’t have a problem my lack of competency in areas that I feel don’t define me as a person at all. However, there are things in life that I want to be good at and both Bible study and public speaking fall into that category.
I like to believe that I’m the kind of person who exudes confidence, a calmness, and a collectedness that all communicates just how awesome of a person I really am. I’m a chill guy; nothing really rocks my boat too much. I’m not easy phased by a challenge, the spotlight, or anything I perceive as a test of my awesomeness.
As I’m preparing for this talk I began to feel less and less like I was capable of doing it. I started doubting my ability to do this well and that scared me a little. I could see how my own talents and strengths were insufficient for the job at hand – which, looking back on it, was totally true and exactly what God wanted me to realize. God wanted me to feel insufficient, because if I rely on my own talents and strengths then I AM insufficient, He wanted me to rely on Him.
However, my reaction was to amplify my efforts. I devoted more time to it. I cancelled appointments and neglected other duties. I was pouring over commentaries and other “aids.” Clearly, both good and bad intentions were in play here: I wanted people’s lives to be changed by the truths in the scripture as I also wanted to impress them. However, beyond all of that I felt as if it was some sort of test for what kind of person/profession I was cut out for. I felt a tremendous amount of self-imposed pressure. I needed to perform well… for me.
So 5:30 rolls around and the meeting starts at 7. I had been running the talk and was trying to see how long it was. I am allotted 30-35 minutes for the talk. 30 minutes into my run of it and I was only half way through. This really frustrated me. I reread the passage again and was really faced with the reality that my talk, while somewhat based in the text, was not really aligned with the text’s main point. After two weeks of work, I came to a point where I felt as though I really had absolutely nothing to offer.
Which was exactly where God wanted me.
I was cornered and my immediate reaction to understanding that I really had nothing to offer was utter panic and anger. I spent some time just in shock. After a short while I started over, in a sense, still using bits and pieces from what I already had. By 6:15 I really hadn’t gotten anywhere productive, other than crossing out huge sections and eliminating everything that blatantly didn’t make sense or was not useful for the talk. I decided just to pack it all up, drive over and then assemble it in the parking lot so I could sit there and figure it out until it was time to start. As I’m about to leave I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t finished or printed the hand-outs to go with the talk. This was bad news. My laptop wasn’t connected to the printer so I knew I’d have to transfer it to another computer in the apartment to do the printing. However, I hadn’t written the small group discussion questions for the back of the hand-out yet. I didn’t really know what direction I was going to take the talk in and that made it very difficult to come up with questions for it. When I finally wrote three down I noticed that my laptop STILL wasn’t connected to the internet. If I wasn’t connected I couldn’t transfer the document to a computer that printed.
I was mad.
It seemed to me that everything that could go wrong had gone wrong. I was mad at myself, but ultimately, I was more furious at God. It felt like He was setting me up to fail.
The talk God was preparing me to give was about entering God’s Rest. What that really means is that nothing I do in life ever needs to be for myself. It means that the aim of none of my actions is for my own salvation. God is infinitely pleased with me because of the work of Christ and I am not loved based on my performance. It also means that God exposes us as guilty failures, not to condemn us but to spur us towards repentance and total dependence on Him.
I feel as though I never depended more on God than I did in the hours between 5:30 and 8:30.
It was terrifying but it was great.
I really entered God’s rest then. I let go of all of my anger. I let go of any delusions that the reason why any talk that I could give would be great was that it was because I was great. God showed Himself to be totally sufficient. When I was giving the talk I wasn’t very collected, or calm, or confident. I was a nervous wreck, but it allowed me to walk completely by faith instead of by sight. Throughout my life I feel as though while I have been stepping out in faith for God I have also been able to rely on my own self, have my own backup plans, and rest on my own ability to get things done. That night I knew that I had no one to impress, that I had no true capability on my own, that my worth was not in how well it turned out, or that I had the power to stop God’s plan for reaching the people in the audience that night.
The only reason the talk was great was because God is great – and He desperately wanted me to know that.