Declaring My Incompetence
In the past, I viewed myself as a competent person. I even had diplomas, certifications, and a few awards hanging on my wall to prove it! But all the time, I was haunted by this feeling of being an imposter... In my chosen professional field, one must never mutter self-doubt. It would be devastating. Instead, one must project a level of executive authority--not always informed, but never in doubt. People responded well to such displays of “leadership.”
How freeing it is to read 2 Corinthians! Over and over Paul expresses his incompetence and frankly admits that he is in over his head. This is not just self-flagellation. In fact, he asks “who is equal to this task?” (2 Cor 2:16b). Paul admits his own incompetence, but then points out that we are all incompetent!
Set your sights high enough, and you won't be able to reach them. My goal is to be transformed into the very image of Christ and to minister to his church as he would with his own hands. I do not deceive myself into thinking that I have ever met that standard for even a minute out of my best ministerial hour, but I am not willing to lower my standard.
Ironically, I feel better now than I ever have. Realizing that the perfect goal I have set will never be met, but that Paul also felt the same way gives me a joyful realization that God simply wants to work through me, even as he continues to work in and on me. So the experience of ministry for me is simultaneously one of crucifixion and resurrection. These experiences do not roll in predictable order, but are intertwined, often on the same day or even in the same task or relationship. There is enough disappointment in any of my sermons to crush my spirit if I relied solely on my own efforts. There is enough victory in each sermon to elevate my spirit to a dangerous pride if I credited those moments to myself. When I open my eyes to the failures of my flesh and the victories of God's spirit through those halting actions, I experience the pains of crucifixion and the joys of resurrection simultaneously. Is it any wonder I sleep on Sunday afternoons!?
In the past I could never recommend anyone to listen to one of my sermons. If it was a rhetorical disappointment, I didn't want them to hear it. On the other hand, if the sermon “worked” for me, I felt prideful in recommending it! I was in a mess because I didn't embrace my incompetence. I was still trying to hide it by fronting a professional competence, and it was killing me! It's one of the thousand reasons I left ministry as a young man. Now I'm back and I'm incompetent! And if I think God might use one of my sermons to help someone, I don't hesitate to recommend it, even if I'm disappointed at how it “sang” when it was delivered.
I'm glad God will use my incompetence, because it's all I have to give.