Unqualified, Insufficient, and in Good Company
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to writing–whether it’s in a journal or for the stage. I see it as part of my calling to make much of Christ and bless others through the written word. So, like Paul tells Timothy, I “fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Timothy 1:6) by continuing to write.
But, in my adult life, another flame has appeared, one I’m eager to snuff out – the fear to write. Doubt and insecurity are some of the main obstacles that stand in the way of creating something new. And I believe I’m not alone. In the battle to create something, it’s so much easier to put it off and not do it, especially when the questions in the back of the mind are relentless:
What if no one likes it?
What if I don’t have time?
What if it’s low quality or contains falsehood?
What if I’m too transparent? What if I’m not transparent enough?
I’m reading through Exodus right now and yesterday I paused at the call of Moses. When considering a patriarch like Moses, we often go directly to the supernatural signs and wonders God performed through him, but in my current reading, I noticed how Scripture captures his frailty – or humanity. I’m so glad God included that picture of this great man.
Between the time God calls Moses in the burning bush to the first plague of blood, Moses offers God five reasons why he couldn’t do the task God was calling him to.
3:11 – “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”
4:1– “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.”
4:10 – “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”
6:12 – “Behold, the people of Israel have not listened to me. How then shall Pharaoh listen to me, for I am of uncircumcised lips?”
6:30 – “Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips. How will Pharaoh listen to me?”
I understand why Moses pushes back–God’s call was terrifying, and fear and doubt had caused him to rethink his identity and gifting. Moses then pleads (like I would have) – “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else” (4:13).
In Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle actually agrees with Moses–he “wasn’t qualified,” she says. But then she adds, “as I run over my favourite characters in both Old and New Testaments, I can’t find one who was in any worldly way qualified to do the job which was nevertheless accomplished” (54). Thus, Moses isn’t really an outlier – God frequently uses the unqualified to do his work. And you know the story – Moses eventually trusts God, and his presence empowers him to complete the task. A little thing called the Exodus.
Church history attests to this pattern as well. Consider Charles Spurgeon who became the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle at the young age of 21. Although he had demonstrated an unusual gift in the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, Spurgeon shuttered at what the next season might hold for him.
When I first became a pastor in London, my success appalled me, and the thought of the career which it seemed to open up, so far from elating me, cast me into the lowest depths.
Who was I that I should continue to lead so great a multitude? I would betake myself to my village of obscurity, or emigrate to America, and find a solitary nest in the backwoods where I might be sufficient for the things which would be demanded of me. It was just then that the curtain was rising upon my life-work, and I dreaded what it might reveal. (Early Years, 263 as quoted in Spurgeon: A Biography by Arnold A. Dallimore, 53).
Despite Spurgeon’s eventual status as a legendary preacher and evangelist, writer and editor, college president and orphanage founder, he trembled with frailty, fear, and doubt, not just in the beginning, but all throughout his ministry. We might look back and think he was the obvious one to do the job, but Spurgeon would have had something to say about that!
Do you resonate with Spurgeon? And with Moses? I do. Many times I’ve pleaded, “I’m not sufficient! Please send someone else!” Have you?
But why does God choose the unqualified to do his work? L’Engle again phrases it well, “If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves” (54). As Paul writes to the Corinthian church, God chooses to use what the world considers foolish or weak, “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:29).
So, next time you hear the voices – you’re unqualified, unfit, not ready, not sufficient – agree and add . . . But God!* God doesn’t need us to be these things. In the back of my mind I hear – Who created the pen, the brush, the stage? Or the heart, the mind, the mouth? God is the author of them all, and he wants to use us to bring beauty, truth, and goodness into the world.
But this doesn’t mean there won’t be a battle. Andrew Peterson in Adorning the Dark refers to it as the Resistance–something we shouldn’t be surprised to see when it shows up. “If you’re called to speak light,” writes Peterson, “then believe this: the darkness wants to shut you up. Even now I can feel the strength of Resistance” (44).
Although I’d love for God to destroy the Resistance so I can write and create in peace, that’s something for the New Heavens and New Earth. It’s important to remember, we’re not the only ones facing these obstacles on earth. We have each other – and most significantly – the presence of God. As I bring this to a close, I want to leave us with few ways to fan the flame God has given us, to help us keep creating:
Embrace humility. Dependence upon God is the heart of humility. It’s an honest recognition of who we are before God – fallen, sinful people who desperately need him. Jesus tells us, “Blessed are the poor in spirit. . . “ (Mt. 4:3), so let’s agree with him and draw near to him. Let’s surrender our work to him. When God is the Author of Creativity, is there anyone else better to offer our creative work to?
Remember our value. We may not be qualified or powerful or the most talented, but that doesn’t matter, we are created in the image of God and loved by him. If we are in Christ, we are redeemed by God! Our significance is tied to the victory of Christ. If we are in Christ, we have spiritual gifts. The purpose of these gifts is not to make much of ourselves, or make us successful according to worldly standards, but to serve and bless and bring joy to others. When we utilize our gifts in this way, God is glorified!
Focus on others. Continuing the above point, Andrew Peterson is clear that thinking too much about ourselves is an obstacle to creativity. It actually feeds the monsters of fear and doubt. Peterson challenges us to think of those we’re trying to serve. If creativity is a means of service to others, who is this neighbor we’re creating for? In a rousing conclusion to chapter 3 of Adorning the Dark, Peterson shares the following:
I’m no longer surprised by my capacity for self-doubt, but I’ve learned that the only way to victory is to lose myself, to surrender to sacredness–which is safer than insecurity. I have to accept the fact that I’m beloved by God. That’s it. Compared to that, the songs don’t matter so much–a realization which has the surprising consequence of making them easier to write.
In conclusion, if you resonate with Moses, Spurgeon, and the many other jars of clay God calls to his Kingdom work, consider these words an invitation to remember you’re not alone. You’re in good company. Pick up that pen, that brush, that mic. We want your creativity. May God use it for the glory of his Son and the good of our neighbors.
* Zack Eswine shared this type of biblical rejoinder in his phenomenal work, Spurgeon's Sorrows on page 50. I use this line of thinking myself when I encounter discouragement.
RECOMMENDED WORKS FOR BATTLING THE RESISTANCE
The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness by Tim Keller. Short, simple, biblical, potent. A friend and mentor recommended this work to me, and I know I'll be returning to it again and again.
Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson.
Walking on Water by Madeleine L'Engle.
The Blessing of Humility by Jerry Bridges
Dane Bundy is President of Stage & Story and Director of Fine Arts at Regents School of Austin, a classical Christian school in Austin, TX.