In the children’s ministry for the past month we have been studying the life of Paul. Each week we hear more and more about the struggles in his life that created his story. First he’s blinded on the road to Damascus and spoken to directly by God; life completely transformed. Next he is threatened and stoned for sharing the truth of the gospel, and then he’s arrested, imprisoned, put on trial, and in the next story we hear of his shipwreck and near death experiences. Paul had an amazing story.
Pastor Monty preached on sharing our stories not too long ago. A few of the Connect Groups also talked about and even practiced this. Not long after, I went out to lunch with a few ladies from church that I didn’t know well, and we all took turns sharing our stories. It was such an encouraging time.
But if you’re anything like me, much of my life I didn’t believe that I had a story. At least not a story worth sharing. My life was pretty bland in my own eyes. I didn’t have a lot of trouble, hardship or big slip-ups that God had to redeem me of, and therefore I didn’t have much of a story to tell. I grew up on the mission field. Not only did I grow up in a Christian home, but I was an MK (missionary kid) and TCK (third culture kid). I didn’t live the life most American kids these days know and experience. My time was spent outdoors being creative and getting dirty. We didn’t watch TV or play video games, we played house, school, cops and robbers and ate cherry guavas off the wild bushes in the neighborhood. That was my life for the majority of my childhood.
When we moved back to the States, I was in 7th grade. I didn’t know much about culture like a typical middle schooler would have known. I didn’t fit in at school, and just kind of stuck to my little crowd of band nerds and church kids throughout middle and high school. I dated the pastor’s son for two and a half years during high school and kept up my image of being “the good kid”. After moving to Florida (because the missions organization my parents worked for relocated…yes, we were still missionaries) I met, dated and ended up marrying Trevor. We became missionaries after our first year of marriage and then moved to Virginia where I became Head Master’s Wife at a Christian School and now Pastor’s Wife. Like I said, bland. Nothing super exciting to share.
It’s interesting how God writes our stories with every breath we take. Each moment and day we live is a part of our story and how he is shaping us to be more like Him. I don’t think I realized that my experiences and decisions through each of those stages are what helped to create the story that I have. I didn’t see it while it was happening. It’s not until becoming an adult that I have been able to reflect on my life and finally see how God put all of these things together to give me the story I have today.
Looking back I can see how living the perfect little Christian life for 35 years has made me who I am today, and has also done me no good. If you know my son, Zachary, after hearing my story you will see where he gets it from. We are rule followers. We are doers. We want a little box to check off to say we did what we were supposed to do and followed all the instructions. Done. Complete. Finished. That’s how it works, right?
Wrong. It hasn’t been until adulthood that I have realized not only the error in this way of thinking, but the danger it can cause to continue to believe this way. God’s desire is not for me to do all the right things. Oh how he loves it when I do! But doing everything the way he expects is not going to earn me his grace, his love or his forgiveness. I will not be able to climb myself up the ladder of sanctification anymore because of the boxes I am able to check and the rules I am able to follow.
Now, this is not to say that doing good things for Christ is not rewarding or beneficial to the growth of the kingdom. Oh it is! And there are many Scriptures that tell us over and over that doing good works is required of us (Ephesians 2:10, Matthew 5:16, James 2:14, James 2:26….to name a few). God has created these good works for us to do! God has told us to add to our faith good deeds. God asks us to work for him! But none of this will change or save us. So as much as my story does not relate to Paul, I can relate to his fight against his flesh in 2 Corinthians 12.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 7
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
God has given me a thorn. My flesh and my desire to do good to earn his favor have become a stumbling block for me. I am constantly struggling to put aside my pride, my image and my perfection and need to please God and others, and do good for the sake of Christ and his kingdom alone. It’s a daily battle because I know deep down that God has asked me to do good things. I know that he wants me to work out my salvation and shine my light so others may see my good works and glorify Him as a result. But how am I to do these things without seeking attention or approval from God, or others, in return? How am I supposed to do good works and not be proud?
Paul gives us a few verses about being careful not to boast in ourselves, but boast in the Lord.
2 Corinthians 10:17 – “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
2 Corinthians 11:30 - If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.
2 Corinthians 12:9 - And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness". Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
My ability to follow rules and do what is right does not come from my life of working hard and checking off boxes. And as many boxes as I check and good things that I get done, it does not change how much God loves me or his view of my righteousness and worth. My life of obedience to him is a complete gift of grace and mercy from Jesus Christ himself! God has given me all that I need to follow and obey his commands. In and of myself and my own flesh I am nothing! I have no abilities to fulfill his desires on my own. There is no way that I could even begin to check off a box or even pick up the pen without his grace flowing through me. My only responsibility now is to humble myself and continue to recognize his work in and through me. Anything and everything I am ever able to do is all because of his power at work in my life.
If you ever see me acting busy or running around getting my things done, don’t compliment me, thank me for what I am doing or feel the need to encourage me in my work. Pray for me. Pray that I will be humble in my heart and actions and pray that I will allow Christ to receive all the glory for everything he has allowed me to do. Because it is only through his grace that I am who I am today and that he has allowed me to be a small part of his kingdom work. And if you ever feel like you don’t have a story to share or anyone to share it with, come find me and share your story with me. I’d love to hear where God has brought you and the story he has given you.
John Piper has a great sermon on this topic.
Listen to it here: