How God Strengthened my Identity

God's been strengthening my identity
©CreationSwap/Dawn Lamper

 

I’ll admit it; I like to be the best.

Whether it’s beating my friends in a game, coming up with the top idea at a work meeting or winning an award, being the best at something—no matter how small—feeds a deep-seated belief in me.

It says, I am not Most People. 

Throughout my life I’ve striven to be better than Most People. Most People aren’t careful with their money. Most People aren’t diligent about spending regular time with God. Most People don’t bother to turn their ideas into a book. A lot of advice I hear sounds like, ‘most people do this, but you should do that’. And I do. I’ve become proud of it.

But that attitude has crippled my identity. Especially as a wannabe author.

For a long time I’ve equated being like Most People, to failure.  I shouldn’t be like Most People; I should be better than that. I know better, I try harder, I work smarter.

But keeping that (very arrogant) mindset while trying to become an author is … well, it’s soul-crushing. This industry is so hard to succeed in. Even if I become part of the tiny minority that scrapes some profit from a book, the percentage of authors who have a long-standing career is even tinier. Looking at this big, scary industry, I’m overwhelmed with the fear that I will turn out to be Most People after all.

That fear has driven me to write more, learn faster and stress repeatedly. Failure is not an option, but if you judge a writing career by my (ridiculously high) standards, it’s not only possible, but probable. And if my identity as a successful person, a person who’s better than Most People, is tied to my writing career, then my own dream is a massive threat to my identity.

This is something God’s been working on in my heart ever since I decided to start seriously working on my first book, at the start of 2013. I’ve blogged about it throughout the year. Every time I investigated what it takes to get published or ways to promote my work, I’d feel panicked. Every time I tried an idea and it didn’t pan out, the pressure increased.

God repeatedly told me that success is not measured by numbers, but by obedience. And I could acknowledge those truths in my head, but my heart usually just muttered something under its breath and sulked off.

But lately, I’m starting to notice change in myself. The more I consider the idea of self-publishing (not that I’ve decided anything yet), the more I’m okay with not having my name plastered across every Christian bookstore. If God doesn’t plan for me to make money from my writing, that’s alright. If my career is short-lived, that sucks, but it’s okay as long as it’s part of His plan.

Now the pressure to crack the secret of book marketing is decreasing all the time. And thank goodness for that, because it was getting heavy. I want to simply try my best, be obedient, work hard, and then watch my career go in the direction God wants it to go … whatever direction that is. If He plans for me to reach 50,000 people, that’s what will happen. If it’s 500 people, that’s also what will happen. Neither option makes me a better or worse person.

All that matters is my obedience.

 

LIES I NEVER KNEW ABOUT ME

God's been teaching me lessons in doubt and effectiveness.
Photo by Jenna Machum, sourced from CreationSwap.com.

I was shocked when God used me last week.

Here’s why.

Last week’s post was, in my opinion, not that great. I wasn’t entirely sure what I didn’t like about it, but it annoyed me that I couldn’t find a theme verse to talk about what I’d learned that week.

Still, I wrote down what I’d learned and shot it off to cyberspace, praying for the best. Then I went away for the weekend.

During my weekend, some terrific stuff happened. I’m involved with a group called Project X, and we do youth outreaches in outback towns. The next event is happening in Roma in September, so we headed out there to do some groundwork.

The whole weekend was full of prayer, and for the first time in a good long while I felt like my presence mattered. Usually at things like this, I think, “If I wasn’t here, someone else could easily replace me. What I’m doing isn’t very vital to God’s kingdom.” My mission trip to India in 2012 was another example. It wasn’t till the end of the trip, when a few teammates told me specific ways I’d helped them, that I realized I brought something to the table.

But this weekend, I felt like God was saying, “You’re right, anybody could do this. I can give anyone the ability to do anything; it’s all from Me anyway. What’s important is that you are here. You have been obedient. And that pleases Me.”

It’s an entirely different thought process, and one I’m loving so far.

During the weekend we also discussed the role of the church and effectiveness in serving God. Those are all issues that have bothered me. I usually feel very ineffective in anything I do with God.

This is how the thought process worked: Yeah, I do some God-stuff, but none of it ever seems to work. I was a youth leader, but some of those kids backslid. We saw heaps of conversions in India, but that was probably all the hype of the event. My church is growing, but I’m only a tiny part of that. And I write a blog, but how much of an effect can a blog post really have on someone?

This sound silly to you yet? For the first time, it does to me too.

When I got home I saw my blog stats for the weekend. I try to not put too much stock in statistics (though I check them every day, so maybe I’m not doing so great at that …) but when I checked them this time I was floored. They were way higher than usual!

And even better than that, was the feedback that started popping up. A Facebook comment here, a Tumblr share there, and a really encouraging email from a lady I haven’t seen in years. They all had a similar theme:

This helped me. Thanks for your honesty. Don’t let discouragement get you down!

To every person who commented, shared or visited this blog, thanks. It was a big encouragement.

It all sparked a new thought: Maybe God CAN use my writing.

That was the first time I realized that I didn’t believe God could. The doubt had always been far more subtle than a conscious thought.

I write because I like it, and God has given me the gift, so I figure He wants me to use it. But a piece of doubt has been lodged in my brain all this time, telling me that writing is just something I enjoy, nothing more. It has no real value to God. After all, how much can a blog or a book really pull someone closer to God?

After getting such a boost of encouragement last week, I thought to myself, Maybe my decision to write isn’t just a selfish thing. Maybe God can use it, and He wants me to invest this time and effort into it. Maybe He has a plan to use it, whether it’s in a big or a small way.

Had you asked me last week if God wanted me to write, I would have said yes. But the doubt, wedged in my brain, would have poked me and whispered, “Selfish. Ineffective. Waste of time and money.”

And while I never would’ve thought those words consciously, I’d have felt their cold shadow pass over my soul.

But what does that doubt say about God? Do I really not believe that He’s powerful enough to use my writing? Last week was a great example that He can use whatever He wants. I wasn’t even happy with that post I wrote, yet it’s attracted the most encouraging response of anything I’ve done so far. It’s obviously not my mind-blowing genius accomplishing anything here. No, it’s God saying, “I can use the strong and the weak. The good blog posts and the not-as-good-as-you-wanted-it-to-be ones.”

This week’s been a big one. I have a whole attitude to change. I’m going to outline it, so that I can recall it easily next week when I begin to forget.

  1. Who am I to question where God asks me to work? As long as I’m obedient, it doesn’t matter if I’m not converting the millions of people I expected to be. I am working where God placed me. I cannot do any better than that.
  2. It doesn’t matter if I’m replaceable, or quiet, or freakishly brilliant, or anything. What matters is that I go where God says. I participate. Again, I’m obedient.
  3. Doubt can be so very, very subtle. And so very, very hurtful. Please God, keep showing me these splinters of doubt and tweezing all of them out!

 

But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice?

Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.”

1 Samuel 15:22 NLT

 “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.”

 

 2 John 1:6 NIV

Lies I Never Knew About Mum

God breaking chains.
Photo sourced from CreationSwap.com, by Marian Trinidad.

I could hardly listen in church on Sunday.

I posted last Thursday about how I’m afraid I’m selfish. Three days later, Dad (who’s just started moonlighting as an assistant minister when he’s not farming) preached a sermon on identity. More specifically, on how our identity in God motivates us to do good works, rather than a sense of duty.

The topic of good works has been hard for me lately; I feel torn in two directions. On the one hand, I look at my life and fear that I don’t serve enough. On the other, I don’t want to serve out of guilt, and I don’t want to have to fit another activity into my schedule. I’m praying that God will show me what to do, but at the same time I’m afraid that I’m a selfish Christian.

My Mum and I had a conversation about the sermon on the way home from church, and when I said I’m afraid that I’m selfish, Mum laughed. (She did it nicely. Feeling guilt has always been an issue for me, and she’s used to hearing about it.)

She told me I’m not selfish. And said she gets a similar thing, but her insecurity is different. It flared up at the start of the year when she was asked to lead a Bible study.

But before I share more, there’s three things you should know about my Mum:

1. She is very wise, and has always given me great advice;

2. She’s always been good at working with kids and teenagers and explaining things in a way they’ll understand; and,

3. She loves God and I’ve seen her sacrifice what she wanted to follow His plan instead.

To me, this sounds like an ideal combination for a Bible study leader. But this is what ran through her head when she was asked to lead a group of Year 12 girls:

You’re not smart. You can’t lead that group. Those kids will see straight through you.

You see, when Mum was a kid she changed schools a few times and had major gaps in her education. Her teachers never caught her up on the material she missed, and so she struggled with schoolwork till she graduated. One teacher called her dumb to her face.

Now, I know my Mum is actually quite an intelligent person.  But ever since that teacher said those careless words, she’s had a voice in her head repeating them.

But when she told me her insecurity, I laughed too. The thought that she’s not smart enough is just as ridiculous to me, as the thought that I’m selfish is to her.

Thankfully, Mum ignored her insecurity when it flared up six months ago and trusted God instead. She took on that Bible study group and one of the girls recently made a commitment to God. Mum is also aware of the devil’s plot, and is trusting God to help her. Yet that voice is still often in the background.

I can relate. I’ve also been aware of my tendency toward guilt since the Great Inner Turmoil of 2009. And God’s been helping me with it, but the devil still tries to use it against me again and again. And he does it because it works; it’s my weak spot. But as soon as Mum and I said our thoughts out loud to one another, the spell was broken. We could see them for what they were — manipulative lies.

It made me think, how many things run through my head and get me down … and they’re just nonsense?

My family.
Dad took this photo of us kids and Mum last year. L-R; Jack, me, Mum, Abby (on Mum’s lap), Bek and Jake.

I think we all have these weak spots. And I know I get surprised when the devil tries to use mine against me a second time. “Haven’t I outgrown that?” I think. The fact that I’m facing the same issue again makes me think that the solution I found the first time round must be flawed. I must have missed something. So I need to find it. And the merry-go-round starts again.

But no, Mum and I shared our insecurities and knew we hadn’t missed a thing. We knew what was right and what was not. The devil was just trying to psych us out. 

What does this tale tell us?

First, if you face an issue you’ve faced before, don’t get freaked out by it. You might not need more answers; you might just need to remember the ones God already gave you. Give it time, and the feeling could pass away.

Second, the devil is a tricky mutt who likes to use our insecurities against us. Recognise them. Fight them. It’s God’s power working through us that accomplishes anything anyway; our flaws just shine a light on Him even more.

Third, talking about the crazy thoughts in your head is helpful.

Last week, I posted about Matthew 7 and how I was taking my questions to God. I think I just got one of my answers.

 

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How to Know if You’re Doing Enough

David Webb

Am I doing enough?

The argument in my head goes like this:

1. I look at all the suffering in the world and feel sad. I wonder why God doesn’t do more to stop it. Then I wonder if He’s looking at us and saying, “I gave you the tools (like money and time) to help, now use them!”

However,

2. I don’t want to have no spare time and no money.

I do already give away a certain amount of my money, and up until my new job started I volunteered my time in youth ministry. But now I’ve got the job, writing commitments, and I just don’t want another night out of the house.

But is that selfish? Should I do more? Am I letting someone down?

The more I think about it, the more I feel like I can’t find the right answer because I’m asking the wrong question.

At the moment, my thought pattern seems to be guilt and obligation-based. I only have one idea of how to turn that around. (If anyone else has others, please share them!)

My one idea is that, instead of asking specific questions like, “Should I volunteer at XYZ organisation?”, I should ask God, “Please align my heart and life with You”.

I figure that if I’m more like God, and if I’m where He wants me to be, then I’ll want to do the right thing and be confident in what I’m doing.

But will God deliver on a request like that? Or is it up to me to determine where the line of selfishness is and keep away from it?

I read Matthew 7:7-8 this morning.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Matthew 7:7-8 NIV

And last week, Dad reminded me of Proverbs 3:5-6.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
 in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV

The  message I get out of that is; if I search with God, something’s going to work out. And if I trust God, I’ll go the way He wants me to.

I know this isn’t an excuse for me to just keep ‘seeking God’ and use that as an excuse to not actually do anything. James 2 makes it pretty clear God thinks that’s a stupid idea.

But it’s also not up to me to figure everything out. God’s promised to guide me through this. We’ll work it out together.

I need to keep asking, searching, putting Him before myself, and ask for help to make sure my mind doesn’t close off to His unexpected answers. I also need help to keep my eyes open for opportunities and jump on them.

But I think He’ll be happy to help me out with that. 🙂

 

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This Will Make You Smile

I am one of 7,000,000,000 people on the earth. I am one of tens of billions to exist in history.

Original map sourced from Creationswap.com, by Kaitlin McMichael.
Original map sourced from Creationswap.com, by Kaitlin McMichael.

I just pulled a hair from my head, slipped on my Supernatural Glasses of the Unseen (i.e. my imagination) and looked at the tiny, tiny number stamped at the base of the follicle.

#7,651

That’s right, God not only pays attention this little 1/7,000,000,000th of the world’s population, He knows exactly how many hairs are on my head.

Don’t believe me?

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Luke 12:6-8 NIV

That’s straight from the Big Man himself.

He giggled at the funny cartoon I drew at work today. He pondered my next novel idea with me. He heard my silent thoughts, wondering if anything I did today had eternal value. (And the follow-up thought, wondering if I think too much.)

I’ve been studying Experiencing God this week, and I’m up to a section that particularly deals with the church and our roles in it. It struck me anew that EVERY part of God’s ‘body’, the church, is vital.

 A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.

1 Corinthians 12:14-18 MSG

Do I treat myself like I am an essential part of my Christian community? (With the community being not just my church, but also my Christian friends, family, and organisations I’m involved in.)

Uh, no.

My default thought has always been that I’m a small toe. Handy, but not that effective or vital.

But there’s another part to this, too. Do I treat everyone else like they’re also the heart and muscle of this body called the church?

No again.

What would be different if I did? I’m not sure. But it’s something for me to ponder this week.

What I do know is, these verses make it clear that God has a very personal interest in my life, and my community. He wants to have relationship with us, work with us, and do life with us.

It’s a thought that makes me smile.