How is your heart?
I have struggled with writing this blog post for months as I’ve wrestled with the Holy Spirit. He has been working in my heart, revealing to me that, despite my best efforts, I am prideful, envious, and filled with thoughts of comparison.
I’ve now started to realize the core of my sin: I have cared too much for what others think of me—or my ministry—and not cared enough about who Jesus is calling me to be or who He says I am. My heart screamed with fear that I have not been doing enough—that I am inadequate.
But then I read 2 Corinthians 10:12–18.
We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand….For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. (NIV)
As I read that passage, I had to reorient my perspective and repent of the comparison, judgement, and boasting in my heart—and my lack of wisdom. In 1 Corinthians 1:5–7, Paul says:
For in him [Christ] you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.
It is not the works of my hands and the things that I do that I am to boast of. I am to boast about the work of Christ. He chooses to use me and to use you. I am to give glory, thanks, and praise in all situations. He gives me all I need, and I lack no spiritual gift.
As I’ve begun to understand that it is to be less about me and more about Him, my heart has started to heal. I’ve also found David Benner’s book The Gift of Being Yourself quite helpful in reorienting my heart back to the truth of Jesus.
“In order for our knowing of God’s love to be truly transformational,” Benner says, “it must become the basis of our identity . . . An identity grounded in God would mean that when we think of who we are, the first thing that would come to mind is our status as someone who is deeply loved by God.”
Can you imagine how much we could show the world God’s love if we were not concerned about our own accomplishments and instead felt deeply loved by Jesus? Knowing who we are in Christ can set us free. That is why it is important to know the truth of who the Bible says we are. It says we are:
- God’s children (John 1:12)
- God’s beloved (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
- Complete in Him (Colossians 2:10)
- Called with a holy calling (2 Timothy 1:9)
- A people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9)
- More than conquerors (Romans 8:37)
- Chosen before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).
And so much more. The C&MA has a wonderful resource that details all that the Bible has to say about who we are in Christ. You can find the downloadable resource here: http://cmalliance.org/about/family/leadership/books. It is a great place to start meditating on the truth of God’s word as we examine our hearts.
Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
“I think your son has a syndrome.” This is what the hospital physician shared with me just hours after my son’s birth. That day my life changed forever. Little did I know then that I had just entered the world of “special needs”: daily therapy appointments (OT /PT/speech) doctor visits, surgeries, and hospitalizations.
As I sat alone hearing this devastating news, I knew I desperately needed to talk with someone. My husband was at home catching up on the sleep he had missed over the last 48 hours, so I turned to God and his Word. Finding Psalm 139:13–16, I read:
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful . . .
God reminded me with these verses that it was it was He who had carefully framed and made my son and that His works were wonderful. Nathan was not a mistake but a chance for God to be glorified though His work of wonder. I continued to read in verses 15 and 16:
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
God also affirmed to me that not only did He know my son intimately, but He also had a plan for him as well. I might not always know or understand what that would be, but I knew that I could trust the Creator God with the plan He had for my precious infant son.
Armed with this reminder of God’s sovereignty and goodness, I walked down the long hospital hall to the nursery to gather up in my arms my “wonderfully made” son.
That was 33 years ago. Today, Nathan continues to reveal to me how wonderful are God’s works! Nathan loves the Lord and delights in serving as our Awana mascot, Cubbie Bear. He is a hugger who likes telling jokes, beating me at thumb wars, and bringing friends of all abilities to church.
When Encouragement Shows Up
Do you have days when you need a little encouragement?
Recently, I looked back over my pastoral career serving children and families. I wondered, What returns are there for all the effort—the cookies, story times, costumes, murals, songs?
Truthfully, I was tired. I not only was looking for encouragement; I also lacked energy to go on.
I am usually an Energizer Bunny. I just keep going and going. That week was different. I was finding it tricky to keep plowing through. This was a sign to me that I had switched power sources by relying on my own steam—so the work had quickly overwhelmed me.
God has called me, all of us, to Spirit-empowered, not self-powered, ministry. Still, there I sat in my office, feeling the heavy weight of the work week.
Make Your Presence Known
So I quietly prayed for God to make His presence known to me—in a way I could see clearly. I have prayed that prayer for countless others, but this was a first for me.
It should never surprise me—although it still does—when God graciously hears and responds to our prayers. The days that followed were not any less busy or frantic. The workload did not disappear.
But everything changed because God answered my prayers. And encouragement arrived.
Encouragement first showed up through a brief encounter with my friend, Jillian. She told me how she had spent time with Abby, a new friend. She discovered Abby didn’t believe in God and had no interest in knowing about Jesus. So Jillian had told Abby, “Even if you didn’t believe in God or know who Jesus is, God still believes in you and Jesus definitely knows who you are. God loves you, Abby, and wants to be in a relationship with you.”
Jillian did a beautiful job sharing the good news of a God who pursues us in love. This was particularly encouraging for me because Jillian is just seven years old and attends our children’s programs. What an answer to prayer!
I was encouraged again during our storytelling time that Sunday morning. We were engaged with the story of Noah’s Ark. The final page of the book we’d read had a beautiful drawing that included a spectacular rainbow. I asked the children to share with the group how the rainbow made them feel. I listened as the kids—ages 18 months to 11 years—expressed their insights.
After most of the kids had chimed in, it was Elijah’s turn. Approaching 5 years of age, he has a joy and exuberance I treasure. “When I see the rainbow,” he said, “I feel so happy because it reminds me that God is always with me. He is always with us all—and that’s just good news!” That encouraged all of us in the room!
Finally, encouragement also made an entrance into our preteens group that week. We were wrapping up our morning time together, preparing to pray. Then the kids, one at a time, prayed for each other—their tender hearts for one another were stunning. And the simplicity and power of their intercession was extraordinary. I was so encouraged by the empathy these middle schoolers had for one another.
I write of these encouragements to bring glory and praise to our Father in heaven. He truly is a good God, faithful to hear our prayers.
I know some of you today may be feeling tired. Some of you are in need of encouragement. I pray that God will make His presence known to you in ways that you will see Him clearly. And if you are in a season of being encouraged, I pray that you will quickly seek to encourage others—you may just be the answer to someone’s prayers.
May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:16–17).
How would you feel if the community labeled you with your weakest trait? Suppose you were in the grocery store and a familiar voice called out: “Hey, it’s Mr. Can’t-Dance” or “Mrs. Bad-at-Math!” How would you feel?
As a teacher in Uruguay I found myself wondering how to inspire fourth grade boys to reach out to people with disabilities in the community. My plan? I invited a group of blind soccer players to demonstrate their skills for the school. These boys were F-L-A-B-B-E-R-G-A-S-T-E-D at how talented these players were. Being able to use your strengths to overcome a challenge is essential for growing in life. These boys admired other people they might have ignored due to a lack of knowledge regarding how to relate to each another. They realized that not only did they have common ground they could use to form friendships, but most significantly, they realized the importance of getting to know people and appreciating their strengths. Since we were faced with social stigmas against people with different abilities (a.k.a. someone labeled as being disabled), the program Ability Awareness was initiated.
Human nature tends to dictate that we focus on the negative instead of the positive attributes of people. The Puzzle Piece Perspective, which Doug Bowman introduced through the Christian Learning Center (CLC) Network, offers an outlook we can intentionally adopt. The concept in this case is that the puzzle piece, or individual, is composed of both green and pink areas. Green represents a person’s gifts and strengths; pink represents areas we consider weaknesses or that need more development. I agree with CLC consultant Barbra Newman’s supposition that we humans were knit together with green and pink yarn. “For you have created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). The purpose of this concept is to celebrate the reality that each of us has strengths and weaknesses.
Unfortunately, many people see individuals with disabilities as “all pink.” They may use a disability as a label instead of focusing on the person and that individual’s abilities.
God knew exactly what He was doing when He made us. He does not make mistakes, and He does not make puzzle pieces that are all pink. Each of us has been given a gift—a different perspective than the world offers—to bring to the Body of believers. God has hand-knit each of us and given us each a specific spot to fill in His Kingdom.
God also does not make all-green puzzle pieces. We each are a beautiful blend of strengths and weaknesses. As members of a family, community, and church, our strengths can be used to encourage or help others where they need development—their “pink” areas. We fit together like a puzzle in the Body of Christ, crafted and placed in a community God planned, as described in 1 Corinthians 12: 21–27.
We can apply this perspective to our church ministries. The questions that initially arise when discussing ministry among people with disabilities may be:
- Do you want to minister TO a child with disabilities?
- Do we have ministries FOR children with special needs?
But these questions are sending the subliminal message to those with disabilities that “you need me to thrive.” This makes it sound like people who are disabled are fully pink puzzle pieces and the rest of us are all green. This is not the case.
We need a philosophical shift away from “leaders and followers” in how we do ministry among people with disabilities. Our goal must be to create genuine relationships. This shift can begin with healthier questions such as:
- How can we minister WITH people that have disabilities?
- How can we empower people to use their strengths to engage them in meaningful ministry?
In Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace, Nancy Eiesland reminds us that: We are “…temporarily able-bodied and our seeming wholeness and wellness is fragile . . . and fleeting in this broken world.”
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Psalm 103:13–14).
It is wise to remember we are dust and therefore cannot trust in our own abilities. As a church, how can we foster an “ability awareness” mentality? We must be good stewards today of the strengths God gave us before the wind blows.
Interested in learning more? Let us introduce you to Patty , our Special Needs Ministry Consultant.
Email: [email protected]
Beates, Michael. 2012. Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway.
Newman, Barbra. 2015. Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship. Wyoming, Michigan: Christian Learning Center Network.