Limitations and Strengths

2 corinthians 9

“It is not until we are comfortable with and thankful for our limitations that God empowers us to be used in our strengths.” (Dick Brogden, Live Dead)

Fairly often, I’m comfortable with my limitations. Well, at last accepting of their existence. However, I probably spend an equal amount of time being frustrated by them. Mostly that means comparing myself to others, which only leads to increased dissatisfaction with my limitations as I desire to be someone I’m not and fail to appreciate the person God made.

Until just a few years ago, actually being thankful for my limitations never fell on my radar. Tolerance, a mix of apathy and acceptance, sure. But not thankfulness. Increasing frustration for certain when I thought about them too much.

The last few years have brought increasing comfort with my limitations as well as some measure of thankfulness much of the time. This came as I realized I’m not only protected by my limitations, but I’m directed by them too. You see, without my limitations, I’d more often that not head down the wrong path. I’d miss God’s will.

Take exercise for example. My goal now exists as general fitness and as good of health as possible. It used to be to project to others the image of an athlete, someone who could physically excel and be stronger, thinner and healthier than others. It was all about status and comparisons. My limitations? My body simply would not cooperate with the life of an athlete. I eventually saw those limitations as protection against a wrong focus, something that could easily have become an obsession.

So, I’m learning to be consistently both comfortable with and thankful for my limitations. I see their benefits more fully almost daily, and I realize the way God uses them to direct my focus toward His desires.

Paul talks about a thorn in his flesh in 2 Corinthians 12, and he talks about how it was there to keep him from exalting himself. Before reaching what seems like a place of comfort and thankfulness with this thorn, Paul asked God three times to remove it. I can relate. I asked God way more than three times to remove my food allergies and sensitivities, another major area of limitation in my life.

Eventually, Paul reached the point of boasting in His weakness, realizing that it was in his limitations that the power of Christ dwelt in Him. His conclusion on the matter finally being…

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’… For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

The truth of grace’s sufficiency becomes evident through our limitations — our weaknesses — as we realize our utter helplessness for meaningful success in our own efforts. Even what we’re good at, we eventually realize, exists with limitations in place for our good.

When we reach a point of comfort with and acceptance of our limitations, we become more focused on being used in our strengths, our gifts and abilities, placed within us by our Creator. Placed there for divine reasons, our limitations direct us to and help keep us focused on to His glory.

Presence Over Productivity

Presence 1

Productivity = the quality, state, or fact of being able to generate, create, enhance, or bring forth goods and services.

Generate. Create. Enhance. Bring Forth.

We all feel good when these describe our day, week, month, year, life. We feel successful.

Presence = the act of being, existing or occurring at this time or now; current. Synonyms are being, companionship, company & existence.

Being. Existing. Occurring. Companionship.

True companionship — presence with another — satisfies a deep part in ourselves that otherwise remains untouched.

Both productivity and presence begin with outward activity, and both satisfy an inward need. But there’s a distinct and crucial difference between the two.

Alone, productivity remains pretty close to the surface of defining who we are as individuals. It brings a sense of acceptance from our culture. Eventually, though, as our ability to be productive waxes and wanes and even slows to a stop at times, we realize the limits of what productivity does within and through us.

Presence, on the other hand, fills a deep need within every person to receive acceptance as they simply dwell with others. Presence fulfills and rewards at our core. It allows for a deep satisfaction not found any other way.

Productivity still remains a healthy and satisfying activity. It even exists as a Biblical directive for our lives (2 Thessalonians 3:10, 2 Corinthians 9:6, Acts 20:35 & 1 Thessalonians 4:11).

Presence, though, satisfies at a much deeper level than productivity because it creates purpose in our lives that fuels meaningful productivity. When presence exists with our Creator, joy and rest result (Psalm 16:11 & Exodus 32:14). When presence happens within the body of Christ (other Christians), we experience help, healthy and victory (Genesis 2:18 & Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

If you struggle with busyness and overload and have no idea how to create margin and find a simpler life, let me share a principle — a phrase, really, that bounces around in my head — it helped me when I was chronically overwhelmed and overloaded and it helps keep me from getting to that point again.

Presence 2

Always choose being fully present in your relationships over being productive. You’ll soon discover the productivity, at least in the areas that matter, happens not in spite of choosing presence but because of it.

DISCUSSION: How has making relationships a priority transformed your life?

Pursuing Encouragement Through Fellowship

As an introvert, spending time alone comes quite easily for me. As a writer, aloneness is often required for productivity. Even though my career and my personality promote solitude, and I really do like the peace and quiet, I cannot escape the need for regular connection. If I go too long with out it, which happens periodically, I become discouraged and even depressed almost without realizing it’s happening.

Everyone needs connection, whether they admit – or realize – it or not; in fact, it’s one of the primary ways God encourages believers. We’ve already talked about how He encourages through Scripture and through His Holy Spirit. Let’s now look at the role fellowship with other believers plays in encouragement.

Fellowship

Encouragement Through Fellowship

Scripture says quite a lot about encouragement, and much of it focuses in on the encouragement received through fellowship. For example, encouragement through fellowship…

  • Promotes watchfulness as Jesus’ return nears. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 & Hebrews 10:25)
  • Defeats selfishness as we seek to build others up. (Romans 15:1-2)
  • Creates unity among believers. (Romans 15:5-6)
  • Provides opportunity to use spiritual gifts. (Romans 12:6-7)
  • Glorifies God. (Romans 12:8-9)

While I believe each of these to be accurate simply because I trust the inerrancy of God’s word, experiencing encouragement in action takes this knowledge to, well, a more encouraging level.

Barnabas’ Example

A man in the early church named Joseph was given the nickname Barnabus.

Barnabas

Barnabas encouraged Paul by helping him gain acceptance into the church even after he persecuted it (Acts 9:27). Barnabas also encouraged Mark by helping him gain a second chance after serious failure (Acts 13:13 & Acts 15:39).

While I love how Barbabas encouraged others by helping them move forward after serious mistakes, I love even more that he was willing to take a back seat to others. When others give of themselves for our benefits, we are encouraged. When they put their reputation on the line, that usually provides motivation for doing our best.

If you look at the list above for how believers receive encouragement through fellowship, it’s not hard to see how Barnabas lived out each of them. And I’m pretty sure, based on the Barnabas’ in my own life and that I’ve watched in the lives of others, that he not only encouraged those he was directly involved with but also anyone who witnessed him in action. Encouragement has a tremendous ripple affect after all.

So even though spending time alone comes quite naturally for me and in fact energizes me in ways that extroverts cannot understand, I also know that being with others is essential for my spiritual health. And while I read Scripture that tells me how and why encouragement comes through others, it’s the actual encouragement in action that solidifies my belief in this truth.

DISCUSSION: How have you witnessed encouragement in action through the lives of other believers?

Loving Others AS Yourself

Back to the Beginning

While immediately associated with romantic love, Valentine’s Day’s ties to romantic love actually did not take place until Chaucer’s poetry in the 14th Century. Instead, Valentine’s Day originated in commemoration of at least one early Christian saint named Valentinus, martyred between AD 197 and AD 496 for their acts of sacrificial love.

This focus on sacrificial love – of focusing on others over self – ties with what Jesus said that ALL scripture hangs on (is summed up in and depends on):

Valentine 1

Paul amplifies Jesus’ words by connecting them specifically with new life activity in our relationships:

Valentine 2

So, loving God above all and then loving others AS yourself not only provide THE most important principles for our lives, but also THE most important article of clothing for our new natures in Christ.

A long-time struggle for me in living this principle lies with fulfilling the second of these commands, loving others AS yourself.

What if you don’t love yourself?

For me, years of chronic depression involved a great deal of self hate. Outside of that struggle, failures in relationships led to significant self dislike, while comparisons showed even more reason for wishing I was anyone but me. And this selfish focus blocked my ability to love others.

Over time, the impact of Jesus’ sacrificial love changed how I viewed myself. As my focus went from feelings, emotions and comparisons to how He saw me, I began to realize not only the importance of self love but that it must be rooted in God’s view of me and how He exercises His love.

Valentine 3

Focusing on AS

Realizing God’s sacrificial love for me helped bring me to a point of self love that allowed a focus outside of myself, one intent on love God and others AS I am loved.

The commands to love others and to love self are not two separate commands. Rather, they are two parts of one command to live out love for God, a love that consumes the heart, soul and mind.

Love for self does not include selfish pursuits that make us feel good or happy, and self love does not justify fulfilling the flesh’s wants and desires. This selfishness provides only a temporary emotional happiness fix.

Instead, self love involves accepting ourselves – personality, physical appearance, even weaknesses and faults – because our own identity lies grounded in Christ’s unconditional love for us exactly AS we are right now. Out of this flows a love for others that comes through in our attitudes, actions and words as we live in relationship with them.

When our identity exists grounded in Christ, in His love for and acceptance of us, we discover a self love that gives us the capacity to love others AS Jesus exhorted. To help grasp this, think about what’s at the heart of you feeling loved, of your feeling genuine acceptance of who you are AS a person. Gifts and even kind acts mean very little in the absence of genuine acceptance of who you are AS a person.

Something significant happens in how we view ourselves when our our Christian identity involves being accepted by Christ and is not earned by works or moral standing. This creates a love for self that transfers to how we love others; it serves as an example of HOW we are to love others.

Celebrate Valentine’s Day

With the idea of Valentine’s Day’s original intent in mind along with understanding the tie between loving others and loving self, celebrate Valentine’s Day with fresh perspective. Celebrate the sacrificial love that seeks for the greatest good, that accepts how God made you and others. Celebrate a love that sacrifices any focus on self and instead embraces personalities and makes allowances for faults. Live love that comes only through complete focus on God’s love for us.

DISCUSSION: How does loving yourself change how you love others, and, ultimately, how God’s love exists in your life?

Sunday Reflections – Understanding & Improving Our Communication

You cannot NOT communicate. You are always communicating something. I heard this in a college class almost 20 years ago, and it stuck with me. Unfortunately, most of us make too many assumptions and spend way too much time following those assumptions about others’ communication. We too often fail to pay enough attention, or any at all, to our own communication abilities.

Realizing this, you can deliberately choose to improve your communication skills. To start, consider these 7 Essential Elements of Communication to be aware of as we seek to improve our ability to communicate.

  1. We judge ourselves by our intentions. We can’t really know for sure the intentions of others. But when we’re honest with ourselves and with a lot of help from the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12), we can better know our own intentions.
  2. We judge others by their actions. Since we can’t truly know another’s intentions, we usually base decisions about others on their actions. Maybe this is one reason showing faith by actions (James 2:18) is so crucial.
  3. People want validation & acceptance. We just want to be accepted and understood. This does not necessarily mean agreement with another’s opinions or actions, but it does mean a willingness to try to understand their perspective. Fortunately, when we fall short in this, God fills the gaps (John 6:37).
  4. Broad shoulders are invaluable. Having broad shoulders means not being offended easily and forgiving freely. Do You Have Broad Shoulders? Developing them improves your ability to communicate by removing the barriers of unforgiveness and misinformation.
  5. The Golden Rule is a terrific communication tool (Luke 6:31). Simply treating others how you want to be treated will improve communications in your relationships significantly.
  6. Seeking first to understand makes a huge difference. Before insisting on being understood, seek to understand others. Doing so not only improves communication, but it keeps you from looking foolish (Proverbs 18:2, 13).
  7. You can only change yourself. Replace old, ineffective habits with new habits that build relationships (Ephesians 4:22-24). Let your mind be renewed continually (Romans 12:1-2). Develop and grow the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

A look at improving our communication skills is lacking to some extent if we fail to focus at least a little on how we handle conflict. Conflict is not only necessary, but it is also unavoidable. Fortunately, conflict can actually strengthen instead of tear relationships apart if we employ point #7 above by specifically looking at our own part in any conflict (Romans 12:18). Do this using these 7 Questions to Ask During a Conflict.

  1. Am I jumping to conclusions?
  2. Am I being insensitive or too sensitive?
  3. Am I being selfish?
  4. Am I doing God’s job?
  5. Am I trying to control others?
  6. Am I communicating clearly?
  7. Could I be the one who is wrong?

Relationships are a top priority for God (Matthew 22:37-39), and fulfilling His command to love others requires good communication skills. What can you do this week to improve your ability to communicate with others?

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