I've been working on a research paper about the Sermon on the Mount, which I hope will be useful to small group leaders. Just knowing that someone will read the paper, and potentially teach based on my research, has caused waves of anxiety. I've studied the writings of a dozen prominent Christian theologians, pastors, and professors, who've all offered similar interpretations of Jesus' Sermon. Yet I question, What if I'm misunderstanding their words? What if I just don't get it? What if I give those small group leaders bad information?
My fears reminded me of a recent conversation with a friend who's been called into ministry. She told me she was afraid of not knowing enough, not being prepared to do what God wanted her to do. I've had similar discussions with many Christians who are petrified they will appear ignorant of their own faith. So, rather than sharing their faith with folks who aren't believers, or having the conversations with other Christians that lead to spiritual growth, we keep mum. Silence seems a better option than exposing ourselves as people who don't have all the answers.
I told my friend that God would be continuously preparing her, and this was "on the job" training. I told her she had the constant guidance and help of the Holy Spirit, who could give her words that she didn't even know she had--and shut her mouth when necessary. (The latter is one of my regular prayers: "Holy Spirit, shut me up if I'm about to do damage.")
And I told her about one of my major mistakes. Some years ago, I used the words of the Apostle Paul to prove a point I was making about salaries for church workers. Or, I should say, I misused Paul's words. Truthfully, I didn't even know I was making a mistake, but as soon as I'd made the comparison, something was gnawing at my spirit. So I immediately re-read Paul's words. On studying the passage carefully, my mistake was verified. Straight away, I went to the people I'd been speaking with and informed them of my mistake. Yes, I was very embarrassed. But God used that occasion to re-focus me on his will, and to show me I'd been more interested in my ideas than his.
Ever since, I've always prayed before inserting Scripture into my writing. And I never use it to prove my point. God gave us his Word as the example of absolute truth--we can measure any other statement against it. We can use it to correct errors, but only as long as the Bible is the standard. We must never use the Bible to promote our personal opinions as "truth."
I was recently quoted in two sermons, which also terrified me. Then today, I remembered that 12 years ago, before I became a Christian, I was quoted in another sermon. There had been a huge fire in the town where I'd lived and worked as a reporter, and the area was evacuated. In response, I'd written a piece about hope, community, and perseverance. That pastor didn't tell me he'd planned to quote my story, and I wasn't in attendance when he gave the sermon. But I sure heard about it afterward. People from that church approached me and thanked me for the uplifting words.
This was baffling, since I'd felt tremendous hostility toward the Christian church at the time. Why would they find my words uplifting?
God used this back then to soften my heart a bit. And he used it today to remind me he can use anything--and anyone--at any time he desires. Even me: flaws and fears included.
1) Do you sometimes feel you aren't ready to discuss your faith?
2) Are you ever afraid to talk with other Christians, worried they might think less of you for your lack of knowledge about the Bible?
3) What do you do when these fears hit?
4) If you're feeling insufficient or incapable, pray this:
God, honestly, I think you can't use me. I don't feel ready. I don't feel good enough. It seems like I never will be.
But I recognize that you are God. You are bigger than me. You are strong and awesome. You have the ability--and the right--to use anybody you want for your purposes.
Please give me the courage to speak about you. Please help me to grow into a courageous Christ-follower. Please prepare me for whatever you have in store. Help me to recognize this is on-the-job training. Keep me from feeling overwhelmed at the stuff I feel I lack.
I'm all yours. Amen.