Monday, July 20, 2009

The Glorious Blessing of Inadequacy

This is an article from one of my all-time favorite writers, H. Wallace Goddard. He is a regular contributor to Check him out in their archives.

As a society, we celebrate competence. We give awards for excellence. We prize innovation. We worship individual accomplishment.

God is different. He chooses the inadequate. He honors the humble. He works through the meek. He makes the last first. He prefers broken hearts to sturdy competence.

Models of Inadequacy

Consider the following statements by some of God's great ones:

Brother of Jared: Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; ... we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; (Ether 3: 2)

Paul: Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities ... (2 Corinthians 12:9)

King Benjamin: Can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay, Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; ... And I, even I, whom ye call your king, am no better than ye yourselves are; (Mosiah 2:25-26)

Ammon: Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; (Alma 26:12)

Alma: I do not glory of myself (Alma 29:9)

Moses: I know that man in nothing, which thing I never had supposed. (Moses 1:10)

Helaman: O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth. (Helaman 12:7)

Enoch: Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant? (Moses 6:31)

Joseph Smith: I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; (TPJS, p.304)

Jesus: The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do. (John 5:19)

Did pre-conversion saints make these seemingly gloomy statements? Is this self-abnegation a manifestation of spiritual immaturity?

No. These statements were made by some of this world's most mature disciples. This attitude is the doctrine of the kingdom. This is the mindset God recommends.

Doctrine of the Church of Modern Thinking

Such humility is heresy in the Church of Modern Thinking. The believer in such doctrine is worthy of scorn. The true believer in humanism “raises up hands in praise of his own bright artistry” (Paraphrased from the World's Fair introduction to Man's Search for Happiness ).

Secular humanism argues that we need no god because we are gods in our own right. In stark contrast, the Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that we are nothing without the God of heaven.

Maybe there is no place where the doctrine of the world is so much at odds with the doctrine of the Kingdom as in our dependence on God. This should be no surprise. This starting point makes all the difference. We who are large in our own eyes, will be small in the eyes of eternity.

And because of this their great wickedness, and their boastings in their own strength, they were left in their own strength; therefore they did not prosper, but were afflicted and smitten, and driven before the Lamanites, until they had lost possession of almost all their lands. (Helaman 4:13)

What a shame that any of us would voluntarily limit ourselves to our own puny power!

It is those who are small in their own eyes — the Brother of Jared, the apostle Paul, King Benjamin, Ammon, Alma, Moses, Moses, Helaman, Enoch, Joseph Smith, and Jesus — who are the pivot points for eternity.

Doctrine in the Church of God

The gospel doctrine is clear:

Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost. (2 Nephi 28:31, cf 2 Nephi 4:34)

None is acceptable before God save the meek and lowly in heart. (Moroni 7:44)

Do not say: O God, I thank thee that we are better than our brethren; but rather say: O Lord, forgive my unworthiness, and remember my brethren in mercy — yea, acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times. (Alma 38:14)

Most of us gladly give lip service to humility. “Sure we must trust God. But He expects us to be anxiously engaged. He wants us to do all that we are able.”

Yes. Satan is subtle. Yet the doctrine is clear: “Wherefore, let no man glory in man, but rather let him glory in God, who shall subdue all enemies under his feet” (D&C 76:61).

Making the Doctrine Personal

Let's make this painfully personal: In what way am I trusting in my own ability? In what ways do I seek adulation, praise, or prominence? In what ways do I compare myself to others to evaluate how well or how poorly I am doing in my calling or my spirituality? In what ways do I take credit (“glory”) to myself?

The language of God may sound foreign to our earthly ears. Consider how our attitude and language might be different if we understood His doctrine and His language:

I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve Him.
I am thankful for the blessings He bestows.
I can see God shining through you.
He is able to do His work.
I am humbled that He would let me be His messenger.

As our spiritual roots tap into wellsprings of living water, our attitude changes. We want to excel only to the extent it will bless, only to the extent it will advance His work. We do not seek any glory. Rather we recognize that anything that is good comes from Him. We rejoice, not in what we are in our own right, but in the amazing fact that He would do His work through us.

When someone honors our efforts, we do not necessarily make a scene by protesting and discounting the kind person's statements; we simply express thanks. But in our hearts we offer all glory, all honor, all praise to the source of life, light, and truth. We know where all goodness originates.

The Latter-day Invitation

We can be a sword in God's hand — having no will but His will — or we can be a snake in His hand — wriggling and wanting our “freedom.” When we wriggle and resist, we are not useful for His purposes and can do nothing of ourselves.

That is one of the great ironies: The more we submit our will to His, the more we become free. As contradictory as the idea sounds, those who have felt God's power moving their lives know it is true. Freedom comes from setting aside our agendas and filling ourselves with Him. We listen. We follow. We rejoice.

The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh —

But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world;

That faith also might increase in the earth;

That mine everlasting covenant might be established;

That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers. (D&C 1:19-23)

As we trust God, we gladly embrace our inadequacy. We know that He is the One who changes everything. We invite Him to act through us.

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