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As a younger, insecure, preacher, two ideas batted my spirit back and forth like a tennis ball. Perhaps they reflect thoughts you struggle with as well. They are dangerous and need to be addressed because they keep many of us back from serving, or make our service less than we wish it were. Why don’t we do this? Why don’t we try? Why are our “tries” so timid, so temporary? Here are two things that have hamstrung my ability to serve with love and joy:
1. Thinking I have to be perfect.
2. Thinking I am not special.
On the face of it, these seem to be opposite ideas: Wouldn’t perfectionists think they’re special? Wouldn’t people who don’t think they’re special be okay with poor work? But in reality, these work together.
We think we have to be perfect. After all, how is it that I—little ol’ me—could really be a conduit for God’s love? A blessing to people? I’m not that good at xyz; I don’t know xyz; I’ve never done xyz before.
But this ignores the cover-to-cover teaching of Scripture. Everywhere we look in Scripture, everyone the Lord Jesus uses is imperfect. None of our “top ten” heroes of the faith, were on anyone’s “top ten” lists for anything. Unless it was “top ten people who are just, like, The Worst.”
God doesn’t expect perfect. He knows exactly who we are. His expectations are accurate. And God doesn’t want perfect. There can only be One All-Perfect Source of All Good. That’s Him. He doesn’t need us to be perfect; He needs us to be who we are, so that His many perfections might present themselves in the gap between what we’re able to do and what happens.
Even the most perfect person God ever used—Jesus—was full to the brim of human limitations and weakness. Being human is not a crime. Being a sinner is—well, it is a sinful sin—but it’s not a disqualification.
Being unwilling to trust God, to serve, to try, that’s the only disqualification. No perfect people allowed in God’s service. But imperfect people who are willing to be imperfect and point to Jesus for the benefit of others? There’s no one butthose people in God’s employ.
Second, we think we are not special. So, first we say, “I just need to learn a little more, or defeat that sin, or acquire that skill, and then I’ll be ready!” Second, we say, “Who am I? Why should anyone listen to me? I’m nobody.”
The Gospel is rooted in the fact that The God is The Creator; that’s why He bothers with Redemption. And if He’s the creator, then what am I? I’m a creature. I’m a creation—me is made.
Our world prizes faceless precision; perfect automation. But notice, while it demands perfection it also makes us all replaceable. Cogs in the machine. And so we have to be. The machine won’t work if the tolerances vary. One engineer, one factory worker, one nurse, one sales person: the best we can be is robot-reliable, -precise, and -efficient.
We are not this. We are not robots. We are not cogs.
It’s important that it’s you doing it. You are unique. Because you are made. In fact, some of the things we chalk up to our imperfection are those things that make our service helpful.
We all acknowledge that The Gospel is the power of God that saves. And we acknowledge that this news—the cross of Christ—is a stumbling block. But Paul presses deeper in 1 Corinthians 1 when he says, “It pleased God to save those who believe through the folly of preaching.” (1 Cor 1:21)
Preaching, like every act of Christian love, feels vulnerable. You are exposed. It is not just the cross that is open to ridicule. And so it is natural to feel insecure: Who am I? What can I do? We feel this way because we feel foolish. But what Paul is saying is that it’s not just the Gospel that God uses, but He also uses the clown at the podium. God doesn’t work despite our vulnerability; God works through and in our vulnerability.
“All men matter. You matter. I matter. It’s the hardest thing in theology to believe.” –GK Chesterton, (as Father Brown in The Scandal of Father Brown, 34)
The servant is important; God is with us. You are important; God is in you, completing His love. (1 John 4:12) You are imperfect; you are not perfect. You are special; you are not a cog. Your imperfect, utterly unique, voice is needed in the choir of the saints praising the Grace of God in Christ. We need to hear from each other, be served and loved by each other, not because we’re perfect, but because we each are uniquely imperfect, and thus able to draw attention to a unique perfection of God’s love.
What else can it mean for us to “comprehend together…the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ”? Everyone of us needs to show up. Everyone brings a dish to pass. Otherwise, the potluck, the party, isn’t complete.