Last week I experienced a tempest in a teapot, and I failed to weather the storm with grace. On Monday afternoon, I discovered that my blog’s subscription sign-up form was broken. It accepted the entry of an email address; everything looked fine. Except it didn’t actually update the subscription files. So I began a sweaty scramble to fix it.
I worked from 3:30 Monday afternoon until about 9:30 that evening. At that point, the tiny-tempest sank my site: everything stopped working. I went to bed. I woke early Tuesday morning, coordinated communication between four different help centers, got the site running, temporarily jury-rigged an email signup form, and published last week’s article.
Phew! It took me nine hours, but I got it done. Afterward I took a prayer time, beginning with My Utmost for His Highest. The devotional ended with:
Is there someplace where you are not at home with God? Then allow God to work through that particular circumstance until you increase in Him, adding His qualities.
I immediately felt convicted (in a good way). I hadn’t really repaired my website “in God.” Sure, I had asked God for help, but I had been “at home” in my skills rather than in God.
My work had the stench of human sweat rather than the fragrance of the Father.*
It wasn’t that big of a deal
For twenty-five years, I worked in software support, often working on problems that could cost my clients tens of thousands of dollars. Or their jobs. Compared with those situations, my little problem—a busted email sign-up form—wasn’t that big of a deal. It especially wasn’t a big deal compared with medical professionals who daily deal with life and death.
And I felt competent to talk with support hotlines and perform the simple web setup directions. I asked God for help, but probably out of habit. Mostly I felt I had things under control. Then I got a weekly email from Larry Crabb. It asked,
In what ways are you currently more focused on making a difficult situation better by asking God what to do, rather than seeking to draw near to God and give Him pleasure?
Again, I was convicted. I had asked God what I should do, but mostly I said, “I’ve got this one.” (Hey, I had been a software professional.) I simply relied on my natural skills. Yes, I asked God for a bit of help, but it was like taking a vitamin supplement to cover all the nutritional bases.
For me, it’s my natural strengths
An old adage says, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Atheists find that statement highly insulting, and I don’t mean to offend. Rather, I apply it to believers like me. When I’m in deep trouble, something I know I can’t handle, I turn to God; not perfectly, but at least eagerly.
But in a situation for which I think I have some expertise, I lean into my aptitude or training. I might ask God for ideas, but mostly I go it alone. And my behavior isn’t all that attractive. Symptoms of leaning on my own strengths include:
- Preoccupation: During my website malfunction, I thought of little else.
- Excessive energy: I pour more energy into a situation than it deserves.
- Crabbiness: Little irritants frustrate me more quickly than normal.
- Self-pity: I’m quick to ask, “Why does this always happen to me?”
- Imbalance: I sense something in me is “out of whack” (a deeply theological term), but I’m not sure what to do with it, and I usually ignore it.
- Fault-finding: I notice the faults of other people; “Why can’t they work as hard as me?”
- Task-squeezing; Believe it or not, when I’m operating in my natural skill-set, I usually find ways to squeeze in extra tasks, even when the ones I’m doing already fill my plate.
All this is to say, when I’m operating in my strengths . . . I’m not a pleasant person to be around. Using our skills isn’t bad, unless—like me—we rely on them instead of God.
Isn’t that strange?
You may be different than me—maybe you’re harder to be around when you face a situation you are clueless to handle—but I find that my strengths are my biggest obstacles to the presence of God; in those times, I least bring the fragrance of the Father.
My natural goodness is my greatest hindrance to a spirit-changed goodness.
God is attracted to the humble. Something about our open need of God is beautiful to him. That’s why Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3) and David sang, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
God is calling me to die to myself, and “myself” in this case is my natural strength. Chambers once wrote, “I am called to live in such a perfect relationship with God that my life produces a yearning for God in the lives of others, not admiration for myself.”
It’s easier said than done
It’s not that my natural strengths are bad, it just that I often don’t cling to God when I operate in them. How do we learn to lean into spirit-changed strengths and not into our natural ones? How do we avoid the stench of human sweat and live in the fragrance of the Father?
I don’t know. But I think God is taking me through a time of training. It has that scent.
Meanwhile, if you ever come over to my house for dinner, pray that God has put me in a desperate situation for which I have no wisdom, ideas, or natural strength.
I’ll be a much more pleasant host.
* I heard of the “stench of human sweat versus the fragrance of the Father” in a conversation with Gary Barkalow who quoted Wayne Jacobsen. Something about that line just smelled right.
Wow! I have 2 gears- dead asleep and task squeezing. I knew something was wrong with this picture but not sure why. God has been heightening my awareness of this but today He has wrapped the language around it. Mine is a willing heart but often ignorant. Thank you for this insight.
Thank YOU. (Misery loves company; and fellow confessors.)
God keeps after us, so we have hope.
My 6th grandchild, was born on Wednesday the 20th of May. I have for over 60 years demanded of myself “perfection” where none is to be found. When it becomes more important than anything els, being acceptrd, adored, a real communicator… all those things, then I demand them of others, anger, frustration, angina… and it is more apparent in the last 2 days. Then pain killers to get by… when they wear off and the sense of control leaves, sulleness, depression and more anger. A sense of worthlessness, etc. Self tak, believing something? I think He spoke to me “I walk with you in your addiction”… Then as I type this, and there comes a rest. I know He has gone before me then I think “I got this… well the stench maybe is reaching my nose again… giving up? not in the sense of saying “F” it. Kinda like an alcoholic… admitting I AM powerless… I’m throwing this on a teflon wall. as far as the east is from the west. Self help books never worked. Even used the Bible. I hope what He’s aying sinks in or just know it is. Who wants to look at their “wall” until that is all we see? Who is worthy? ha! Is it the mirror or seeing past it to another face He is showing us? Love, grace, mercy and putting down the measuring staff… love you all.
Absolutely, self-help books aren’t the answer. It is learning to walk with God.
God desires a relationship with us more than our terrific performance.
I am also in IT (infrastructure -contractor). One thing for sure in IT every Company is different and although they all may be using the same components the permutations of what can and does go wrong are very numerous. I’ve been in some pretty testing situations over the last 22 years and despite the fear of failing God’s grace has always won me through, whether I’ve specifically asked for his help in the situation or not, especially when the situation has been beyond me. Even when the circumstances seem calm and in control trouble can strike.
I have and am still learning that walking into the day without engaging God is very unwise, but he still is there to rescue. He is always faithful. I do identify that sometimes it feels a bit like taking your vitamens or keeping up your insurance payments, but with Gods prompting and my heart’s desire to serve I want it to be more than that, and I know he gives me grace in spite of myself. I would like to encourage anyone who reads this blog that God in his grace loves the effort to engage with him no matter how small.
Reading in Romans – I like the way the Amplified bible expands Romans 2:4 This is how it spoke to me in light of the your blog topic Sam
Gods kindness, grace and patience have a purpose – to draw us to him, get us back to trusting and relying on Him and lead us away from self reliance. Its the real trust and faith we have in him that is counted as righteousness not the self reliance and associated works.
A hard one to put in practice all the time but one I’m learning more and more
Romans 2 vs 4 Or are you [so blind as to] trifle with and presume upon and despise and underestimate the wealth of His kindness and forbearance and long-suffering patience? Are you unmindful or actually ignorant [of the fact] that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repent ([a]to change your mind and inner man to accept God’s will)?
Thanks for your great comment. I love that translation of those verses.
I think it’s an invitation from God to walk closely with him. He loves it when we exercise the gifts he’s given us, but he wants (even more) to walk with us as we do so.