The Incompetence of Overconfidence

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  (John 15:5 NIV)

It was somewhere around my sophomore year of high school, when our football team had been having an exceptionally good year.  I can’t remember the stats (I never was a huge sports nut…I was just there to play in the band!), but we were gaining a reputation of being a team who could beat the stuffin’s out of just about anyone else.  Our reputation, however, was our downfall on one particular night.

It was a team who hadn’t won a game all year who took us out.  Oh, it was bad.  We’d driven forever to get there, and when the trek is in a school bus over winding roads such as we have here in rural West Virginia, it can seem an eternity.  But an overconfident team of boys went out on the field, unprepared.  The hare and the tortoise, if you will.  And 4 quarters later, some of those big, tough boys were sitting in the middle of the ball field, crying in disbelief, pride crushed.  I remember our coach stomping  through the lot of them barking, “Get up!  Get up!  Stop sniveling like a bunch of girls and take your whipping like a man!”

It’s humorous now, but it was a somber night, and an even longer drive back home in that weaving, fume-sputtering old bus.  Oh, I don’t remember it because of the boys crying over losing a ballgame;  I remember the lesson from it all.  Overconfidence breeds underestimation of one’s opponent.  I’m not talking about overconfidence in God; no, I’m referring to overconfidence in our own might; overconfidence in our numbers, our success rate, and our ability to do it with one arm tied behind our backs.  Feeling as if we’re entitled to be on top just because of our track record.  Humility vacates the premises whenever pride takes center stage.  There’s a real danger of defeat when we look at God’s provision with presumption instead of recognizing His favor as a privilege.  And yes, great is the fall which follows pride.

Just like those boys who got their clock cleaned by the team lowest on the ratings roster, we are no match for the enemy if we’re riding on yesterday’s victories instead of today’s preparation and a healthy, current relationship with the One Who’s really doing the fighting.  We can’t afford to take Him for granted!  Sometimes, because we feel particularly strong—invincible even—we go forward feeling that we need no further preparation in prayer and the Word.  We may even gain a further false sense of security when we successfully jump a few little hurdles, and when we see we were able to do coast along, we get lax.  Don’t be fooled, friend.  You need a daily experience with the Father, and so do I.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some things you carry forward with you, like years of investment in reading and memorizing the Word.  Scriptures which come freely into my mind now aren’t there because I picked up the Bible just last week; no, much of that comes from revisiting passages over and over again since I was a small child.  Chewing on them.  Speaking them.  And the Holy Spirit will bring to our memories the things He’s commanded us.  Thing is, though, if you’ve not read it, how can you possibly remember it?  And when I needed to draw on deep strength to get me through the traumatizing months of recovery from Dana’s and my accident, there was confidence in God because in the past I had invested time into my relationship with Him.  But the immediate “push forward” burst of faith came because I was currently in close fellowship with God.  I needed both: long-term relationship and daily renewal.

Any pond which has no inlet and outlet will eventually turn stagnant.  An empty belly today isn’t satisfied just remembering that it was full yesterday.  Our spirit man is no different.

The best analogy I’ve ever heard drawn was by the late Dr. Adrian Rogers, in a series on the Lord’s Prayer.  In covering the passage where Jesus’ model prayer asked for “daily bread,” (Matthew 6:11) Pastor Rogers compared our relationship with God to a trolley car, rather than an automobile.  A car fills up and drives till it’s empty, but a trolley has an arm directly connected to a constant source of electrical current.  He said, “My strength is not in my tank, it’s not in the bank, it’s in the Lord God and my hands are raised, constantly reaching for His daily provision.”  So should we also be, not leaning to our own understanding, our “handle on things,” or an encounter we had perhaps years ago with God.

If you’re new in the faith, take confidence that God meets you where you are.  He can accelerate your understanding of His Word and His grace will carry you over the waves of inexperience, so just know that He is in your corner and He’ll send reinforcements if you need it.  But there’s a profound truth that you’ll need to remember, long after the new has worn off your encounter with God and you’re a “seasoned” believer:  a daily walk with Jesus is your key to survival.  Daily.  And until you make it across the finish line, until your scoreboard clock runs out and the players walk off the field, You’ll need to constantly renew your mind to the Word.  There will never be a time when you don’t really need His mercy, grace, and the sustenance of daily bread…so get started building up those spiritual muscles.  To borrow a slogan from a famous sneaker maker, “Just do it.” Right now.

“At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.” (Hebrews 12:11 The Message)

©2012 Lisa Crum

Because I Said So

Jesus replied, “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” (Luke 11:28 NLT)

“Because I said so.”  Those four words were about the most abrupt –yet most profound– explanation I would receive as a child, when instructed by my parents or grandparents to do something.  As a matter of fact, usually by the time I heard those words, it was because I had exhausted their patience with my “why-ning” (smile) and was skating mighty close to some disciplinary action!

Aren’t we a lot like that with our Heavenly Father sometimes too?  The evidence is everywhere as we see common breakdowns in our Christian faith: church splits, confusion, moral plummeting, folks going rogue, and perhaps the saddest of all, believers in general living less than victorious, effective, forward-moving lives.  Why?  Because instead of heeding God’s instructions the first time around, we often instead go on a geocaching expedition in hopes of unearthing some exemption clause from having to be obedient.  Whew…that was a mouthful.  But it’s true.  Why can’t we just do what He says?  After all, He IS God…

Our whole lives, we wrestle with that all-important inquiry, “Why am I here?  Why do I exist?”  And the answer is just as matter-of-fact as the “Because I said so” we heard from our parents.  We are here to achieve God’s purposes, pure and simple.  No one is born without a reason.  No one is without a Divine purpose.  When we sidestep God’s plan, however, and go after our own agenda, is when we see every defining trait we’ve been given turn into something angry, corrupt, vile, perverse.  Example?  A man of ingenuity and powerful leadership skills becomes a Jim Jones or an Adolf Hitler.  I realize that these are the absolute worst-case scenarios, but imagine what could have been if these men would have surrendered their hearts and gifts to God instead of to the enemy.  The Apostle Peter was a loudmouthed hothead whose aggressive nature got him into more than one pickle. Yet when his outspoken passion got sanctified by the Holy Ghost, he became the emboldened herald of Pentecost, who preached like he was on fire…because he was!  This is what happens when we allow God to harness the best and worst of our nature and guide us in HIS direction.

Oh, that we would just save ourselves years of setbacks and heartache, and just surrender to His will for our lives.  We waste so much time trying to become important, trying to gain respect by earning our pea-sized merit badges for the world to admire.  Hay and stubble on that Great Day when our works are tried in the fire.  Poof!  Burned up in a split second.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t get college degrees, promotions on the job, work hard and save up for retirement—BUT!  What if, in order to get those things, we have systematically tuned out God’s voice when He tried to lead us another way?  I believe with all my heart that anything we gain by disobedience to God will only result in failure and bitter disappointment in the end. 

We’re so afraid that if we say “yes” to Him, He’ll make us do something we hate for the rest of our lives.  Not so!  Whatever was birthed in you to do, when you do it under the covering of His authority, will just “click” into place.  It will be the most natural thing, the most satisfying thing you’ve ever done.  He may indeed be leading you to go after that 8th consecutive college degree, and He may have even led you to tenaciously pursue the CEO’s chair or a career in professional sports, but if He’s really instructed you to pour all of your heart and soul into an endeavor, it’s still for His glory and a Divine purpose…not to have other people ooh-ing and ahh-ing at all YOU’VE done.  Just check your motives, and begin to listen for His instruction.

How do we know whether we’re in His will or not?  Sometimes we’ve ignored His voice so long that it’s hard to remember the sound of it.  But I challenge you to ask yourself three things:

  1. Did God specifically tell me to do this with my life; or, have I heard His call to another purpose and decided to do it later, after I do my own thing first?
  2. Is what I’m doing in violation of any part of His Word?
  3. If He asked me to sacrifice it on the altar of obedience, would I or could I do it?

Our prayer:  “Heavenly Father, thank You first of all for creating me in Your image.  I can’t begin to understand why and how You deliberately planned for me a hope and a future, but I want to fulfill that purpose and ultimately to please You and make You glad You willed for me to be born.  Take my life and use it fully for your good pleasure.  Weed out all the ugly, unproductive things growing in my character, and straighten whatever I may have warped by my disobedience.  Every talent, every gift, every ability You’ve instilled within me, I surrender to Your Divine will.  Don’t allow me to be satisfied with anything less —and don’t allow me to aspire to be anything more— than exactly what You want for me.  I say yes to Your will now, just BECAUSE YOU SAID SO, and I do it in Jesus’ name.”

©2012 Lisa Crum

Can’t Touch This

Being an 80’s kind of gal, I was still young when hip hop was starting to catch on in my rural area.  I must confess that this genre’s perhaps not quite as loved by me as other music, but I really liked MC Hammer’s song, “U Can’t Touch This,” which came out when I was probably in my early 20’s.  It still makes my toes tap when it hits the radio!

But the “can’t touch this” I’m referring to are those little idols we hide in the corners of our heart and guard so carefully.  We love the Lord, and we say that He’s God of our lives, and yet there are things we attach ourselves to which are detestable to Him.

The Word tells us to examine ourselves, to see whether we be in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5), and that’s a hard thing to do with objectivity sometimes.  There are areas where, if we’ve remained rebellious to what we know is right, our conscience can be seared and we no longer “see” the problem.  That’s one reason it’s good to foster friendships with iron-sharpening-iron people who are truthful with us, not just who cheerlead us and tell us everything we’re doing is good and right.

Here are some real soul-searching questions I challenge you to ask yourself, if you dare, as you seek to truly surrender all to Jesus:

  1. Is there something I do, or a friendship/relationship I have formed, which causes me to get on the defensive when I’m confronted about it?  Do I tune out the preacher or turn to another page in the Bible when I see the truth about it spelled out plainly?
  2. Is there someone for whom I, even secretly, hold unforgiveness in my heart?
  3. Is there any important decision I’m facing of which I can’t freely say to the Lord, “Your will be done.  You have my permission to change courses if You feel this is wrong for me?”
  4. Are there hobbies, possessions, people that, though in themselves not wrong for me, I’ve placed just a little higher in importance than God?  Do I resent having to set them aside long enough to worship, be in church, do things He’s called me to do?

Our Heavenly Father gives us not only a will to make our own choices, but He gives us the knowledge and strength to make right ones IF we’ll do it the way He’s instructed us to do.  He’s not hovering over you trying to catch you up in some failure so that He can disqualify you; He does, however, require effort on your part to live your life right and to put Him first.  You can still override His will and go after your own, but I promise you won’t be happy with the end result.  I’ve tried it before, and failed miserably.

Our prayer today:  “Dear God…You know everything about me.  As hard as I may try sometimes, there’s nothing I can hide from You.  I confess, there are areas of my life which I feel reluctant to surrender to You.  There are secret sins and affections which I cling to and yet they haunt me.  There are people who have hurt me, and though I know I should release them, it’s felt good to cling to a grudge just a little while longer.  There are decisions I’m getting ready to make, in which I’m not sure I want Your intervention.  Getting my own way seems pleasurable in one sense, but I’ve not been able to fully enjoy it for that nagging, gnawing knowledge in my heart of hearts that these things stand between You and me.  Forgive me, Father.  While I’m strong enough to say it now, I release these things into Your hands and give You permission to change them, and to change me.  Soften my heart, remove the callouses, and send Your Holy Spirit to convict me when I’m doing wrong.  In Jesus’ name…”

©2012  Lisa Crum

Floating Favor

I don’t know the history Imageof Ivory soap, but it has been around at least as long as I have.  When I was a little kid, most of the time my grandmother had two kinds of bath soap in the house–Dove and Ivory.  She liked the Dove because it had moisturizers in it (and tasted terrible when the washcloth passed over my mouth, by the way); my pick, however, was Ivory.

I can remember how well I loved the smell of Ivory, and still do, but what intrigued me about it was that it floats.  That’s not a big deal to the average person sitting in the bathtub, but for a kid whose bathwater sometimes looked more like stagnant swamp water after playing outside all day, I liked not having to search for that slimy piece of sunken soap!

The favor of God is that mystery ingredient in the believer which causes us to rise above our circumstances; it causes us to operate in a realm which, in the natural, we shouldn’t be able to attain. How do we know it’s in there?  The manifestation of the anointing.  You may not be able to see the secret substance in that soap, but you can see the outward evidence.   The anointing is proof that God’s favor is on your life. Perhaps you feel less significant than your peers, but if you are operating in God’s favor, the buoyancy of the anointing can even cause you to outlast and outperform someone more experienced, more talented, more credentialed than you—someone who perhaps operates in the realm of self-sufficiency rather than God-dependency.

I’m not sure I can validate this, but I’m guessing that Granny paid more for the fancy moisturizing soap than she did for my cut-through-the-crud Ivory.  I know I’ve made a lot of her bars disappear awfully fast when I dropped them in that bathwater and they dissolved to nothing more than tiny scraps for her wringer washer.  And over the years, being somewhat of an almost-but-not-quite person, I’ve felt inferior to the college graduate, the music major, the certified accountant; and I’ve wasted a lot of time weighing in on my unfinished side, rather than rejoicing in the unmerited favor and abilities God has given me in spite of what I didn’t get to do.

Strive to become the best you can be.  If you’re young and still in school, soak up every bit of knowledge you can absorb.  Don’t pass up those golden opportunities; in a day like today when the resources for learning are unlimited, you should never whine, “I’m bored!”  There will never be another time when you’re as uninterrupted in your schedule as you are now.  When you’re older, you may carry a heavy weight of adult responsibilities and won’t be able to devote hours each day to developing your talents and gifts.  If you are, however, an adult who has to compensate for missed opportunities, God can meet you where you are as well.  He can make up for what you didn’t get to achieve, through His favor and anointing.  And if He wills for you to go back and earn those accolades you missed in your youth, He’ll open up the right doors and help you carve out time in your day to get them done.

So, how do you get to the favor, and the anointing?  This comes through time spent alone with God, and for that there is no shortcut.  Just like the kid who spends time in the kitchen with Mom, or under the hood of the car with Dad, we gain in understanding by watching Him…listening to Him…putting His instruction into practice.

Regardless of what you are able to achieve in the natural, never underestimate the power of God’s favor upon your life.  Without it in the mix, all those fancy extra ingredients won’t carry you above the dirtiness of the world.  Don’t sink…when you can FLOAT.

“But without faith it is impossible to please and be satisfactory to Him. For whoever would come near to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He is the rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek Him [out].”  (Hebrews 11:6 AMP)

©2012 Lisa Crum