I sure know what it is like to feel inadequate. After high school I attended Moody Bible Institute. In summers I went back to my parents’ home in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. One summer, some friends and I were talking. One of them said, “I know what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna be a preacher.”
Church planter (me) wife (Carolyn) and new baby (Gabriel) 1981. We met in this recreation center here in Vista, California.
My response was like Peter who denied the Lord 3 times before the rooster crowed. I immediately answered, “Naw, not me. I can’t stand speaking in front of groups of people.”
In addition, an even greater hindrance was that I didn’t feel spiritually adequate. I thought that:
I didn’t know the Bible well enough.I didn’t pray enough.
I didn’t have enough spiritual insight and discernment.
I wasn’t the man of God I needed to be.
I don’t know exactly where these feelings of inadequacy came from. But I’ve come to realize that they are quite common. We’re in good company when we feel spiritually inadequate:
Moses felt inadequate and almost refused God’s calling, even after God spoke clearly from the burning bush. (see Exodus 3-4)
Gideon was called, yet felt totally inadequate. He demanded miracles from God before he would respond. (see Judges 6:11-40)
Certainly Peter and the other disciples were totally inadequate to lead in the night of Jesus’ betrayal. When things got risky, they were nowhere to be found. Soon Peter was denying he even knew the Lord Jesus! (see Luke 22:54-62.)
I’m not condemning anyone—I was the same way!
But here’s the point: Each overcame their inadequacy and became great leaders.
Faith means acting when you feel inadequate.
So how can you act in faith when you feel inadequate? Here are 4 ways:
01. Step back and confirm your calling.
This is the starting point for tackling mountain-sized goals in faith. It is also the point to return to when we feel inadequate and want to quit.
One of the best ways to confirm your calling is with a prayer retreat.
When I became a missionary in 1998, it was a huge faith step. I was not offered a paying job—I would have to quit my job as a pastor to live by faith, trusting God completely for His supply. Anything I was paid would have to be given by supporters who believed in me and my ministry.
Soon after resigning my church, I went on a prayer retreat in the mountains near our home. There I felt the weight of what I had done and prayed, “God, what have I gotten myself into now?!”
I was genuinely scared and feeling inadequate to the task of trusting God for our supply.
Quickly the Lord spoke to my heart, “Mark, you’ve had the opportunity to start several churches as a church planting pastor. But now you will be able to help thousands of churches get started. So what are you whining about? Just get going.”
Wow, what a confirmation from the Lord. It was a balm for my troubled, inadequate soul.
From that point on I really didn’t look back.
The road ahead wasn’t always easy. But that confirmation of my calling helped give me the confidence to move ahead, despite feeling inadequate.
In 2 Corinthians 2:16 the Apostle Paul asks the question “And who is adequate for such a task as this?”
That task is spreading the Gospel of Christ. The implication is that none of us are adequate.
Yet while we are inadequate, we are called. Therefore, we do God’s work.
So when you feel inadequate, step back and confirm your calling.
02. Remember God’s past faithfulness.
Has God been faithful to you in the past?
Whether or not you realize it, the answer is “yes.” You just need to remember what He has done:
Asaph wrote, “I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.” (Psalm 77:11 ESV)
David wrote, “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.” (Psalm 143:5 ESV)
The psalmists gained strength from remembering God’s works in the past. We must do the same.
When I was in the mountains wondering how a faith-supported ministry could work for me, it was a great comfort to remember how God had been so faithful in the past. Church planting had been a great strain, but we had survived and the churches I was privileged to lead had survived and grown.
The fact is that we are likely to survive. And even if we don’t, as John Maxwell is fond of saying, the truth is “I don’t have to survive.”
By that I think he means that none of us are really going to survive this world anyways. The death rate for human beings is 100%.
But the fact is that you and I have survived so far and we will continue to survive until God decides it’s time to close the curtain. So how can I question His calling and faithfulness to it?
When we remember God’s faithfulness, we can once again say, “Here am I, send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)
03. Take the next step, then the next and so on.
Someone said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
No one begins at the finish line, we all begin at the starting line. Victory comes when we take the first step, then the next and so on.
What’s funny is that when I denied I would go into ministry, it was because I didn’t like speaking before groups. But guess what is one of my favorite jobs in ministry nowadays? Yep, speaking, teaching and preaching! Can you believe it?
How did that happen? It happened as I took uncomfortable steps of faith, stumbled, learned, gained confidence, saw God use me and kept going.
Just a few days ago I preached in a church that has lost its pastor. The people made it clear that they’d love me to take the job. When I think of my past I shake my head in amazement.
We must remember that confidence builds as we take the next steps. At first we will feel awkward, unprepared, and even clueless because:
We’ve never gone this way before.
The path is unknown.
All the particulars aren’t settled.Questions abound.
Fears spring up.
But as we take each successive step, we learn the path, we make progress, and we gain confidence.
When you feel inadequate, take the next step.
04. Stay humble and grow.
As we take the next step, and begin to see success, we might face the greatest challenge of all: pride leading to overconfidence and then a fall.
Why is this so? The Bible says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18 ESV)
When we succeed, we tend to become prideful and that leads to a fall.
Someone said that “For every ten persons who can handle failure, there is only one who can handle success.”
Church history is filled with stories of successful Christian leaders who have tragically fallen to various temptations. They’ve destroyed their ministry, their family, their health.
So one of my biggest fears is pride.
The antidote to pride is to:
Pray that God would keep me humble
Give family and friends permission to warn me of pride
Welcome thorns in the flesh that help to keep me humble: “So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh…” (2 Corinthians 12:7 NLT)
“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (Proverbs 4:23 NLT)
So for years I’ve prayed this “humility prayer” from Andrew Murray’s book Humility:
“Out of your great goodness Lord please make known to me and take away from my heart, every kind and form and degree of pride, whether it be from evil spirits, or my own corrupt nature; and please awaken in me the deepest depth and truth of that humility which can make me capable of Your light and Holy Spirit. Amen.”
So you feel inadequate? Welcome to the club and thank God for it. As the Apostle Paul said: “When I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)
For more help with overcoming inadequacy and building confidence, check out these articles I’ve written:
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