In my life as a consultant manager, I’ve done a ton of recruiting. Over time, the various teams I’ve led have set out to hire all kinds of people — from narrowly-specialized technicians to broad generalists, from entry level worker bees to executive leadership. One thing every one of those hiring situations had in common was a strong set of expectations around the recruit’s qualifications. We need someone who knows a particular programming language forward and backward. We need someone who has done X, Y and Z successfully before. We need someone with a proven track record of godly character and strong work ethic. Etc. Some qualifications apply particularly to specific jobs, while others are more general and are always desired.
The other day I found myself daydreaming about my qualifications. You probably know that I’m currently living a half-time experience — transitioning from a career in the marketplace to a life of full-time ministry. As such, I have moments of great clarity and certainty about the details of giving my life to the kingdom of God, honoring the Lord in whatever I do, making ministry a “career”, etc. Other times, I’m quite uncertain: What specifically is God calling me to? Will I teach? Will I be a pastor? Should I pursue a Ph.D? Where will we live? Could I even end up back in the marketplace? And so on.
It’s in this what-will-I-be-when-I-grow-up mode that I’m most tempted to sit and stew about whether or not I’m qualified for these various career paths. Am I smart enough or wired correctly or qualified in general to be a professor? Am I strong enough and sensitive enough to be a pastor? Am I enough of a leader? Do I have a big enough heart for people or a devoted enough heart for God? Am I strong enough to train effectively for godliness (1 Tim 4:6-10) … like I really mean to run the race of life to win (1 Cor 9:24-27)?
The other day, as I was soaking in the doubt and uncertainty that these kinds of questions inevitably generate, God was very gracious and clear in His response…
No. You are in fact not qualified for any of these things. Not qualified to be a professor or a pastor. Not qualified to shepherd, teach or preach.
You may be surprised that I found this incredibly comforting, even freeing. And after a bit of reorientation around what Scripture actually teaches about how “qualifications” work in the life of a Christ-follower, I found not only comfort but some exceptionally clarity …
Whom God chooses
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness,holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26ff)
God specifically does not choose people for their qualifications. If anything, God chooses the weak and the unqualified, so that it will be all the more clearly seen how incredibly strong and qualified He is … “so that no one may boast before him.”
Why God chooses us
You are a people holy [consecrated, set apart for special purpose] to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today. (Deuteronomy 7:6-11)
Out of His great love, God has made an amazing promise to His people: an everlasting covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12) that his children would be God’s people, and He would be their God. He made similar covenants with Adam (Genesis 1-2), with Noah (Genesis 9), with Moses (Exodus 19), with David (2 Samuel 7), and on and on it goes. God is a promise-making God! And we who are in Christ are the children of Abraham, so God’s promise is for us, not just for Israel (Galatians 3). But most significantly of all, God made His highest and best covenant directly with us, written in the shed blood of His own Son Jesus (Hebrews 8-9; c.f. Jeremiah 31:31-34).
And now, again out of His great love, God is keeping His promise. He chooses us to be His children and to do His will, not because we are qualified for either, but because of His love for us and for the sake His reputation as the ultimate promise keeper!
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)
So again we see that it is not my wisdom or strength that matters. God does not seek me for my capability and qualifications. He knows I’m both weak and foolish (Psalm 103:13-14). “But we preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23). And in Him is all “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1:24) … power and wisdom which He has chosen to put to work in and through me.
The purpose for which God chooses us
It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:7-8)
As a witness in a court room reports what they have seen and heard and experienced, in order that others can know what happened even though they weren’t there to see it first hand, so we are God’s witnesses. We are chosen by God and given power by God to proclaim the reality of who God is simply by bearing witness to what He has done in our lives. We do this not only in words, but with the proclamation of our entire lives. How we think, what we say, how we spend our time, what sloshes out of us when we get bumped by others in stressful situations, how we respond to pain and loss and crisis… These all bear witness to who God is and to how seriously others can take the promises God has made to us (and them).
We are also given some very specific tasks as God’s children — those identified as related to Jesus through adoption because we act like Jesus…
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed [chosen] me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19; c.f. Isaiah 61:1-7)
But wasn’t that what Jesus said He was sent to do? Indeed it was. However, Jesus also made it clear that “as the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). Adam’s tasks to tend the Garden of Eden were explicitly intended by God to be an extension of the work of God through the hands of man. In the same way, Jesus explicitly intends that our hands would extend His work. So, as you do … whatever it is you will do today … you do that work as the hands of Jesus in this world.
Like Jesus, we are anointed to proclaim good news to the poor. Not just those who are physically or financially poor, but spiritually or emotionally poor as well. To all who do not have the resources it takes to live the perfect lives God intended for all of us (that’s everyone, including ourselves), we proclaim the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. No matter what other needs a person has, they for sure need grace and love, forgiveness from sin and to be introduced to a new King and His new way of living. It’s not about fixing the world. We’re not qualified for that either; there is only one Savior of the world. But, by God’s grace and authority, we do what we can … starting with the declaration (in word) and the demonstration (in deed) that it is now possible for ordinary, unqualified, sin-stained people like you and me to be washed clean and to live in the presence and under the authority of King Jesus.
Like Jesus, we are to proclaim freedom for those who are in bondage. Because the Son has set us free, we are free. We no longer need be trapped in sin and despair, addiction, unbreakable habits, selfishness, and the like. Sin may hold sway over the world at large, but it doesn’t have to hold sway over us … not because I’m qualified to or capable of resisting it, but because the same power that raised Jesus from the dead now lives in me! And that Spirit, and the power He offers to die to sin, is real and available to any who run to God.
Like Jesus, we are to proclaim recovery of sight to the blind. As those sent by Jesus into the world, we are light in a very dark place. Before all those who are blind and cannot see — their sin, their desperate need, their gleeful-but-should-be-terrifying descent into hell because of their rebelling — we are the light of Christ, and the witnesses to true life. To some, we are even the bringers of physical sight — providing the most basic medical services or a pair of eye glasses to someone who otherwise wouldn’t have them. But to anyone and everyone, we can be the light of Christ. How many people in our spheres of influence might only see Jesus and live because they have first seen Him in us?
Like Jesus, we are to set the oppressed free. Where there is injustice, we fight for justice. Where there is oppression, we oppose it. But this is hard, especially in our comfortable, western, entertainment-driven lives. We might have to give up elements of our lives which are comfortable and easy and entertaining in order to fight, in any meaningful sense, for the oppressed and abused in this world. It’s probably more than writing a check or waxing indignant at a party. We will probably have to do something, and that could very well incur cost in time, money, prestige, and pride. Most certainly it will cost us something, but if we want to be like Jesus, then we will actively oppose oppression.
Like Jesus, we are to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. A day is coming when there will be no bondage anywhere, no darkness in need of light, no poverty, no injustice, no oppression. Just the other day, I heard Michael Frost say that nostalgia over what we remember as “the good old days” will not motivate Christians into God-honoring action. Only a clear vision of the Kingdom of God will result in living for the Kingdom of God (eagerly orienting my life under the authority of King Jesus today).
I know all that might sound a bit overwhelming, and brings us back to where we started … Who could be qualified to respond to such a high calling?
The ability to do that for which we are chosen
Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. (Luke 24:49b)
You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:7-8)
This line in Acts is so well known to Christians that I think we sometimes overlook or undervalue it. The Spirit is the source of our power. Jesus is super clear that the apostles should do nothing … not even work on the programs, as James MacDonald is fond of saying … do nothing until the Spirit comes to them and empowers them to do it
But lest we think that directive was only for the apostles in an especially apostolic time…
I (Jesus) am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:1-11)
Just as life itself continually flows from the vine to the branches and keeps them alive and vibrant and “useful” for bearing fruit, so the life of God flows from Jesus to you to keep you alive and vibrant and “useful” for the work God has called you to do. I don’t read this as an exaggeration, either. Quite literally, in my mind, if you want to do what God is calling you to do … to live the life God intends you to live … then you need the life and power of the Spirit of God to enable you to do it. There’s no other way for the branch to remain alive than to be connected to the vine. Period.
The results of being chosen
It makes me rest
I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:25-30)
God the Father sends us Jesus, and gives Him authority over all things. God then chooses the simple and foolish and unqualified people of this world, and reveals to us His own greatness and that of His Son. Jesus then invites us to simply come to Him, rest in Him, remain in Him, and He will do that for which God has sent Him and given Him all authority.
Serving as the underkings of King Jesus is to have restful power. It’s an easy yoke and a light burden. All our scurrying and scraping and clawing and conniving in this world will amount to nothing, because Jesus (who is gentle and lowly in heart, but all powerful and all capable) will unequivocally rule over all things (Ephesians 1:20-22; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
God has chosen me out of His strength, not mine … for a purpose more glorious than I could have conceived. He works through me, causing my meager efforts to serve Him to always be enough. That makes me brave! It gives me courage to do what — to some — shouldn’t be able to be done. It sends me on adventures that some would call uncertain, or even dangerous. But I trust the God who chooses weak and unqualified people to do amazing things.
And whenever I find myself fretting or fearing instead of boldly stepping out in faith, I listen to this song. It was introduced to me by a fellow classmate in my first semester at Trinity, and I think it says it pretty well…
I stand before You now; the greatness of your renown.
I have heard of the majesty and wonder of you.
King of Heaven, in humility, I bow.
I have heard You calling my name;
I have heard the song of love that You sing.
So I will let You draw me out beyond the shore
Into Your grace … Your grace!
As Your love, in wave after wave,
Crashes over me, crashes over me.
For You are for us;
You are not against us.
Champion of Heaven,
You made a way for all to enter in.
You make me brave.
You make me brave.
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves.
You make me brave
You make me brave
No fear can hinder now the promises you made.
You make me brave.
You make me brave.
No fear can hinder now the love that made a way.
You Make Me Brave, Amanda Cook, Bethel Music
Want the full story about this song? I thought this video (the story behind “You Make Me Brave”) was really insightful and worshipful… “It came from literally lying on the floor of the writing room and seeing my life from [the perspective of] prophetic clarity… Oh, You’ve been here the whole time.”
Amen, Amanda. Amen!