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Learning to Look Up, Instead of Around

I’ve recently been reading a biography of George Müller:  it’s a page turner!  His amazing faith journey led to the founding of schools and orphanages in England.  Thousands of people’s lives were changed through his ministry!  He believed that God would daily provide for his and the ministry’s needs, and the book is full of anecdotal stories about these miraculous provisions. 

I was filled with inspiration from his story.  But then my imagination began to run away from me and made me question my whole life’s calling.  Should I be doing the same things he did?  Should I be selling my possessions and moving to another country to build orphanages?  I admire him and therefore my first thought was to emulate him.  My second thought was doubtful discouragement that God would ever want to use me for something so important.

Sometimes when I look at other people who are in the middle of being successful, or perhaps already lived their successful life, I get discouraged.  I’m truly happy for them—it’s not really a jealousy thing.  However, I see the things they have accomplished and I unintentionally compare myself to them.  I look at where I am to where I think I want to be and I cannot fathom how God might actually take me there.  I see the circumstances in their lives and view my own circumstances as lacking.  I look at the methods these people used, I look at the callings of their hearts, I look at their acts of faith.  Incredible journeys and incredible victories!

I feel inadequate.  I feel unworthy.  I feel unimportant when I look at these influential people.  It’s not that I want recognition or fame—I just don’t feel like I’m living up to the full potential God has put inside of me.  So discouragement creeps in and can become crippling. 

The discouragement is vague and difficult to define.  When I first wrote this article I described it as “fear of the unknown destination”.  However, my proof-reading friend challenged me on it, suggesting that phrase doesn’t fully encapsulate my feelings.  She was right—it doesn’t!  I don’t fear the unknown destination—I fear all of the unknowns!  I fear that I won’t be able to persevere and follow through on my calling.  I fear the possibility of embarrassment.  I fear that maybe God doesn’t actually have big plans for me.  But then when I think about achieving great things for God, I also fear the pressures and vulnerabilities that come with success.  I give up before I even try, not because I lack faith in God himself, but because I fear being unable to cope with the plans He has for me. 

So when I’m feeling this inability to accomplish anything great (by MY definition), and I see others whose faith stories are obvious and public, my fear-filled discouragement can be smothering.  I begin to doubt even the basics of what I know God has called me to do and my failure to accomplish those small tasks leads me further down a spiral of negativity about myself.  I have an even harder time fathoming how or why God would use me when He has all of these other great people to choose from.   

You see, these “success” stories of other people are tangible proof of how God has worked or is working.  They are real and have already happened, but what will happen in my journey is not yet real to me.  It is easy to try to draw comparisons between others lives and my own as I seek to make sense of my story.  It is easy to see how God has worked in others’ lives, and then limit Him to those processes for my own life.  It is easy to feel unneeded when I see others doing the things I wish I was doing.  It is easy to forget that God works uniquely in each of us, therefore to compare is a foolish waste of time.

So I preach a little tough love to myself:

~Why are you looking around at others instead of keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus?

~Why are you limiting God to your own imagination?  He created the Heavens and the Earth—He can certainly write a better story than you can!

~Why are you, a mound of clay at the wheel, comparing yourself to vessels that are further along in the development process?

~Why are you insulting God through your lack of confidence in who He created you to be?  What makes you so unique that He has good plans for everyone but you?

These questions are convicting and help me regain my proper focus.  I can thank God for His unending patience with me as I continue to repeat certain lessons over and over again. 

It is good and it is important to hear the stories of others.  But these stories should encourage us to look heavenwards—not backwards at ourselves with frustration and fear.  If we are truly looking for God’s glory then we should praise Him for the awesome work He has done in the lives of others.  We should also begin praising Him for the awesome work He is still doing in each of us. 

George Müller did great things in God’s name!  But his path wasn’t a straight road towards an obvious destination.  He encountered closed doors and heartaches just like the rest of us do.  His 92 years of life, neatly summarized into a 203 page little book, were filled with uneventful steps of faith that are never spoken of or documented.  It is the same with all of the people we admire: we only hear about the exciting moments that are deemed worth talking about.

What about you?  Are you feeling discouraged by your own slow progress?  Do you have grand visions of what you could do for God but no human concept of how to get there?  Do you see others zipping by on adventurous assignments while you trudge in the mundane trenches?  Let’s continue to journey together and share our unique stories.  Not to compare, but to lift our eyes heavenward in awe and wonder of what He has done, and in great anticipation of what He will do next.

Hebrews 12:1-2 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Psalm 104:24 “How many are your works, Lord!  In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.”

Isaiah 45:9 ““Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?”

Isaiah 64:8 “Yet you, Lord, are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

Psalm 139:13-16 “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

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