I’m beginning a new adventure! Yesterday was the first day of my entry-level course in spiritual caregiving and chaplaincy. The course is being offered in a very large hospital in my town, and yesterday was an overwhelming but exciting day of learning to navigate the hospital and interact with patients. It’s an amazing opportunity to explore this type of ministry and get out of my comfort zone. I awoke yesterday morning with lots of butterflies in my stomach and self-doubts rolling through my mind.
As we began the day, our chaplain presented a lesson on the holistic nature of people. Basically, a “holistic view” of persons takes all aspects of our humanity into account – physical, mental/emotional, social, and spiritual. Effective health-care providers understand that there are multiple factors beyond the physical ones that influence a person’s healing process. The chaplain referenced Luke 2:52: “All Jesus grew in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and with all the people.” The gospel writer Luke was also a physician, so it’s fitting that he described Jesus’ growth not just in physical terms (in stature) but also mentally (in wisdom), spiritually (in favor with God), and socially (in favor with people).
Because I was sitting closest to the chaplain, he asked me to stand for a visual illustration about the connection between what goes on in the mind/emotions and what goes on in the body. He asked me to raise my arm to shoulder level and to keep it raised as he tried to push my arm down. We did this several times, and each time I could resist his pressure against my arm. When he let go, my arm would spring upward because of the force I was exerting into keeping it raised.
Next, he asked me to do something surprising – to say “I am weak” 15 times aloud. He counted as I stated each “I am weak.” By around the 12th time of saying this, my voice started to tremble. When I finished, we did the exercise again, and I could barely resist the downward force of the chaplain’s hands upon my arm. When he let go, there was no spring in my arm; I couldn’t help that it just sank to my side. The “fight” had been taken away.
Anyone who lives this life of faith knows that everyday a downward force works against us. Followers of Christ truly experience spiritual resistance, and I have no doubt that it can affect every part of the persons we are. The average person, according to our chaplain, thinks about 80,000 thoughts each day, approximately 80% of which are self-questioning. That means that if I fit these approximations, I think 64,000 negative thoughts about myself every day!
“They’re not going to like me.”
“I’m wasting my time and theirs.”
“What am I doing here?”
“I’m not qualified.”
“I am weak.”
Our chaplain didn’t realize that I was truly struggling with these self-doubts. But maybe he did. The Holy Spirit did. Because when I took my seat, He whispered to my heart a sweet reminder: “I am weak but He is strong.”
There’s been several times in my ministry journey when I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone. Counseling at the pregnancy center. Walking into the room of a dying person. Making an appointment with a counselor when my joy-tank is running low. Asking for forgiveness when remaining silent would seem far less awkward. Leading a Bible study.
Every single time, I have been very well aware of the “I can’t” thoughts. Sometimes I admit these thoughts have kept me from moving forward. And then other times I’m encouraged by the ones who have run this race before me and overcome, with the help of God’s presence, the doubts, questions, and hesitations. Even Moses, when God called him, responded with, “Who am I?…Oh Lord, I am not eloquent…I am slow of speech and tongue….Please send someone else” (Exodus 3:11; 4:10,13).
God did not reprove Moses’ honest hesitations. Instead God assures Moses: “I will be with you.” According to the footnotes in my Bible, when the Old Testament says that God is “with” someone, the emphasis is on God’s power to perform His calling. Moses, in dependence on God, went on to lead His people prayerfully and victoriously.
The only reason I can ever take the next step is when I believe Jesus’ gentle reminder: “You are weak but I am strong.”
The “BUT” makes all the difference!
(Jesus’ promise): “You did not choose me, BUT I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit…” John 15:16
(Jesus’ promise): “In this world you will have trouble. BUT take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
(Words of Paul):
“I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, BUT with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, BUT on God’s power.” 1 Corinthians 2: 3 – 5
“Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, BUT our competence comes from God.” 2 Corinthians 3: 4 – 5
“We are hard pressed on every side, BUT not crushed; perplexed, BUT not in despair…” 2 Corinthians 4:8
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, BUT gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7
“…I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. BUT He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12: 7 – 10
Walking in God-confidence means that every day I need to fix my mind on the truth that Christ can walk into my places of weakness and make them avenues of His strength. I need to speak the truth that I am weak BUT He is strong.
And times may arise when I simply cannot hold my arms up. The pressure of pain, negativity, and doubt is heavy against me, and I want to give up the fight.
So as I was walking around the hospital yesterday, I observed the friends and family members gathered around their ailing loved ones, and I thought of this story from Exodus 17: 8 – 13…
While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. Moses commanded Joshua, “Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us. Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill, holding the staff of God in my hand.”
So Joshua did what Moses had commanded and fought the army of Amalek. Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill. As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle.
To me, this was a picture of what the relatives and friends were doing for their loved ones. Holding up their arms. God often works through a friend, a neighbor, a relative, a spouse, a parent, a caregiver, a teacher, a mentor, a “Jesus-with-skin-on” to bring help and strength into the fight.
As I’ve been preparing for this new class, I’ve shared a bit of my “I’m weak” worries with my friend Rhonda who has walked this path before me. In recent days, Rhonda’s encouragement has held up my arms:
“…you will be so blessed as you bless others!!! Felt just the same way as you do but you are so equipped for the class…So excited to see how God works in and through you for His Glory!”
So, would you join me today, in lifting up our hands and surrendering those “I am weak” moments? Or lifting up someone else through your encouragement? Words are powerful. Listen carefully to the words that you speak to yourself and to others. Are they consistent with what God says? Together, with God-confidence and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can choose life, strength, and hope and rise above the discouragement that would hold us down.
Apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5), BUT through Christ we can do all things! (Philippians 4:13).
… the tongue of the wise brings healing. ~ Proverbs 12:18
The soothing tongue is a tree of life … ~ Proverbs 15:4