Wednesday, May 14, 2014

God of the Second Best

Now when the Lord spoke to Moses in Egypt, he said to him, “I am the Lord. Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt everything I tell you.” But Moses said to the Lord, “Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?” Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country.” (Exodus 6:28-7:2)

Each of us has a set of tools in our toolbox. I have a few tools in my top tray… the kinds of things I think I do best. Some of them seem to result from the way I’m wired, while others have been acquired and refined through education and experience. And then I have a few other tools down below the top tray… the kinds of things I think I do second best.

It appears that Moses thought that public speaking was, for him, a second-best tool. Regardless of God’s call, Moses objected; he apparently could only approach Pharaoh with his first-best tools. So if there was public speaking involved, God was going to have to come up with another plan. The thing is… as we continue to read, the Biblical account makes it clear that Moses must have gotten over himself and put his second-best tools to work since he did a lot of public speaking, both in front of his people and in front of Pharaoh.

Recently I sensed God’s call to volunteer to help some friends. At least from my perspective, I had top-tray tools in my toolbox that suited part of their challenge… the kinds of things that come naturally for me… the kinds of things that I have a graduate degree in… the kinds of things that are accompanied by a track record of success. But there was not room this time for me to help, at least not with my first-best tools. So, not sensing any release from God’s call, I went to one of my second-best tools: prayer.

I suppose I should be embarrassed; it seems that prayer ought to be a first-best tool for a pastor… I’m just being honest here. I certainly believe in the vital importance of the work of prayer. I spoke about it at Pleasant Bay just last Sunday. Prayer (intercessory prayer in this case) is certainly a well-worn tool in my toolbox… it is just not quite in the top-tray for me, and it was not my first choice for this particular challenge.

The point is... we should not turn our back on an opportunity to serve just because it does not appear to match our top-tray tools.

I wonder… it could be that the thing that makes us or breaks us is how well we handle our second-best tools. I don’t know that anyone only gets to operate with top-tray, first-best tools. If there are people like that, it must be a tiny minority. Most of us have to get along doing a lot of work with our second-best tools. It could be that how we use those second-best tools has more to do with our success than our use of our first-best tools.

A couple of thoughts about second-best tools

Second-best tools require more effort to be used well. When the work is important and requires our second-best tools, we have to concentrate and work hard at it to be successful. It could be that sometimes that is the point; the process is often a big part of the result of our work. Sometimes the work we do (or the work in us) requires just that sort of deliberateness.

Second-best tools seldom get you any credit. In my experience, we are seldom front-and-center and in the spotlight when we are going about our work with our second-best tools. When it is time to use our second-best tools, we should not expect any fame or credit… second-best-tool time is just a different season. It is often a season to only support others.

Second-best tools can feel safer. There can be a certain comfort in operating with our second-best tools. Working with our first-best tools can feel risky, especially if we feel vulnerable or our self-esteem is damaged. There are people who keep their first-best tools tucked away… hidden so that they cannot be marred by misuse, criticism, or failure. Sometimes when we are settling to only use our second-best tools we really should be courageously using our first-best tools

Second-best tools often compliment first-best tools. It seems that, in most cases, we will not even get a chance to use our first-best tools unless we are willing to bring along and use our second-best tools too.

Second-best tools are still important tools. It is easy for people to identify their first-best tools as special gifts from God… but all the tools in our toolbox are gifts from God… tools to be used… tools to be refined and sharpened and applied more skillfully… tools for which to be thankful.

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