Can you think of a time where you have ever felt completely and utterly inept? When I stop to think about the responsibilities of my commitments, I begin to crater under the weight: husband, father, work, writing, bible studies, nonprofits… though I am incredibly thankful for each of these opportunities and the deep satisfaction buried within their tasks, each single one has the capacity to be overwhelming in isolation, let alone combined (i.e. parenting three toddlers simultaneously). As I let these thoughts simmer, four words quickly come to mind: I can’t do this.
Recognition of our own incapability is a good place to start – it helps us identify our need for God. This is the reason why Crawford Loritts characterizes “brokenness” as a fundamental trait for biblical leadership in his phenomenal book Leadership as an Identity.
The trick after we recognize our own shortcomings is to not sell God short on His ability to carry us above the waves.
So how do we simultaneously grasp the knowledge that though I am incapable in my power, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”?
No seriously, I’m asking. Any practical tips would be great.
In 1 Samuel 13-14, Saul and his son Jonathan face insurmountable opposition. Both recognize their own inadequacy, yet the two have wildly different responses.
After setting out on a campaign with a select contingent of Israelite troops, King Saul splits his forces and sends his son Jonathan to destroy a Philistine garrison in Geba. The furious Philistines accumulate a massive force to respond:
“The Philistines mustered a mighty army of 3,000 chariots, 6,000 charioteers, and as many warriors as the grains of sand on the seashore! They camped at Micmash east of Beth-aven.” (1 Samuel 13:5 NLT)
As the Israelites set out to reunite their own forces, news of the sheer size of this Philistine army spread, rousing fear in the Israelite ranks and inciting deserters.
Panicking, Saul displayed a prime example of what NOT to do when facing adversity – disobeying God’s word (in this case, spoken through the prophet Samuel). Determined to keep anyone else from scattering, Saul offers up a burnt sacrifice instead of waiting for Samuel to arrive as he was told. Samuel shows up, displays his disgust, and leaves – after he informs Saul that God will rip away the kingdom from his lineage.
On the surface, Saul’s fear wasn’t unfounded. A quick headcount revealed he had only 600 men remaining with him…with no swords.
“There were no blacksmiths in the land of Israel in those days. The Philistines wouldn’t allow them for fear they would make swords and spears…whenever the Israelites needed to sharpen their plowshares, picks, axes, or sickles, they had to take them to a Philistine blacksmith… so on the day of the battle none of the people of Israel had a sword or spear, except for Saul and Jonathan” (1 Samuel 13:19-22 NLT)
Several hundred Israelites armed with pitchforks and shovels facing a massive Philistine force, armed to the teeth with the latest and greatest instruments of warfare. Wonder what was running through their heads? Not surprising that many of them jetted out of there.
I certainly wouldn’t have been thinking what Saul’s son Jonathan was thinking. Looking at the overwhelming odds, Jonathan turned to his armor bearer with the bright idea that they should attack an outpost that the Philistine army had just established. And when I say “they” I mean Jonathan and the armor bearer – just the two of them.
“‘Let’s go across to the outpost of those pagans,” Jonathan said to his armor bearer. “Perhaps the Lord will help us, for nothing can hinder the Lord. He can win a battle whether he has many warriors or only a few!’” (1 Samuel 14:6 NLT)
Amazing. Jonathan reckoned that perhaps God might help them – and that was enough for him. So the two of them climbed across a pass and begin attacking the outpost alone – until God stepped in.
“Suddenly, panic broke out in the Philistine army, both in the camp and in the field, including even the outposts and raiding parties. And just then an earthquake struck, and everyone was terrified” (1 Samuel 14:15 NLT)
Spotting this strange occurrence, Saul’s lookouts alerted the king. Taking roll call, Saul realized Jonathan and his armor bearer were missing. He quickly joins in on the fight:
“Then Saul and all his men rushed out to the battle and found the Philistines killing each other. There was terrible confusion everywhere. Even the Hebrews who had previously gone over to the Philistine army revolted and joined in with Saul, Jonathan, and the rest of the Israelites. Likewise, the men of Israel who were hiding in the hill country of Ephraim joined the chase when they saw the Philistines running away. So the Lord saved Israel that day, and the battle continued to rage even beyond Beth-aven.” (1 Samuel 14:20-23 NLT)
I sometimes hear people say that “God won’t allow you to go through more than you can bear.” This is a misquote of 1 Corinthians 10:13 – “…He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear…” The truth is God’s glory thrives when we are faced with the impossible. He’s more than happy to carry you through a situation that you couldn’t bear alone in order to accomplish way more than you ever dreamed possible.
“The fact is that leaders are always in over their heads. That’s because God assignments are supernatural in nature and He gives those assignments to vessels of clay.” (Loritts, Leadership as an Identity)
After all, as T. S. Eliot once said: “If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?”
– Nicolas. C. Day
 Philippians 4:13 NKJV
 Added italics for emphasis