"God doesn't call the qualified; He qualifies the called."
I heard those words in a speech one year at a fundraising dinner for the school where my husband was teaching. I'm sure they weren't new words to most of the people in the room, but they were to me. I've rolled them over and over in my mind since hearing them and clung to them like a bulwark in a storm. In difficult circumstances, when the calling of God on my life seemed daunting, I would recite them as if in doing so, I would somehow release a mysterious power to aid me in my time of need.
Over the years as they proved to be less helpful in practice and more lofty in theory, I wondered where I was missing the boat. The idea that God would qualify me to handle the difficult tasks He'd called me to frustrated me as I didn't see the truth of the statement playing out in my life. Did I have an incorrect view of "qualify"?
One particular situation was the one I found myself in this past summer. Several things changed at once: my husband resigned from a 14-year teaching career to do something completely different, my oldest was getting ready to go off to college, we were homeschooling our youngest for the last two years of his high school career, and I was going back to work full-time after a 23-year break from the 40-hour work week grind. It was a lot, and I felt overwhelmed; overwhelmed by the change in our family structure, overwhelmed that my sweet daughter wouldn't be asking me to go shopping or sitting on my bed late at night to discuss the latest happenings in her teenage life; overwhelmed by the fear that my son would graduate stupid because of my poor teaching; overwhelmed that my house would be dirtier than normal and I'd be too tired to clean it; overwhelmed by what I had to learn at my new job.
Don't misunderstand, the changes were good, but they were still changes. For years, my husband had summers off, and we could enjoy much-needed time together for a few blissful weeks; for years it had always been the four of us, and even if we were all in different rooms of the house, it had always been the four of us; for years I'd depended on the school for my kids' educational upbringing, and now I was doing the unthinkable and taking it on myself. To top it all off, after cleaning houses for 20+ years, I knew more about dismantling and reassembling a vacuum than I did about running multiple computer programs while answering phones and making split-second decisions. In my mind, I was grossly unqualified for the task at hand, and the reminder that God would qualify me for said task brought me little comfort. What? Was He magically going to arm me with multi-tasking prowess and computer literacy overnight to do what in my mind was the impossible?
Back to my question: did I not understand the concept of qualify?
Qualify: to be entitled to a particular benefit or privilege by fulfilling a necessary condition (according to Bing)
There are a couple of things to unpack in this definition. First, to be qualified is to be entitled; entitled to whatever it is that encompasses the situation you're in. In my situation, I was entitled to all of the negative feelings of inadequacy, frustration, and questioning that I had entertained if I wanted to take that path. I was also entitled to the hope that God, in his infinite riches would provide me with exactly what I needed to do exactly what He had called me to do.
But there's a catch: according to the definition, entitlement to the benefits and privileges associated with any situation apply only by fulfilling a necessary condition. Now we're getting somewhere. So what was I not doing? I'd already followed the path He was laying out for me. I'd obeyed. What more could there possibly be for me to do? I simply had nothing left to apply to my circumstances. And then the words of Paul came to mind, and it all became crystal clear.
9 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. 10 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. II Cor 12:9-11
The thorn in Paul's side was put there as a reminder of his insufficiency apart from Christ, and upon recognizing this, the power of Christ was his for the taking. This attitude of being poor in spirit, the recognition of who we are before Christ-weak, empty, lacking everything good- and who He is, opens wide the gate to the immeasurable riches at the fingertips of God for our use and benefit. God doesn't call the know-it-alls. He calls the weak and qualifies them by showing them their weakness.
It's a little difficult to teach a four-year old to tie their shoes if they don't know that they don't know how to do it, and even if they are aware of their lack of skill, until they stop trying and admit their need for help, it's pointless. They'll keep stringing those laces together in all manner of concoctions only to wind up at the same place: a knotty mess.
The simple truth is in the irony: the only qualification you need to fulfill the plans of God for your life is in admitting that you are grossly unqualified for the task. Do this, and you open wide heaven's coffers bursting with resources infinitum.