When God Calls Us to Incompetence

Does God ever call people to incompetence? Does He ever ask us to do things He knows we won’t do as well as someone else could?

Yesterday, I read these verses in Habakkuk during my morning devotions:

“What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” Habakkuk 2:18-20 ESV

These are sobering words and it was early morning so in my self-confidence, I prayed and recorded my prayer in a status update on my Facebook page. This is what I wrote: “Today I will ask God to show me the worthless idols of my own making in my life. Today I will keep silence before Him who hears and speaks, the only living God, the One who created me and I’ll pay attention. He is the Truth in a world of deception but He cries out and today I’ll have ears that hear.”

That’s a lovely prayer, isn’t it? I thought so, too.

I brushed my teeth. Walked out of my front door. And God immediately answered that prayer. That sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? And, well, it was, but first – – –

On a frigid morning with the ground covered in snow, I was due to help someone move from one town to another. In fact, I was the person in charge of the move. There were movers involved and coworkers but I head the team so, I was ready to go. My car wasn’t.

I have a wonderfully reliable car but when I turned the key all I heard was “click, click, click.” Now, this wasn’t a hard problem to solve. My husband was upstairs. We have jumper cables. It’s all good – only I wasn’t. Internally, I came unglued! How am I supposed to set an example for others if I’m late to a commitment? Why hadn’t I checked on the car earlier knowing how important it was for me to arrive on time? One person we were moving would be set off all day because I was late and that would complicate the dynamics of the move. How could I let my coworkers down with the lame excuse that my car won’t start?

Then, in my mind, I heard God whisper One of your idols is your own competence. You’ve made an idol of your abilities and often you rely on that idol more than you rely on Me. Would you like to let it go?

He nailed it perfectly and quickly, I might add. My prayer was answered in under twenty minutes flat. Who says God is always slow to move?

As I waited for my husband to start my car, I thought about why I had such a strong reaction to such a simple problem. I was anticipating an entire day of doing something I’m not particularly good at. When people are in crisis, I’m your woman when it comes to talking, counseling, guiding, assessing, or motivating. When your crisis involves logistics or physical labor, I am not your girl. But, that’s what the situation called for today – physical work, dealing with moving men (ugh), managing logistics, and constant decision-making around nuts and bolts kinds of things. There was no way through it but to do it except now, I heard God asking me to release the idol of trusting in my competence and instead, to rely on Him and keep silent.

What happened was that I grew all day in my deep gratitude for others. I noticed how important other people are and valued what they’re good at – starting with my husband who hadn’t hesitated to leave his warm bed to handle my car and my coworkers who greeted my calls about being late with cheerful assurances. When I arrived, I was transparent with them about how lame I can be with movers or with logistics. Turns out, they both excel at those kinds of things and I relished the joy of being part of a team. My lateness did set off the family member but I accepted that others were better with that person than I am and I let it go.

Throughout the very long day, I did feel incompetent but because I no longer idolized competence I could relax as I leaned into God. He opened my eyes to a world of people who were ready to help this helper – from a former client I encountered at the hardware store who was overjoyed to be able to assist me to one of the family members we were helping who shined like a star the day through. My boss and my family all provided sounding boards for me at different points as I encountered obstacles and needed support.

God, being God, threw in a special twist just to remind me, in a tangible way, of the burden of idols. One family member has a collection, a large collection, of religious statues – dozens and dozens of statues. Most were bubble-wrapped and packed in boxes but a small army or so still needed special care so my car became the warehouse for a baker’s dozen of glass Madonna’s and assorted saints. This isn’t an art collection for this person – these are revered statues prayed to daily and I was barraged with instructions for keeping them safe in transition.

So, on the day God was working with me to release the idol of my own making, He assigned me the task of wrapping, carrying, packing, carting around, and unloading again a car full of idols. As I thought about how much better it would be for this person to rely on the God of the Universe and not these burdensome statues made on a conveyor belt in some factory, I reminded myself that I’d been carting around a reliance on an idol devised in my internal manufacturing company. Taking the log out of my own eye is an ongoing procedure.

We talk a lot these days about working within our talents and our gifting. That’s all good. But sometimes, quite often in Biblical history and in modern life, God calls us to work from the place of our incompetence so we are less full of ourselves and open to be more full of Him.

In the past, I’ve held back from volunteering for things for which I’m not competent even when I saw a need. After yesterday I’m convinced better a bumbler in the act of obedience than a master at the art of holding back.

And I’m also open to releasing more idols – all the better to know the Living God I love and serve.



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    The Conversation

  1. Mimi says:

    Yes! yes! yes!

  2. How do you do that, Lori? Jump into my mail box with a timely message, I mean. It happens often with your posts, and today was a bulls eye. The one thing I desire to do, yet feel very incompetent to approach, and you show me that I need to swallow my idol of independence and humble put myself in the position of letting someone help me learn and improve.
    Thank you for that. God Bless.

  3. Thank you. Your words convict me. I idolize my competence too. I did not realize how much until I read your post. I spent 28 years doing life on my own, earning rewards, getting the best grades and trailblazing the way for women in the Navy. As a believer, I thought I was trusting in the power of God in me. My judgemental and anxious spirit reveal my lack of relying on God in everything. I’m blessed and thankful that our God never gives up on us. Thank you again.

  4. Patty Schell says:

    Idols appear in the most unexpected places. I may have a little shrine to Competence myself. Thanks for pointing it out.

  5. Dawn says:

    Wow! Thanks for your transparency, Lori. Oh, that we, too, would be quick to lay down our idols and serve, relying totally on God’s grace and provision rather than our perceived perfection.

  6. Never thought of this statement before: “better a bumbler in the act of obedience than a master at the art of holding back”. Lori, looks like I’m going to do more things for more people – even if I don’t have a clue how to do it. Thank you again!

  7. Oh, Lori, I have experienced your willingness to pray and counsel and hug! You are always so inspirational. I love this quote: “better a bumbler in the act of obedience than a master at the art of holding back.” I pray I can be that, for others, and step out of my own fears of being incompetent. Thank you!

  8. Melanie Gibson says:

    Oh, wow – this one really made me think. I am so used to being independent that I have a hard time letting others help me and remembering that they need an opportunity to do something nice for another person – it isn’t all about me.