Men can so easily forget or ignore their utter dependence upon God. Yet our frailty is evident in so many ways and at so many times. Reason, imagination, memory so easily become defective. Physical abilities and attributes fade sooner than we expect. The simplest tasks mental or corporal may become difficult or impossible. The ease with which we take competence for granted is forgetful of the divine enabling to cope with each day and rise to the routine tasks of our calling in life. To ponder the range of human ability and action is awesome. Simple or complex our attainments and achievements are wrought through divine enduement and assistance. It is he who made us and not we ourselves (Psalm 100:3).
If “normal” competencies are supplied by God how much more are the capacities of the spiritual life to be attributed to the supreme Doer and Donor who works in and through his recreated people with purifying power and salvific purpose. Our natural talents remain effective to some degree or other, in spite of our degradation, and we recognize them to be the gifts of our Creator. It is imperative that we acknowledge that our spiritual qualities and capabilities are the consequences of special grace poured out upon us continually. We are vessels of the virtue and potency of God brought into concurrence with his will and work. Freed form self we are free to act with him and for him and so he resources and replenishes us with his knowledge and strength as we labour in his cause. Natural talents are co-opted and sometimes elevated in his service and new skills are given and developed. Because they are graciously bestowed human boasting is excluded. The folk God uses must rely upon him constantly. When they fail to do so their effectiveness ebbs to emphasise the necessity for humility and recumbency upon him. We live and lean.
When Paul eyed the aspects of his multi-faceted ministry and all its demands he expressed the opinion that no-one was equal to the task (2 Corinthians 2:16). Our insufficiency is indisputable. Those who seek to maintain the Christian walk and witness through efforts they call their own, who seek to maintain their own competence through pride or competitiveness, are out of touch with grace and will soon be out of the race. We run our course through divine ability and energy. Thus says the apostle: “To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:29). Paul doesn’t hesitate to allude to his hard work (2 Corinthians 11:23, 27). As the self-confessed “least of the apostles” he doesn’t hesitate to claim that he worked harder than them all, but he takes no personal credit – “yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). His confidence was lodged in Christ and was nourished through Christ and any competency he possessed or displayed was from Christ:”Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5). Paul’s testimony amounts to the saying of Jesus himself: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Grace does not eliminate work but enables it. Failure and disappointment remind us that we can never proceed in any venture without prayer and the power of God, which must be consciously sought and patiently awaited.
Our capacities are not our own. They are on loan. They were apportioned to us and cannot be attributed to us as accomplishments of our own. Their initiation and improvement come from God. We are presumptuous when we expect them to be effective at will or without reverence and preparation before God. We are to blame when they are obstructed and become obsolete or are abused. They are gifts that must be fostered in the care of the Lord as our souls are entrusted to him with frequency.
Pharaoh requested Joseph for an interpretation of his puzzling dreams. Joseph did not assume this competence even though it had previously been granted to him. He acknowledged that a pastoral resolution to Pharaoh’s perplexity came from God: “I cannot do it, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires” (Genesis 41: 16). Daniel ascribed his gift of interpretation not to himself but to his Lord: “There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (Daniel 2:28). At every level of our existence and performance we are cast upon God for our competence. John Witherspoon the only clerical signatory to the Declaration of Independence is not the only minister of Christ to declare his ordinariness and the elevation of his powers by Grace. Asahel Nettleton, the great and nearly forgotten American evangelist, is in the same category. God energizes and enhances the efforts of his people and all their competencies come solely from him.