For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. 1 Corinthians 15:9-11
"Tony...you're in." Wait, was I hearing things? My coach must surely be mistaken. I'm a bench warmer whose highlight most games involved the sundaes at McDonald's afterward. Didn't he know the only time I graced the hardwoods was during blowout time?
The game still hung in the balance, but that didn't matter to him because he called my number. Our star player twisted his ankle, so my number got called to shoot the free-throws. As I dribbled the ball at the foul line, I tried to calm my nerves and breathe. The first one went in, and so did the next. Seconds later the buzzer rang, and we were victorious!
My coach gave me a high five and said, "Well done...I knew you could do it." Really? He could? Because I couldn't see it in myself. He smirked and continued, "your hard-work paid off!" Looking back at it now, I remember the countless hours I spent shooting free-throws with the technique coach taught us.
But, here's the thing: me rising to the occasion shouldn't have occurred. I had no business being on the court, let alone the team. I was under five feet, had thick googles due to bad eyesight, got distracted on defense, and had no vertical jump. I was the "least of all" the hoopers.
In today's passage, we see Paul wrestling with feelings of unworthiness. He didn't feel deserving of the title of apostle. Only a few years previous, Paul was an overzealous Pharisee who persecuted Christians and stood as an enemy of the church. From Paul's perspective, his story should have disqualified him from ministry. But, here he was not only doing God's work but flourishing and thriving.
Rather than boast about his accomplishments or get hung up on his past shame, Paul recognized that resting in God's grace was the sole source of his success. An encounter with grace changed Paul from the inside out. It enabled him to look at his life and say "I am what I am" because of the One who created me and guides my steps.
We must utter the same words. We need to stop wallowing in our inadequacies and instead revel in God's ability. Shifting our eyes off our weakness allows us to see His work in our character, our attitude, and our actions. When we rest in His grace, it does something deep within us.
He can use anyone, including you. Failure doesn't disqualify you. Neither does a sketchy past of hurt, shame and mistakes sideline you and send you to the bench. Your greatest misery has the power to become your greatest ministry. His redemption has no bounds.
Where do you need to take your eyes off your weakness and focus on God's work within you?
What makes you doubt that God can use someone like you? How has an encounter with God's grace changed you?
God, Your grace transforms me. It not only brought me from death to life, but it gave me a purpose and a future. I will boast in You and You alone. You are my strength and my provider. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.