I didn’t expect feelings of unworthiness to inundate me in the candle aisle at Marshalls. But when I ran into an old acquaintance and exchanged life updates in the midst of Pumpkin Spice and Evergreen scents, a sinking thought came over me: I am not good enough. It had nothing to do with our conversation, which was pleasant – it was an old familiar stronghold of comparison flaring up the first chance it got.
When I returned home, I was brokenhearted by what had been revealed in my spirit.
I still don’t believe I’m good enough.
I didn’t understand how I could be even momentarily shaken, faux-scrambling for significance, when I believed the gospel. Although I knew it had no grounds Biblically, the feeling of not being good enough was like a cloud of defeat raining feelings of unworthiness on me.
It turns out that I’m not the only one needing an umbrella. In the United States, over 7,000 people search not good enough on Google a month. In the same time frame, 1,400 search why am I not good enough. If this feeling resonates with you, you are hardly alone.
However, as Christians, we are not victims of our thought patterns, strongholds, or feelings. Instead, we can take each of these captive to what the Bible says about Jesus and ourselves.
There is an element of truth to not good enough.
Paul, the author of a third of the New Testament, braved a snake bite, storms, and shipwrecks on his three fruitful missionary journeys. He was ultimately martyred in Rome. However, this is how he describes himself to the church in Corinth:
“For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.1 Corinthians 15:9 ESV
As a Pharisee (Acts 23:6), Paul tried to destroy the Christian movement and approved of the execution of the first martyr, Stephen (Acts 8:1). The work that Paul did after his conversion could not erase his past and make him worthy to be called an apostle. He could not make himself good enough.
And neither can we. None of our self-efforts to improve – including self-care routines, affirmations to boost self-esteem, and suggestions in self-help books – will make us “good enough.” We will never be able to work ourselves into significance or worthiness. What I felt in the candle aisle is real: I’m never going to be good enough.
This hard truth is scriptural. As Romans reminds us,
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.Romans 3:23 ESV
No one understands; no one seeks for God.Romans 3:11 ESV
In these verses, Paul says that we’re unable to understand or seek the Lord because we have fallen short of his glory. Left to our own devices, we’re unable to resist temptation or sin; therefore, we are not good enough to stand before a holy God. Our successes, careers, looks, families, money, intelligence, talents, and altruism, much like Paul’s missionary resumé, will not help us meet the threshold of “good enough.” It is beyond our power to atone for our sins, which are grave and terminal offenses against a holy God.
Grappling with this – the true gravitas of sin – is no easy task. As Charles Spurgeon writes in his autobiography,
I had rather pass through seven years of the most wearisome pain, and the most languishing sickness, than I would ever again pass through the terrible discovery of the evil of sin.Charles Spurgeon, Autobiography
The terrible discovery is that our feelings of not being “good enough” only begin to scratch the surface at describing what is wrong with us. None of us has lived the life that God commands us to. The Fall began with Adam and continues through each of us.
And this is why the Gospel is good news.
Notice that Spurgeon does not dwell on his iniquity. Instead, he passes through it. We see the same thing pattern with Paul, who, despite being unworthy to be an apostle, is not primarily concerned about his worthiness:
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.1 Corinthians 15:10 a ESV
On the other side of sin is grace. Paul wasn’t good enough, but his worthiness did not prevent God from showing him grace. This same grace is what allowed Spurgeon to look at himself honestly and move beyond despair.
God has not asked us to make ourselves good enough or sinless before we come to him. Our worthiness has nothing to do with us and everything to do with Jesus. Paul explains this in Romans:
[We] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.Romans 3:24 ESV
Jesus’s death and resurrection made it possible for God’s grace to cover our total inability to be good enough. This is good news!
Claiming Friendship with God
We can refashion our thoughts about our inadequacy into spurs to meditate on God’s love. We have nothing to offer ourselves, but the Lord has everything we need:
And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.Psalm 39:7 ESV
Our hope comes from confidence in the Lord.
Matthew Henry sums it up well:
There is no solid satisfaction to be had in the creature; but it is to be found in the Lord, and in communion with him; to him we should be driven by our disappointments.Matthew Henry, Concise Commentary (on Psalm 39)
The disappointment that comes with the realization that we will never be good enough should drive us to the Lord, who receives us solely because of his love for each of us. When we’ve taken our eyes off of ourselves and look upward to Jesus, we can make the decision to rest in truths like these:
- The Lord chose us in him before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).
- We are children and heirs of God and fellows heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16-17).
- We can know and understand the Lord, and he knows and understands us (Jeremiah 9:24 and Psalm 139).
- The Lord manifested his love for us through Jesus (1 John 4:9-10).
These truths are like weapons against our feelings that tell us that we are not good enough without reminding us that our iniquity is only half of the story. They are the gospel to which we hold captive our thoughts of unworthiness, and as we walk surrendered to them, they make our relationship with the Lord even sweeter. A. W. Tozer puts it poignantly in The Knowledge of the Holy:
Modesty may demur at so rash a thought, but audacious faith dares to believe the Word and claim friendship with God. We do God more honor by believing what He has said about Himself and having the courage to come boldly to the throne of grace than by hiding in self-conscious humility among the trees of the garden.A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy
We must make a habit of recognizing both sides of the gospel equation, allowing knowledge of our sin to drive us to Jesus, whose grace is sufficient for his children.
From the Candle Aisle to the Throne
As for me, my old thought patterns and strongholds die hard. I have to come before the Lord again and again to surrender my thoughts and feelings that, as Paul says, “exalt themselves against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
So I lay down before the throne of grace my hyper-focus on myself and my worthiness, the desire for spiritual maturity, the feeling that I am a fake Christian, and all of the self-inflicted confusion and fear about saying the wrong thing or making a misguided decision or wounding someone else.
I lay down my thoughts about myself.
And I sit at the feet of Jesus, in the only position that I will ever be in that will ever matter: his child. Where I’m too preoccupied with his love to question my value or my worthiness or to measure myself by wrong and worldly standards. Where I can rest, finally, from the striving, and know that I am his and that he is ever enough.
About the Author
© Olivia Davis 2019, all rights reserved
Oh my Olivia…..my experience down to the wire (Marshall”s)…I was there today!.. feeling fake and weak… hoping no one I knew would stop to talk…Because I was convinced I was unworthy to speak fondly or experientially about my Lord…a little child walked by looking at Christmas decor and said aloud “I Love Baby Jesus”…I felt worse…Why am I so shy and hesitant….So I went to pray this evening..and revelation came to me that I was entertaining (unworthiness) that I learned as a child..no one in my household expressed love and acceptance….Im 67 time to be done with it right?
God Bless you and thank you Olivia
Olivia Davis says
Wow, thanks so much for this comment, Lydia. I am so sorry that you have struggled with unworthiness. I am so grateful that it is Christ alone who makes us worthy, who loves us so much. May the Lord remind you of his great love for you and bless you in your pursuit of him! Many thanks for this encouragement — Olivia.
This was a superbly written synopsis of a most pertinent subject. You tackled it so well Olivia! I glean so much from the artistic abilities that our Savior created you with!
Recently I have felt alone and in that state, the enemy always ridicules me that I am nothing. I would have to agree with Him because apart from Jesus I can do nothing – I’m worthless but in Him I have everything and can do all things through Him that strengthens me. I am so glad that He is in our lives! I only want others to know about this treasure!
Olivia Davis says
Thank you, Tim! I am so glad that it met you where you are. It’s encouraging to read that you are able to see that through Jesus, you are worthy and able to do all things through Him!
Drake W.J. says
Top notch stuff! This was as both eloquently written as well as providentially timely.
Olivia Davis says
Thank you so much, Drake! That’s encouraging to hear!
So true y’all really helped me God bless you and the holy spirit that dwells within you God is good all of the time thank you this was right on point remove ourselves out of the way and let God use us it’s for his glory not ours
Glenn B. says
In a world dominated by entitlements and promises of free stuff, we shrug at the promise made by our creator for the ultimate gift: forgiveness of sin and eternal life. When we hear those two we want to put on our self righteous act and try to work for something this wonderful , as if we could ever earn it or even begin to understand it.
Olivia Davis says
Yes, Glenn, you’re right (tragically so). I’m so grateful that the Lord has made a way for us to renew our minds so that we can see those gifts for what they are – ultimate and freedom-giving!
This is really good! And so true that we need to spend time realizing that we bring nothing to the table, but thanks to the Lord He gives us everything we need, always.
Olivia Davis says
Oh yes – beautifully said. Takes me to Matthew 6:8:
“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
Another profound inspiration for switching from worldly to Godly domain!!
Olivia Davis says
Thank you so much! Yes, making that switch is difficult. But the difficulty is worth it because it leads us to experience the peace of God beyond our own understanding!
Olivia, thank you for bringing “out of the darkness” the shameful thoughts and feelings that we all experience. This piece encouraged and taught me how to honor God as I process this line of thinking/feelings that “I’m not good enough” the next time they crop up!
Olivia Davis says
Tia, thanks so much for sharing! Yes – scripture is a powerful weapon against those thoughts that crop up at, sometimes, the least expected places.