I grew up in the church, and for that I am eternally grateful! I have given my life to the planting of churches and raising up leaders within churches. I simply cannot imagine my life without the local church and the invaluable role it has played in my life. Though often messy, it is clear to me that God has not given up on but rather loves and inhabits his church. The church is what Jesus gave his life for, and therefore, the church is what I am giving my life to.
I became a Christian at the age of 15 and knew I was called into vocational ministry within 90 days. So, one prayer that I picked up on by leaders around me and started praying myself was this—“God, please use me in this world for your glory and our joy.” It sounds right and even biblical. Yet, to be quite honest, I didn’t pray that prayer from a heart that was content with God. No, I prayed that prayer because I wanted to perform for God, others and myself. I wanted God to give me a platform, put me in front of people that would laud me with praises and admire my piety. True story. (For those who are reading this that know me, I know you’re grinning).
To this day I still have all of my old journals. They’re so embarrassing to read. Though when I wrote them, I thought they were filled with wisdom and profound insights. Turns out, I may be the greatest naval-gazer in the history of the world. Every couple of years, I’ll pull them down to read them and see if I’ve grown much, if any, in my walk with God. The one phrase that is on every page is “Use me.” And you know what? That’s sad. Really sad.
“Why is that sad that you asked God to use you?” Here’s why—I’ve come to believe that God is far more relational than utilitarian. God did not save me so that he could merely “use me.” The obvious rebuttal would be, “Oh! But ‘you were created in Christ Jesus for good works!’” (Eph. 2.10). And I could not love that verse more! However, chronology counts and chapter one come before chapter two. My huge error has been to study chapter one and want to apply chapter two. In Ephesians one, Paul says that “he [God] predestined us in love for adoption as sons” (Eph. 1.5). That now changes everything! Jana and I did not have children in order to “use them.” We had children so as to love them, raise them, teach them and bless them, and I’m becoming more convinced that this is nearer to the heart of God.
My confession is simple: Deep down, for the majority of my Christian life, I have lived, prayed and “served” because I related to God as my employer, not my “Abba Father” (Gal. 4.6; Rom. 8.15). With God as my divine employer, I could count and quantify my work for him and be the judge of whether I was “useful” or not. Having God as my employer, love, intimacy, acceptance and belonging were not the name of the game. No. Productivity and getting things done are what was important. Meditation, confession and repentance were replaced with planning and strategizing. Communion will always trump the calendar.
Furthermore, with a divine employer, it was so easy to compare and compete with other Christians, whom I saw as fellow employees. Measuring myself against other Christians or students in Bible college and seminary, a secret pride in my heart, robbed me from authentic friendships that include transparency and gut-wrenching vulnerability. When I was broken, at my lowest, I found out just how consumer-based my relationships were. I needed family, not coworkers, to comfort me, and I had none.
I’ve wondered why I’ve tried to create a wobbly platform or climb the rickety ladder in evangelical circles so many days of my Christian faith, and I’ve come to conclude and repent of the fact that I’d rather study the love of God than be consumed by it; thinking about the love of God rather than actually feeling loved by God felt safe. I, like so many Christians that I know, would rather forego my daddy issues and sweep my own brokenness under the rug and look like I have it all together and get on to the “good works prepared for me.” My struggle is not one with being productive in the work of the church as much. No, my struggle has been to actually see myself as one of God’s sons based solely on the work of his Son, the Lord Jesus. To believe that God wants me, loves me and totally accepts me is where it gets real.
In the most powerful anthropomorphic language in the Bible, God is communicating that he is far more relational than utilitarian. In Isaiah 49, the image is one of a nursing mother with her baby. In Hosea, the image is a daddy teaching his toddler to walk by taking him up by his little arms. In Jeremiah, the Father says, “Are you not my darling child?”
Do I want to be used by God in this world? I think that’s the wrong question to be asking these days. Will I have the nerve to go beyond studying love of God and allow God to love me in such a way that I feel his love in this world? If so, I’m certain that walking in the good works prepared for me won’t feel so much like “work” but will in and of themselves will feel much more like the reward because I’m going to work with my Abba Father. Bottom line: God has children, not employees. God gives us a covenant, not a contract. God gives us love, not busywork.