The following was presented to CRCNA staff in a time of weekly devotions.
Who here wants to be used by God? (hopefully all or most hands go up) Who here is perfect? (none) Hmmmm… Well, I’ve got some good news, anyway. God can make you perfect. And once you’re perfect, he can use you to do some neat things...But remember -- you have to be perfect first. Then he’ll use you. How are you progressing on your path to perfection? Any success stories anyone wants to share?.... Somebody should have stopped me by now…..
So, that was not true. God has used imperfect people for as long as there have been imperfect people. There’s one person in the Bible who was completely perfect and never sinned or messed up, and whom God used in the biggest way possible and around whom the whole story of the Bible and history centres. That was Jesus.
Can anyone tell me the name of another perfect person in the Bible whom God used? (Nope)
There aren’t any. God used a lot of imperfect people, starting right at the beginning, all the way through, and then into today. And it’s a good thing that God is willing to use imperfect people, because except for Jesus, there are no perfect people.
Let’s look at some examples….
Jacob - Israel’s namesake. One of his names means “deceiver” and the other means “he wrestles with God.” He lived up to both. He took advantage of his brother’s hunger to get his birthright, then later conspired with his mother to deceive his father and steal his brother’s blessing. His marriages were not a great example of wedded bliss. As a father, he showed so much favour to two of his sons that the other ten were bitter enough to kill one of them, and almost succeeded. He created trouble for himself through his deceptions several times, and then tried to run from the consequences. But God made him one of the fathers of Israel, the man from whose line a nation - His chosen people - would come.
Moses - Moses knew his imperfections. He had been raised in privilege but knew his heritage. The first time he tried to take action to help his people, he botched it completely and alienated both his own people and the people he’d been raised with by killing a man. He had to flee the country, and ended up living as a hired shepherd for years. Then, when God called him to action, he argued with God and tried to point out a few flaws in his character and abilities that maybe God wasn’t aware of. In spite of all of this, God used him in a huge way to save the people of Israel and to make known His word and His laws. Even after this, Moses wasn’t perfect. He still reacted in anger at times, took on too much until others gave him good advice, and frequently questioned God’s choosing him to lead his people.
Ruth - As far as we can tell from her story, Ruth was a pretty awesome person. But she was a Moabitess. In God’s rules about exclusion from the assembly, Moabites were part of the list of people not allowed to become part of Israel - even to the tenth generation. She was also a widow, which was not a great social status at her time. She also hadn’t had any children with her husband, so questions may have been raised about her ability to conceive - another social status tick against her. Yet God worked in her life and brought it about that she was David’s great-grandmother and an ancestor of Jesus.
David - David had a lot of good qualities. He was anointed king as a young man, but refused to force God’s hand by killing the first anointed king in order to take the throne -- he waited on God’s timing and even served Saul both in battle and with music to ease Saul’s heart and mind. When Saul turned on him and worked to kill him, he still didn’t take advantage of things to create his own glory; he hid and bided his time, waiting on God. When he did become king, he served the country well. But when he did fail, he did it in a very big, very public way. The Bible tells us that “in the time when kings go off to war” David was at his palace - interesting way to introduce the story. Then, despite years of practice of waiting for God’s timing, he saw and wanted, and wasn’t willing to wait. He summoned Bathsheba, and we know the rest. As if adultery wasn’t enough, he had her husband killed to try to cover his sin. And her husband was Uriah, a well-known man in the kingdom, listed as one of King David’s 30 mighty men. There was no social media yet, but I’m pretty sure word got around pretty fast about that one.
Jonah - Jonah knew he was called by God, and he knew exactly where he was supposed to go and what message he was to bring and to whom. But he ran the other way. Now, I do think Jonah gets a bit of a bad rap for this. I think a lot of people aren’t listening for God, or they think they hear him but they turn up their stereos to avoid what God might be calling them to. Jonah heard God and acted - he just didn’t act in the way he was supposed to. Anyway, the fact is, he started out in the opposite direction from where God wanted him to go. Yet instead of giving up on him, God used some of His most effective persuasion tactics - a storm so huge that those at sea despaired of their lives, and then three days in the slimy belly of a fish. Jonah got the message. Lying in a bed of sand and fish-vomit, he knew he needed to go and do this thing that God wanted and he didn’t. And God used him to save the city - the capital of the mighty Assyrian empire! And Jonah still wasn’t perfect. After he’d given the message God had given him to the people of Ninevah, he waited around to watch the city burn. Then, when it turned out that his fire-and-brimstone preaching was effective and the city was saved from the king on down, he sulked.
Matthew - All of Jesus’ disciples could be in this list. But let’s look at Matthew. He was a tax collector! We don’t always love anyone involved with taking our money for the government even today, but in first-century Palestine, they were the absolute dregs of society. They were Jews, but worked for the Romans to take money from their own people, to give to the oppressive and hated Roman Empire. And it wasn’t to fund awesome health care and social welfare programs. It was to build monuments to the hated Empire itself, and to fund Herod’s extravagant building projects and lavish parties. Most tax collectors padded their wages by charging more than they were supposed to, thus drawing even more of the ire of their countrymen. The Jews looked on them as traitors and collaborators, and the Romans looked on them as useful tools even while also likely despising them as traitors. And yet Jesus didn’t just choose to spend time with him - He called him as one of his 12 disciples! One of the dozen men with whom He would very publicly travel, minister, teach, eat, and generally do life. One of the close followers who would carry his message to the world. And Matthew ended up writing one of the four gospels through which we learn about Jesus even today.
There already is a whole book of the stories of other broken people that God has used to help bring about His kingdom. It’s called the Bible.
So that’s good news for all of us. But here’s the thing. I used to hear about stories like this, and think, “Oh, good! If He can use anyone, then He can use even me. Great! I’ll get to work.” Then I would either jump into some program or project or conversation, give it my all, and…botch it completely or see it bear zero fruit (that I could see). I’d burn out or mess up and get discouraged. I’d think, if God knows I’m a broken tool, then why is He even bothering to use me?! He’s setting me up to fail! This isn’t fair. God isn’t fair.
Then, being a good introvert, I’d do as so many of the prophets are recorded as having done - I’d leave for a while and hide away, avoiding any attempts at anything, lest I’d fail again and dig the pit deeper.
But God still reaches into pits to pull us out and set us to work in His kingdom. He dusts us off and reminds us to rely on His strength and not ours.
I’m not in the middle of any crises right now - although the prospect of leading devotions does deprive me of good sleep for at least a week beforehand - but I had a good lesson from God just last week. I was feeling weary at the end of a workday, ready not to take on the world or all of its complexities and controversies, but to hide in my sweet little living room and read a good book while munching potato chips. And I suddenly realized that sometimes, that’s okay. A line of a hymn - He knows that we are dust; He knows our frame - ran through my mind ("O Come, My Soul, Sing Praise to God" - Psalm 103; vers. Psalter, 1912, alt.; tune: James Walch, 1875). We are fearfully and wonderfully made, but we’re frail, and God knows that better than anybody, better than we do ourselves. He still wants to use us, even though He knows that we’ll break and fail and splinter in His hands. He will keep healing and repairing.
It’s good news for us that we are frail and that we know we’ll break. It reminds us that God never will fail, and the work He’s called us to doesn’t depend on us and our strength. It’s all up to Him. That doesn’t mean we can slack off, and Jonah reminds us that God has His ways of persuading us, but it does mean that we can rest when we need to. It means we can take some time off from carrying the burdens of this world and just enjoy laughing with our friends, eating a good meal with our families, taking a walk to enjoy God’s artistry in the sky and the trees. We’re frail and God knows it, and He’s still willing to walk with us and use us in His story.
Enjoy the journey.