Sunday, December 4, 2011

Being useful at all times

My good intentions have quickly been overtaken by poor health and a very busy schedule in recent days. My goal was to post once every week, and I already have missed that. Oh well...

In my last post I made this statement about being useful: "The highest good work that the redeemed woman can do is tend to her own soul, for keeping it is what makes her most useful for service to the King!" Here is where most of us go astray in our quest for usefulness - and let's face it, we are on a quest. Desiring to be useful is not a bad thing, it's not a prideful thing. I guess it can be if not sought with proper motives, but for a sincere believer, there is a sanctified, Holy Spirit-wrought longing to be of useful service to God. We saw it in the early disciples of the Lord, and we have since seen it throughout Christian history when we examine the great men of faith who sacrificially gave of their time, talents, and resources to be be useful for the sake of Christ. In fact, if that longing is absent in a believer, he should quickly examine whether or not he is in the faith!

One of the most common and weighty matters which can hinder our usefulness is the way we respond to the difficulties we encounter in this life. Oftentimes, this includes when we are mistreated by others (especially fellow believers). The pain and distress that comes from within the body of Christ can at times seem unbearable. But it is our response that proves whether or not we know how to be useful to the Lord. When we linger in bitterness or discontentment at God's providence, in both circumstances and relationships, we paralyze ourselves from being useful. The bitter and discontent will not be able to provide pure service to the Lord - they will not be useful.

John Angell James said this: "Love will endure with patience, and suffer, without anger or bitterness of feeling, everything in social life which is calculated to tru our tempers, and exhaust our patience. It is not testy, and impatient at the least opposition or the slightest provocation; but endures the infirmities, the unreasonableness, the ill-humor, and the hard language of others - with a meek and quiet spirit." So does this mean we never speak up when wronged? Do we never confront the unkindness of others? How do we rightly submit to divinely appointed mistreatment? Is not all mistreatment divinely appointed? Consider Joseph, who was sorely mistreated by his own brothers, spent over a decade slaving for the pharoah, and yet became one of God's choicest instruments of usefulness. Joseph was able to respond this way because of love. He understood the love of God, and therefore had a love for others. This may seem like a cliche, generic answer, but the truth is in the simplicity. God's servants are most useful when they are most loving. And this is not some pitying, fluffy love that we have for others and therefore go on under any kind of mistreatment. This love springs forth from a heart and mind that has come to understand just how deeply God has loved us. We have seen our sin, we have plumbed the depths of it, and thereby know that it was God's electing love being placed upon us, in mercy, which then compels us to endure hardships and respond with love. This is how we become more useful. Good-will and guilt cannot be the motives from which we seek to serve the Lord. We understand His love for us, and therefore desire nothing more than to lovingly return our praise and service to Him, by being useful!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What are we talking about here?

What does it mean to be useful for service? Why ought we to place value on usefulness? How do we maintain this perspective of usefulness throughout the Christian life, amidst difficult trials and painful inner turmoil? Because – let’s face it – the reality is that the walk of a Christian becomes more challenging as he or she matures in the faith. To some this sounds like a strange reality. But the truth is the more we come to understand about God, His Word, and ourselves (as sinners in need of His daily grace), the more we find ourselves fainthearted and at times, overwhelmed by the deceitfulness of our own hearts. The more glorious reality in this, however, is that the walk of the Christian also becomes much sweeter. In those times of frailty and weakness, even in those times of darkened sinful machinations, the maturing believer experiences the preciousness of Christ more clearly. As he carefully exposes his heart and mind to the truths of God’s Word and brings himself under sound preaching, draws near to the presence of the great Friend of sinners in prayerful meditation – the seasoned Christian enjoys the benefits of his faith more and more despite facing trying times.

Dr. John MacArthur preached a sermon entitled, “Characteristics of a Useful Vessel,” in which he says (in reference to 2nd Timothy 2:21): “Being useful here is like a vessel that is honorable. This is an analogy. The word vessel is skeuos in the Greek, it means a household container. It is a domestic term. It refers to domestic gear, a plate, a platter, a serving dish, a serving bowl. The master of the house, the despotes, the ruler of the house, has certain vessels that are honorable. They are honorable because they are sanctified. They are therefore useful for every good purpose”. So, we could say that to be useful is to be sanctified. Dr. MacArthur goes on to provide insight into what it means to be sanctified: "By truth, washing of the Word, Spirit-filled, less inclined toward sin, holding this world loosely, quick to seek the Lord amidst trouble, prayerful, submissive". One who is useful, one who is sanctified - will embody these characteristics.

There are so many depths to plumb in this study of usefulness. And for the redeemed woman, many elements of usefulness will be quite unique from that of a redeemed man. Not better, not higher, not more superior - but unique. A biblical woman is useful. Isn't that what we all desire, long for? To be useful? Yet, in our sin-clouded vision we think usefulness means valuable or esteemed. However, the useful woman finds her greatest value - her greatest usefulness - in being low. We tend to think that if we are not "fulfilled" in our job, our relationships, our daily activities, that something is missing and we must find it. What is actually missing is a proper understanding of biblical usefulness. We are constantly longing for something, we are restless. We try to move from one exciting and monumentous event to the next. We can't stand to live in anonymity or without recognition. Even if the recognition comes merely from our children, friends, or co-workers. But even that is not affirmation of usefulness. Being useful is being set apart unto the Lord, prepared for every good work. Those good works are typically done without any notice. And the highest good work that the redeemed woman can do is tend to her own soul, for keeping it is what makes her most useful for service to the King!

That is what this little place is all about – seeking to know, understand and love what it means to be useful for service!