Many Christians like to think of themselves as being used by God in his service, for his glory, etc. Although most of us understand what this phrase means and the intent behind it, I’m not sure those unfamiliar with church-speak would have a positive reaction. In our politically correct, hyper-sensitive culture, it behooves us to consider how this concept reflects on how we think of God, who he is and how others will see him.
When people use each other, it’s because they want to control, manipulate or gain something from the person being used. I’m pretty sure almost everyone has experienced being used, in big or small ways. It’s not pleasant and can be harmful, dangerous or fatal. No one wants to be used.
Let’s examine each of these words, starting with control. God does not control us. He lets us make choices, even if they are bad ones. He doesn’t manipulate us. God loves us and love is not manipulative, rather it seeks the good of the one who is loved. God doesn’t need anything from us. He owns everything and there’s nothing we can give him he doesn’t already have. He doesn’t even need our praise (remember Jesus said if no one praised him, the rocks would (Luke 19:40).
Paul Young, in The Lies We Believe About God, says, “God is a relational being; that is who God is. The language of God is about partnering, co-creating, and participating; it’s about an invitation to dance and play and work and grow. If God uses us, then we are nothing but objects or commodities to God. Even in our human relationships, we know this is wrong.”
The next time you find yourself wanting to be used by God or telling someone he will use them, remember words matter. I would much rather participate in relationship with him, wouldn’t you?
Next week: God is in Control
Have you ever been told certain prayers will unleash the power of God? I wonder exactly what that means. Is God like a wild animal who is being restrained in a cage and we must use the right turn of words or formula to let him out so he can work his power in our lives? Or maybe he restrains himself until we utter the magic words. I don’t know for sure because no one has explained this in detail, but I do believe this is an inaccurate representation of God and how he works.
I do know God is always working in our lives and the Holy Spirit’s power is always available to us – up to a point. In Preparing for Heaven: What Dallas Willard Taught Me About Living, Dying and Eternal Life, Gary Black, Jr. says: “God has limited our ability to achieve our potential, our potency, outside of living in a dependent, submissive relationship with him. The human will, in its self-centered, myopic state, simply can’t be trusted or let loose with the power of God onto the universe. At least not yet.”
God’s power isn’t leashed, ours is, when we live outside of relationship with him. In a dependent, submissive relationship with God, his power is evident in how he gives us gifts and enables us to use them for his glory, and in the transformation of our hearts as we partner with the Holy Spirit in our practice of the spiritual disciplines.
When we tell ourselves and others that God’s power can be unleashed, we are turning God into a genie who comes when we intone the magic words in an effort to take his power for ourselves, rather than humbly letting him work in our lives as he sees fit.
Next week: Use Me, God
God is often misunderstood and portrayed as someone he’s not. Because we as Christians have been commissioned to tell others about Jesus and his Father, it’s important to be careful what we say about him and how we say it. Sometimes I hear phrases used by Christian authors and speakers that make me wonder if they give any thought as to how others may think of God (and us too) when they hear such things. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be examining some of these phrases.
Let’s look at what is often prayed at the beginning of a praise service. It goes something like this: “Lord, we invite your presence here as we sing praises.” I’ve even heard the worship leader invite God into the congregation’s presence, which distracted me so much I almost couldn’t sing.
I’m sure the praise leader didn’t mean to give the impression God was outside waiting to be invited in. We obviously don’t have to invite God into our presence. He is always with us. But why not open with a more meaningful prayer, such as thank you Lord, for always being with us. May our songs of praise be a sweet fragrance to you.
One could argue this is just semantics, but words do matter. How we talk about God matters.
Next week: Unleashing God’s Power
I’m not really that into music, but lately I’ve been developing an appreciation of how Christian music can enhance my time with God. It might have something to do with acquiring one of those electronic gadgets from a well-known online store. I enjoy asking it to play music for me, as well as give the weather for the day.
That’s how I discovered my new favorite band, Mercy Me. I enjoy a lot of their songs, but one that really moves me is Even If. The main idea is our hope remains in God even if he doesn’t take away our sorrow or our hurt, because we know he is able and that he can.
I first became acquainted with this song when a good friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer. A lot of people were praying for her, but God didn’t heal her. She died trusting in God even though he didn’t answer our prayers the way she and we wanted.
Whenever I hear it, I think of her and how she is with Jesus. And I am encouraged for my own life and the lives of others, that even if God decides to leave our mountains unmovable, all will be well with our souls, because we can trust him, and our hope remains firmly in Jesus.
Some shy away from meditation because of the mystic connotations, but this spiritual discipline is nothing like what you see in Eastern religious traditions. Understanding the definition will help clean out the clutter: it is simply thinking about who God is and what he has done. It’s always based on the Bible.
When I read Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney, I came across this nugget in the chapter on prayer: “Meditation is the missing link between Bible intake and prayer.” He then talks about the significance of combining these three disciplines: “The process works like this: After the input of a passage of Scripture, meditation allows us to take what God has said to us and think deeply on it, digest it, and then speak to God about it in a meaningful way.”
I was struck by the simplicity of this idea. It gave me a different perspective, freedom even, to explore the spiritual disciplines in a new way. Rather than approaching Bible study, meditation and prayer as separate disciplines, as I usually do and as you probably do also, let’s combine them. These first three are usually dependent on silence and solitude, but why not go further and combine all five with worship, praise and celebration? What a profound difference this could make in our quiet time.
Getting rid of clothes that no longer fit, knickknacks that collect dust, extra sheets and towels, and coffee mugs that seem to reproduce in the dark of my kitchen cupboard, is relatively easy. All I have to do is put them in a bag and set them out for the local charity to pick up. But decluttering the spiritual takes more effort, probably because it’s less visible and harder to measure.
Many writers, preachers and speakers will try to tell you they have a key or some special insight about getting close to God (which is why you need to buy their book). Chasing after every new revelation about how to connect with him is fruitless and tiring. I know, I’ve done a bit of this. I’ve read a lot of devotionals and books that claim to be just what you need and will change your life. They usually don’t.
I’ve found the best path to spiritual transformation is the somewhat old-fashioned but tried and true method of practicing the spiritual disciplines. They’ve been around for centuries and are still the best strategy for growing in grace and knowledge of God. The basics are well known to most of us – Bible study, prayer and meditation.
Meditation is sometimes misunderstood – I suppose because it’s used by so many religions and secular groups and there are many ways to do it, including non-biblical ones. Wrong ideas about spiritual practices such as meditation could be some clutter you need to take out. I don’t have a special key, but I have learned something about it that has helped me, and next week, I will share it with you.
Space, which I mentioned in a previous post, is often thought of as a luxury. Only the wealthy seem to have space to display works of art (or even have them). But space is something we all can attain. In our homes, we make space by getting rid of clutter, which is defined as things that are in the way, not needed or not useful. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been working on eliminating the clutter in my home. The process has made me realize I have too much stuff, and the more I take out, the more I’m determined to stop bringing stuff in as well.
Space is also desirable in our spiritual lives. When I think of making space for God, I picture the same thing I want in my house – no clutter and lots of room for what’s important: just me and Jesus. Space means time to spend with him, exploring and deepening our relationship. It means not getting distracted by going down rabbit holes of questionable theology or chasing side issues that don’t contribute to knowing Jesus and becoming like him. I try to be discerning about the devotionals I read and the way I spend my quiet time. I want my focus to be laser sharp on Jesus, no room for anything else.
Next week: De-cluttering the Spiritual Spaces