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.
The communion service is a very important part of the life of the church. Many congregations make it a part of their weekly or monthly worship. But have you ever considered taking it on your own? I was first introduced to this idea in an article in Discipleship Journal, Nov/Dec 1996. The author went through a difficult time and felt God urging her to have communion with him every day. She did, and it changed her life. She shared her experience with others, and they also began having supper for one.
At first, I thought this sounded a little strange, especially considering my fellowship took it only once a year for much of its history, and always as a congregation. I didn’t add it to my quiet time until recently, though I have thought of it many times since reading the article. It turns out, this is a wonderful way to go deeper with God and experience a greater intimacy with him.
I go to a quiet place in my house, light a candle and read scriptures and quotations I’ve collected about communion. I pray, meditate on what I’m doing and what it means and then eat the bread and wine. I know you are probably thinking it’s supposed to be done in community with other believers and that’s true. But when I take the Lord’s Supper by myself, I’m not alone. I experience unity with all my brothers and sisters in the Christian community, including the cloud of witnesses from the past, through God’s Spirit. Because I don’t have to rush through, as we often do at services, I can take my time and linger as long as I want with Jesus.
If you’re looking for more intimacy with the Lord, set the table for one and let Jesus feed you. You might find yourself, like me, going back for more, again and again.
Forgiveness is a tricky thing. As Christians, we know we are forgiven, and we are told to forgive in the same way. It’s easy to say, “I forgive you,” but it’s only real if it’s from our hearts.
Dallas Willard, in his book, Life Without Lack, said we make three errors when it comes to forgiveness. First, we tend to believe it requires reconciliation; second, we think we have to forget what happened; and third, we think we have to stop hurting. None of these are necessary.
We forgive by making the choice not to punish or seek revenge, which means we let people off the hook. It lets us off our own hook, too and frees us—from anger and bitterness—and allows us to love them the way God wants us to.
If we wait for reconciliation (which often never comes), tell ourselves we have to forget what happened (can’t do that) and wait to stop hurting (the pain might lessen, but will never go away), forgiveness will never happen, at least not in this life. Forgiveness is God’s way of life and his way to life (N.T. Wright) but doesn’t happen in our hearts without God’s help and much prayer. It is possible, even when it feels like it’s not, if we can avoid these mistakes and trust God to make it work.