Updated: Apr 23, 2022
(AUDIO VERSION - with background noise from an outside table at Starbucks)
Have you ever wondered about the little boy who went to the mountain resort to hear Jesus speak, and brought along with him a small lunch of bread and fish? Why exactly did Jesus choose to use HIS contribution to feed 5000? Jesus could have accomplished His purpose in another way. He could have given the people manna. He could have sent flocks of quail. He could have turned stones into bread. In fact, He could have miraculously filled their stomachs and assuaged their hunger. It’s certainly possible that when Andrew brought the little boy to Jesus, the little fellow wondered, “Now, why do they have to take MY food?”
Our natural inclination is to ask “Why Me?” while we are in the middle of (or maybe even after) some unpleasant and unwanted experience. We feel like we are suffering some injustice and we wonder why things have to be this way? We want to know why God is letting this pain into our lives. It’s natural. My guess is, it’s a universal response. Job wanted to know. Asaph was puzzled about it (Psalm 73). Even Jesus asked why while He hung on the cross.
Kris Kristofferson brilliantly turned the question on its head. He asked why anything good ever happened to him. Like the old prophet Ezra, Kris knew he deserved only trouble and no blessings (Ezra 9:13). It’s the opposite of the sense of entitlement. In the song, his sense of justice is pure enough to recognize that all he deserves is judgment and punishment. This kind of humility is noble and rare.
My take on the question follows more in line with Kris’ perspective than the natural and common perspective. But with nuance. The question on my mind concerns the reason God chooses to use me. And it’s not just me. Why did He choose Jacob, Jonah, or the long list of misfits, oddballs, and obviously flawed ministers I’ve know - including and especially me?
There are some answers that are easy and readily identified. We all know that God has chosen to use the weak, the foolish, & the unimpressive so as to prevent the growth of pride in His servants and to demonstrate the greatness of His own power and grace. And, the reality of His sovereignty should be sufficient to quiet every imaginable question. Yet the mystery remains and my curiosity continues.
This is not a pity party. At least, I don’t want it to be. But I look at the tools in my toolbox and find some key instruments missing.
Memory. What is the benefit of not being able to remember things? Names! Maybe one of the most important things for a pastor to be competent with is to be able to communicate honestly, sincerely, and clearly that the people he is pastoring are important to him and that he cares deeply for them. But how can that message be believable when he forgets names? My brain quite literally freezes up and I can’t grab the name of people that I have known for 10, 15, or even 20 years. It’s people that I’ve prayed for repeatedly, ministered with, and spent countless hours with. I’m not blaming God. Broken brain syndrome is a result of the fall, not of creation. While I do work constantly to offset this weakness, I can and could do more to minimize the problem. However, likely I will never escape it completely. But I must admit, my forgetfulness does force me to be humble and to volitionally lean on God for divine intervention. It’s still a frequent frustration though.
There are many other reason for me to be mystified at God’s calling upon my life. Especially in my younger years I was a liar and a cheat. Then as I grew, coveting my neighbor’s wife or maidservant was certainly a stumbling-block that I tripped over often. Uncontrolled anger has risen up and bitten me multiple times over the years. An inability to say “no" to inquiries and opportunities always feels altruistic at the moment, but actually just shows a lack of discernment and discipline. Infatuation with work to the detriment of relationships plagues me. A natural lack of compassion taints many if not most of my days. What can best be described as cowardice in me keeps me from entering into crucial conversations that I know will be difficult and confrontational. Fear of rejection hampers my gospel witness. Need I go on?
Again, I’m not looking for, asking for, wanting, or needing reassurance or coddling. In fact, one of my greatest weaknesses is overconfidence; feeling fully prepared and ready even when it’s not true. The reason I’m trying to bare my soul a little is in order to encourage you. Unless you are very unique or just delusional, you should also wonder why God chooses to use you (assuming that you do actually realize that He does use you). He wants to use EVERY ONE of His children. He has saved us “unto good works.” It is my contention that He considers you useful not just despite your faults and flaws, but BECAUSE of your faults and flaws.
I once knew a man who constantly said something like, “Your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness, because your greatest weakness is your greatest strength misapplied” — or something like that. Maybe that’s true. But what if our great weaknesses are our greatest strengths because God specializes in somehow turning those things for our good and His glory? Not that we should excuse and endorse character flaws and inabilities. But the list of flawed ministers is just too long to ignore.
One might postulate that the reason so many of God’s ministers are flawed is simply because everyone is flawed so any sample group must therefore included flawed people. No doubt that’s true. But it often seems like the most flawed group in the world is the group we fondly call the church of the Living God. Of course, Jesus didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. And he was famous for choosing to hang out with the poor, the outcasts, the rejected. He came to set prisoners free and to give sight to the blind. In short, He specializes in hard cases. He is able to save to the uttermost. So I suppose we should expect quite a ragtag group of pitiful specimens of humanity following along behind Him, right?
It’s ironic and even humorous to me that it was Peter that God choose to speak on Pentecost… 50 days after his cowardly denial of Jesus. It was Saul of Tarsus that God picked to be the apostle to non-jews and to write the bulk of the New Testament… after his career pursuing and punishing the church. It was doubting Thomas that God used to make the strongest declaration of Jesus’ deity in the entire Bible, “My Lord and my God!” Am I the only one who sees a pattern here?
You are useful. The more you doubt it, perhaps the more it is true. Be ready, willing, available, and moving. Offer yourself for service and rejoice when God uses you. He has spoken through bushes, donkeys, and ignorant fishermen. He has revealed His truth by inscribing it on stone, on the walls in heathen courts, and in the fleshy tables of the hearts of His children. He is ever and always working to manifest Himself among us, and you can be a conduit for that. Embrace it. Pray for it. Cooperate with the Spirit. The very population of the new heaven and earth can be impacted by your puny contributions and mine, if we will simply yield to the Spirit and offer him our little sack lunch.