In our last post in the Practical Christianity series, we discussed the law of opportunity and action, and how we as Christians are called to do good for others on God’s behalf. As Christians, many of us feel comfortable with helping people with their material needs, but when it comes to spiritual needs, many of us struggle with the feeling that we aren’t capable of helping. So before we get into how we as Christians can help fulfill our brother’s and sister’s spiritual needs, I’d like to show you that you are truly capable of being used by God in this area. I like to call the biblical principle we will be talking about today the “Usability Principle.”
The struggle that many of us face, is that we often get the feeling that we aren’t good enough to be used by God. Naturally, as Christians, we realize that we have fallen short of God’s standards and are flawed beings at our core. While this is true, our over-emphasis on our fallen nature oftentimes prevents us from having the boldness to spread our wings as Christians and reach out to help others with spiritual matters.
As I said, my goal is to show you that God is able to use you and wants to see your life used for His honor and glory. To do this, I’d like us to consider the kinds of people God chose to use throughout the Bible. Most of us are familiar with these famous characters of Scripture who many would consider to be “great men of God.” We have Old Testament examples like Abraham, Moses, David, Gideon, and Elijah, and New Testament examples such as Peter, Paul, and Christ Himself. Excluding Christ, each one of these examples is a flawed individual just like you and me, but despite this, they were still used by God to accomplish His will. So let’s take a look at some of them and see what God is trying to show us through the life-stories He recorded for us.
Abraham (called Abram at birth) was a man who came from Ur of the Chaldees, a city-state in ancient Mesopotamia, a great city of wealth and trade, but also a center for pagan worship. Despite this pagan influence, when Abraham heard God calling to him to leave his family, home, and country to go to a land where he had never been, he trusted God and left without knowing where he was going. (Heb 11:8) We know Abraham as a man of great faith, but when we look back at his life, we see that there are many times when Abraham struggled with faith, and it led to him making major mistakes.
Abraham had a few major flaws in his life, his first being that he was selfish and cowardly. Not only once, but two times he was so afraid that foreign rulers would kill him and take his wife that, instead of standing his ground and protecting his wife, he said that she was his sister. This led to two foreign leaders almost sleeping with his wife. (Gen 12, 20) Thankfully, God stepped in and prevented this from occurring, but nonetheless, this was a major problem in Abraham’s Character. His choice to put his own safety over the safety of his wife was unacceptable.
Later, God promised Abraham a child, but rather than waiting on God’s timing for the fulfillment of the promise Abraham listened to the advice of His wife and slept with and impregnated Hagar, his maid. (Gen 16:2) Instead of being patient with God, he made his own plans and had a child with her. This was a major breach of God’s design for marriage and showed Abraham’s lack of discernment. On top of this, when Abraham realized his mistake, he listened to his wife’s bad advice once more and sent Hagar away to wander in the wilderness. Both Hagar and her child, Ishmael, would have been sent into the wilderness to die had God not personally stepped in to save them. (Gen 21:14)
Through the testimony of Scripture, we see that Abraham was cowardly, impatient, an adulterer, and sent two people into the wilderness to die in order to selfishly solve his own problems. These are not good qualities. Abraham definitely had his flaws, yet God was still able to use him to make a great nation, and over time God helped him to become a great leader and a man of spiritual wisdom eventually earning him the title of “a friend of God.” (James 2:23) Abraham is now an example of how God can take us when we are broken, grow us, and use us for His Kingdom. Abraham didn’t have his act together, but God met him where he was, and Abraham followed as he was so that God could change him into the man he would become. If God can use Abraham, then he most definitely can use you.
Moses was the son of Amram and Jochebed, two Hebrews who were oppressed under the control of Egypt. At the time of Moses’ birth, Pharaoh commanded that all male Hebrew babies should be thrown into the river to die. (Ex 1:22) Jochebed, not wanting to lose her child, put baby Moses in a basket and placed him by the river in the bulrushes, trusting that God would protect him. Baby Moses was later found by non-other than the daughter of Pharaoh. (Ex 2:5-6) Pharaoh’s daughter would go on to raise Moses as her own son and Moses would receive the best life Egypt had to offer, receiving advanced schooling and all honors of an Egyptian prince. (Act 7:22)
Despite growing up with wealth and nobility, Moses still felt a burden for his fellow Hebrews who were being oppressed by the Egyptians. One day when Moses saw an Egyptian strike one of his fellow Hebrews, he became enraged. After looking to ensure no one was watching, he proceeded to murder the Egyptian in cold blood and hide the body. (Ex 2:12) However, unbeknownst to Moses, there were people nearby who saw the event unfold. The following day when Moses was walking around he saw a Hebrew strike another Hebrew, so he asked what was the matter. The man’s response was “Do you intend to kill me like you killed the Egyptian?” Fearing judgment from Pharaoh for his murder, Moses fled into the wilderness into Midian to hide from Pharaoh.
After forty years living in Midian, God called Moses from the wilderness to return to Egypt in order to free Israel from Pharoah’s control. When given this request by God, Moses explained that he was not a very eloquent speaker, so God allowed his brother Aaron to speak on his behalf. Moses would go on to lead Israel out of Egypt and all the way to the promised land, yet Moses himself would not enter. This is due to his disobedience to God. Specifically, when God told Moses to call water from a rock in Numbers 20. Instead of speaking to the rock as instructed by God, Moses struck the rock twice in his anger as well as claimed that He and the other leaders were the ones who made the water come from the rock instead of giving God the glory. (Num 20:10-11) God calls him out for this, stating that Moses did not believe or sanctify Him in his actions and, because of it, he would never enter into the promised land.
Through the testimony of Scripture, we see that Moses was a murderer, had anger issues, was afraid of public speaking, and had trouble with trusting in God. Moses lived for eighty years in regret before God started to use him. At that age, it would have been easy for Moses to say his life was wasted and it was too late to start being used by God. But despite his age and shortcomings, God used Moses and allowed him to do great things for Him. God even made Moses a picture of Christ, used him as an example of true faithfulness, and allowed him to write the first five books of the Bible. (Hebrews 3:2) If God can use a man like Moses, he most definitely can use you.
David was the son of Jesse, born from the tribe of Judah. Starting his life as a humble shepherd boy, David soon found himself anointed as the next king of Israel. (1 Sam 16:13) Not long after, he would find himself as the armor bearer and musician for the current king, King Saul. (1 Sam 16:21-23) King Saul appreciated and respected David at first, but when he began to suspect that others liked David more than him, he felt threatened and made it his personal goal to kill David. David fled from King Saul for years and took the moral high ground saying he would not lay a hand on God’s anointed king. (1 Sam. 24:10)
Despite this, there were times when David stepped into the morally depraved. In 1 Sam 25, we are presented with the dark side of David. When David meets a man named Nabal, he requests food and water from him. Not knowing who David was or caring about his condition at all, Nabal insulted David and told him to leave. David was so offended by this that he began to tell his men to take up their swords and kill Nabal for his disrespectful words. Luckily, one of David’s men talks to Nabal’s wife, Abigail, who then talks to David and convinces him to call off his murderous plot. David must have been very impressed with Abigail because when she returns to tell Nabal what happened, Nabal dies of a heart attack and David immediately takes Abigail to be his wife.
Later David becomes king, and things seem to be going well. That is until he sees a woman named Bathsheba bathing on a rooftop. Instead of going to war as he should have, David stayed home and walked on the roof of his house where he could look over the city below. While he was looking, he saw a beautiful woman and decided that he wanted to get to “know” her better. So he called over his men and inquired about her. They informed him that she was named Bathsheba and was the wife of Uriah, a faithful man in David’s army. So David had his men bring her to him, and he slept with her and got her pregnant. Not wanting Uriah or the public to find out about the affair he tried to get Uriah away from the frontlines to sleep with his wife so that Uriah would think it was his own child. Uriah refused, saying he could not do such a thing while others were on the front lines living in fields and risking their lives. So instead David sent a letter with Uriah to the commander to place Uriah at the very front of the army and then retreat so that Uriah would be left alone in the front to die. The plans were carried out as planned. Uriah was murdered, and the affair was covered up.
Later on, in 2 Samuel 24, David became prideful and decided to count the size of his army to see how powerful his kingdom was. God was angered by this and gave David a choice of three punishments to choose from- seven years of famine, three months of personally fleeing from his enemies, or three days of severe disease in the land. David chose the three days of disease in the land and, as a result, seventy-thousand people died. David’s own self-interest, pride, and trust in his armies instead of God ended up costing thousands of people their lives
From the testimony of Scripture, we see that David was an adulterer, a murderer, prideful, deceitful, selfish, and had problems controlling anger. Despite this, we also see that David was given the highly respected title of “a man after God’s own heart.” (1Sa 13:14) David was flawed and made major mistakes and, yes, they even cost people their lives, but God was still able to use him. David would go on to write many Psalms that are included in our Bibles today and start the plans for building God's temple. If God can use David, then God most definitely can use you.
Simon Peter was the son of Jonah of Bethsaida. We know Peter was married since in Matt 8:14-17, we are told that Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, but we don’t know anything about his early life. What is interesting about Peter, however, is that we see how much he messed up.
Before the resurrection, Peter really struggled with his spiritual understanding. Although Christ called him a “Rock” he was more a pebble at the time. In Matthew 16, Peter calls Christ “the Son of the living God” but immediately after it Peter rebukes Christ for saying that He must die and rise again. In response, Christ calls him a stumbling block and Satan. When Peter saw Jesus walking on water, he calls out to Jesus to let him walk on water and go to Him. Although his heart is in the right place, his human nature causes him to be afraid and he sinks into the sea. When Jesus was betrayed in the garden, Peter failed to stay awake to pray with Jesus and later jumped the gun and cut off the ear of the high priest's servant. Then, even though Peter said he would be happy to die with Christ only a few moments earlier, when he was actually put into a position in which he was tested, he disowned Christ three times, swearing that he had nothing to do with Him
We also know that Peter wasn’t well educated, Acts 4:13 points out that he was “unlearned and ignorant” Often times Peter (along with the other disciples) didn’t understand what Christ was trying to teach. For example, when Jesus washed Peter’s feet, he ignorantly asked Him to wash his whole body, completely missing the example Christ was trying to give. Peter and the other disciples also completely missed the fact that Christ was teaching He was going to rise from the dead. You could say Peter had quite a few “whoosh! That went over my head” moments.
From the testimony of Scripture, we see that Peter was uneducated, lacked biblical understanding, was fearful, and regularly stumbled. Sounds a lot like us right? In his heart, Peter desired to do right but often found himself messing up over and over. He didn’t know the Scriptures that well and, as a result, often failed to comprehend what Christ’s was trying to say. He didn’t start out as a great theologian like Paul, he was a fisherman, an “average joe” so to speak. Yet Christ called him “a Rock” because he saw his heart and potential, not his shortcomings and current condition. With God’s help, Peter went on to be a great church leader and write letters that would later become part of the canon of Scripture. If God can use Peter, then He most definitely can use you.
Paul was born as Saul of Tarsus, a Roman citizen, and devout Jew. His father was a Pharisee, and he, like his father, pursued a career as a Pharisee. (Acts 23:6) As a young child, he began his training under the leadership of Gamaliel, a leader of the Pharisees and the Jewish Sanhedrin. Having been trained under such an influential person, Paul would have a prestigious reputation that would allow him to teach in any synagogue in Israel whenever he wanted. He also would have received training in both religious and secular topics like philosophy, literature, and history. Paul was a big deal in his area of the world.
Now because Paul was, at the time, Saul the Pharisee, he was part of the same group of people who plotted to put Christ to death. We don’t know if he had any role to play in the death of Christ, but it would be unlikely since Paul probably would have mentioned it. What we do know is that three years after Christ died Paul had an active role in the persecution of Christians. Paul himself states that he was personally in charge of overseeing the stoning of Stephen. (Acts 22:20)
One day, on his way to the city of Damascus to persecute Christians, Paul met Jesus through a vision of a bright blinding light. During this interaction, Jesus called him out for his opposition and persecution of Him and His followers. When Paul heard the voice of God telling him he was on the wrong side, Paul immediately repented and said, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do.” Christ gave him instructions to meet one of His followers who would restore his sight. When Paul arrived there, Ananias restored his sight and baptized him. After a hearty meal, Paul began preaching the Good News of Christ in all the synagogues and became the apostle to the gentiles. (the messenger of God to the nations outside of Israel) With the Spirit’s help, he traveled the world teaching the Gospel and writing to churches he had planted. Even today, after his death, Paul is still teaching us through his letters that he wrote that are in our Bible’s today.
From the testimony of Scripture, we see that Paul was an enemy of God, a persecutor of the church, and murderer of Christians but despite this, God still used him. Paul had put God's followers to death and made His people tremble at just the sound of his name. If God can use Paul, then He most definitely can use you.
So what is God telling us through His interactions with these individuals? I believe His purpose is this: that no matter what we do and no matter how far we stray from the path of the right it is impossible for us to make ourselves unusable for Him. There are no lost causes or lost potential with God. As Christ tells us, “With God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26) That means, no matter what, it’s still possible for God to use us. The moral of these stories is that all of us are going to mess up at different points in our lives, and some more than others. Being human means we make mistakes, and we shouldn't let those mistakes stop us from living our lives for Christ.
God desires to use us. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” When we want to restore our fellowship with God, all we have to do is confess our sins, and God will purify us and make us usable for Him. Yes, there will still be consequences for our wrong actions here on earth, but God is greater than our mistakes and able to make our lives into a beautiful story of redemption.
From these stories, we can see that these men actually weren’t great men of God, but rather men of a great God. God didn’t use them because they were the most talented or the most skilled, but because they genuinely loved Him and wanted to see themselves used for His good. God doesn’t use us because of who we are, He uses us in spite of who we are. So let’s choose to be used! Let's ask God for forgiveness so that we can move beyond our mistakes, and get out there to encourage, teach, and advise our spiritual brothers and sisters while we reach the world with the Good News of redemption. God wants to use us, all we have to do is let Him.