How Can You Be Useful to God?
How Can You Be Useful to God?
Pippa and I had just returned home from the hospital. Earlier that day, my mother had died of a heart attack while at her desk at work. She was sixty-nine.
I was in a state of shock and turmoil within. I wandered out of our home for a breath of fresh air and was thinking that the one person I really wanted to see was Sandy Millar – our pastor and friend.
At that moment, I looked up and recognised his car approaching. He had just heard our news and had driven straight round to see us. God used Sandy’s arrival that day to bring us great comfort and encouragement.
In today’s New Testament passage, we read that Titus’ arrival was used by God to bring Paul great comfort and encouragement when Paul was in a state of turmoil, exhaustion, oppression, affliction, dread and fear: ‘But God, who comforts and encourages and refreshes and cheers the depressed and the sinking, comforted and encouraged and refreshed and cheered us by the arrival of Titus’ (2 Corinthians 7:6, AMP).
Titus’ arrival brought even further encouragement because he carried news of how the Corinthians were being useful to God. As a result, Paul ‘rejoiced still more’ (v.7, AMP).
However bleak things may appear, God always seems to raise up people who are instruments ‘for noble purposes… useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work’ (2 Timothy 2:21). How can you and I be useful to God?
Be prepared to take the leadPsalm 105:23-36
Do you sometimes feel you are in a spiritual wasteland in your workplace, your city, or even in your entire nation?
The psalmist recalls one of the bleakest periods for the people of God. God had blessed them. They had become ‘very fruitful’ (v.24). But their success caused them to be hated (v.25a). Their foes conspired against them (v.25b). ‘They abused and cheated God’s servants’ (v.25, MSG).
The people of God were oppressed and enslaved. They were in a ‘spiritual wasteland’ (v.27, MSG). But God ‘sent Moses his servant, and Aaron, whom he had chosen’ (v.26). God chose Moses and Aaron. They responded (admittedly very reluctantly in the case of Moses) to the call to lead. They performed miraculous signs and wonders and set God’s people free: ‘They worked marvels in that spiritual wasteland’ (v.27, MSG).
Lord, as I look at our nation and see the state of the church, I cry out to you to raise up people like Moses and Aaron to lead your people out of the spiritual wasteland.
Turn to God in times of trouble2 Corinthians 7:2-16
Sometimes in life we hit a wall of pain and distress. It overwhelms us. It could be caused by bereavement, redundancy, sickness, disappointment, or other circumstances beyond our control. It could even, as in the case of the Corinthians, be caused by our own sin or mistakes.
What matters is how you respond. For some, times such as these drive them away from God. For others, like the Corinthians, it is the making of them. Their distress drove them to God. It transformed them into a people whom God was able to use powerfully.
Paul was someone whom God used greatly. But it was not a smooth ride; it was not a stress-free life. Paul did not go around bringing trouble on his own head. He writes, ‘We have never hurt a soul, never exploited or taken advantage of anyone’ (v.2, MSG). Nevertheless, he continues to speak of ‘all our troubles’ (v.4). He writes about ‘fights in the church’ and the ‘fears in our hearts’ (v.5, MSG).
Paul loved the Corinthians (vv.3–4a). Although Paul’s love for them was not always reciprocated, it brought him enormous joy when it was. When he heard from Titus about their longing for him, and their deep sorrow and ardent concern for him, he said ‘my joy was greater than ever’ (v.7).
Paul had the courage to confront them in a letter. Initially it caused them hurt (v.8) – as this kind of confrontation often does. At first, Paul regretted writing the letter but thankfully the Corinthians had the right response. They allowed it to draw them closer to God. We all mess up at times. Godly King David sinned greatly (2 Samuel 11 and 12). Even the great apostle Peter messed up. However, what matters is how you respond.
‘You let the distress bring you to God, not drive you from him… We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God… end up on a deathbed of regrets’ (2 Corinthians 7:9–10, MSG).
The wrong kind of sorrow, typified by Saul in the Old Testament and Judas Iscariot, did not lead to repentance but rather to death: ‘worldly sorrow brings death’ (v.10c). The Corinthians, like King David (see Psalm 51) and the apostle Peter, responded in the right way.
‘And now isn’t it wonderful all the ways in which this distress has goaded you closer to God? You’re more alive, more concerned, more sensitive, more reverent, more human, more passionate, more responsible’ (v.11, MSG).
Titus witnessed the transformation in their lives as a result of their response to distress. He was exuberant about it. He was himself revived and refreshed by everything the Corinthians did for him.
He could not stop talking to Paul about them: ‘Going over again and again the story of your prompt obedience, and the dignity and sensitivity of your hospitality. He was quite overwhelmed by it all! And I couldn’t be more pleased – I’m so confident and proud of you’ (vv.15–16, MSG).
Thank you, Lord, that when I turn to you in times of trouble you transform me and make me more alive, concerned, sensitive, reverent, human, passionate, responsible and more useful to you.
Respond to God’s call and say, ‘I’ll go’Isaiah 5:8-8:10
As we look around the world today we see many nations, including Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Zimbabwe, North Korea and South Sudan, in desperate times. The description in this passage is of a nation rife with injustice.
The leaders ‘grab all the land… evicting the old owners… taking over the country, leaving everyone homeless and landless… Those extravagant estates will be deserted. A ten-acre vineyard will produce a pint of wine’ (5:8–10, MSG).
Meanwhile, the leaders make sure ‘their banquets are well furnished’ with music and ‘plenty of wine’ whilst the common people ‘die of thirst’. Their leaders call evil good and good evil (vv.8–22, MSG).
But what authority does Isaiah have to speak to the society in this way? During a dark period in Israel’s history, God called him. He describes the vision he had around 740 BC, in the year that King Uzziah died (6:1):
He encountered God
Isaiah describes an overwhelming sense of the presence of God – his majesty, holiness, glory and power (vv.1–4). The key words are ‘I saw the Lord’ (v.1). The key to his call was not just a nice experience; it was a life-changing encounter.
He was cleansed
Isaiah saw the holiness of God and said, ‘Woe to me... I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty’ (v.5). The closer you are to the light the more it reveals your sin.
But then God takes the initiative and provides a means of cleansing: ‘Look. This coal has touched your lips. Gone your guilt, your sins wiped out’ (v.7, MSG).
It is through the cross of Christ that your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. You do not need to go around loaded by guilt, but rather you can be filled with a sense of God’s love for you.
He said to God, ‘I’ll go’
Isaiah responded to God’s call. God asked him the question – I have done all this for you, now will you go for me? Your whole life is before you, what are you going to do with it? He said, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ (v.8a).
Isaiah responded, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ (v.8b). He saw there was a desperate need. He made no excuses. He did not delay. He said to God, ‘I’ll go’ (v.8, MSG). God used him greatly.
This was nothing compared to the one whom Isaiah prophesied about. He says, ‘The Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel’ (7:14). This had a historical fulfilment in the birth of Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (8:1). However, the ultimate fulfilment of this prophecy was in Jesus Christ, who is Immanuel, God with us (vv.8,10 – see Matthew 1:23).
Lord, thank you that you say to me ‘your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for’ (Isaiah 6:7). I want to respond today by saying to you: ‘Here am I, send me!’
2 Corinthians 7:2
‘Make room for us in your hearts.’
It is the beginning of a new academic year. Alpha will be starting again soon. There will be lots of new people coming to the church. It can feel a bit daunting. But this is a reminder to me to open my heart to every new person I meet.
Verse of the Day
‘Here am I. Send me!’ (Isaiah 6:8).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.