The great poet T.S. Eliot once wrote:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
A profound turn of phrase and very true if we live even slightly awake. It is most certainly true with our spiritual journey as we find ourselves coming what seems like a full circle on an idea or issue but this time through the wisdom of experience. It is like we are re-visiting these ideas for the first time. One such example is the idea of used by God.
When I first fell in love with Jesus it had all the markings of an intense first love. I would look for opportunities to do things for God. Like a child itching to help Mom or Dad, I just really wanted to help. Like a kid who works on a coloring picture to give as a gift to mom, or as a small child who wants to help dad rake the leaves in the yard - it is founded in a genuine desire to please God. Even when the scribbles on the coloring page were just that - we were pleased to offer it. Even when our helping to rake the leaves means the leaf piles get spread around by our kibitzing; we are still pleased to have helped!
Then sometimes, the energy begins to change. Not so much youthful exuberance but somewhere we begin to believe we have to perform for God's favor. The grace-filled relationship begins to give way to religious obligation. We realize that there are plenty of tasks that need to be done, and we take on a smudge of seriousness and obligation. We are taught, ever so subtly that we owe God, that the hope of the world rests on our shoulders. Some tell me stories of being haunted by the thought that "I might be the only Jesus these people meet." They conclude then they need present the gospel, the four spiritual laws and lead the person in the sinners prayer or these people are destined for eternal conscious torment. The sense of anxiety begins to denature a good intention and a relationship, and often twists it into a heavy-handed, shame/guilt trip - but "hey, the ends justify the means!" (sarcasm)
Others end up frustrated because they want to serve God, to be used by God, but the thought of teaching a Sunday school class or another bottle drive for the youth group makes their eye begin to twitch. Many who end up disappearing into the multitude of our church or leaving the church altogether are those who sensed a call to something else, maybe something that wasn't a part of their local church program, and felt frustration that they were not supported in that. Well meaning church leadership may, in fact, affirm the calling but the needs of the church programs scream relentlessly for the life blood of the saints.
Many, after years on this religious treadmill, begin to burnout. They quietly disappear in their church community, become immune to the pleas for Sunday school teachers, nursery workers, and food drive organizers. They get tired. In many cases, they burnout and get bitter. They get bitter at God who they feel is driving them relentlessly. They begin to look for explanations, and they start to wrestle with the whole idea of Used by God. Really!?! God use me? God is God, why does he need me? If I'm supposed to be experiencing abundant life, why am I so tired and frustrated? They feel used, but in the worst sense. Sometimes they feel like they have taken advantage of, manipulated and used with no regard.
I work with so many people who have been blown out the back end of the church, and this is one of the most common frustrations. They blame the religious institution, and it's insatiable appetite to keep the building going and the programs running. They claim that the "thing" consumes more life than it actually produces. They discover busyness is not a fruit of the Spirit. Understand, these are not young believers. They are not rebellious; these were once pillars of the church, the teachers, the tithers, the to go-to folks. These folks reach a point where they are done! Many, for the sake of their relationship with God find it necessary to leave the church. Let that sink in. To actually salvage their faith, many faithful, mature followers of Jesus have to check out (literally or figuratively) of their local church.
Slowly, these people begin the recovery. Some are recovering pastors, youth leaders, elders, and they begin to (re)discover the joy and vibrancy of relationship with the Lord. That after a season of having the graffiti of religious obligation scraped from their lives they begin to recognize that they are loved and favoured even though they quit playing the use-me game. They realize that God is at his work, restoring her good creation. They understand this is God's work and it depends on him. They understand that they are invited into this work of love understanding the success of this work is in Gods hands. As the reality of this does its healing work they begin to understand that we are invited into the work of the Father. Free of the idea that our sacrifice, blood, sweat, and tears are a prerequisite for his love and favour, they are free to collaborate with God in new ways. No longer religious obligation rather a labour of love!
In this place, they find a fresh wind, a fresh understanding of the easy yoke and the light burden because the fuel is no longer our ego. It is no longer a cog in an institution or serving another man's ambition. It is no longer toiling for something we already have in Christ. It flows from the throne itself - the river of living water. No longer having to hype it up, pumping with religious fervour to cause this river to flow we simply open ourselves to the rest we have in his unfailing love, and rivers of living water flow - with its healing and transformational properties - wherever they are!
Sometimes our ego and religious structures masquerade as the true vine, but cannot provide the quality of life necessary to produce healthy, sustainable life. It is when we regain our understanding that in Jesus we have life and that in him we produce good fruit. It is in this place of Sabbath that we enter into the Kingdom work. It is in this place the divinely inspired cry "God, use me!" can be very, very healthy as we respond to the divine invitation to an abundant life here and now.