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Use Abuse

I hear it all the time, in diverse contexts…

  • (In prayer) God, please use me…
  • (In conversation) I know God can use me/you/them…
  • (In sermons) God will not use someone who…

“Use” is surely the preferred way we describe God’s posture toward us as we exercise our gifts in ministry… I’m guessing you’ve framed your own relationship with God in terms of “use” at least once in the last week—that’s how common and acceptable this way of describing our ministry efforts has become. But…

It’s wrong theologically, semantically, emotionally, and relationally…

If you’re a parent, how often do you describe the work or play you do with your kids as “using” them? “Use” is not how a father would describe the way he relates to his children. It must be heartbreaking for Jesus to hear us describe our life with Him using language that subtly portrays Him as, at best, a “boss” and, at worst, a slave owner. Language matters, because language has a subtle power to form our reality. Morty Lefkoe, therapist and founder of consulting firm The Lefkoe Institute, says: “Language is far more than a tool for communication. The word ‘language’ comes from logos, which means category or concept. With language we categorize, distinguish, and create the universe. Ultimately, we perceive the world according to our language.”

And if we pay better attention to the language Jesus uses to describe his relationship with us, we get a totally different lexicon… Jesus has chosen to move with us and through us in His mission of redemption. Of course, He could do it alone, but He chooses not to. Jesus opts for words and phrases that suggest the deepest forms of intimacy and passion, including:

  • A sinking-into His presence and a co-mingling of our core identity with His. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
  • An ingestion of who He is into our deepest places of vulnerability. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.”
  • Farmers laboring together to plant, water, and reap fruit. “I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.”
  • Fellow revelers at a massive party. “…While they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast…”
  • Marriage partners. “For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself.”

The common thread among these descriptions is, clearly, “intimate relationship”—and it stands in stark contrast to the transactional connotations of “use.” Jesus is looking for men and women who will respond to His intimate invitation to join Him as He moves into the darkest places on earth on behalf of His troubled and besieged children. He needs lovers who will risk it all for Him because they have already been “ruined” for Him. He does not see us as productive units—we are lovers who enjoy being together and are always looking for excuses to do things together. Put another way, He cares more about us than about our “usefulness.” He doesn’t use His lovers—He goes on adventures with them.

Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith—he created the new curriculum Following JesusHe’s editor of the Jesus-Centered Bibleand author of 40 books, including The Suicide Solution,The Jesus-Centered Life and Jesus-Centered Daily. He hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus.

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