Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The blessing of uselessness

With the decline of my health over the past year, one of the issues that I struggle with is a sense of uselessness since I can no longer do many of the things that I used to be able to do in my service for the persecuted around the world.  Watching my colleagues do things that I once did and found so much pleasure in is hard.  It is easy to feel…useless and unneeded.  I don’t say that to sound whiney.  I think many who go through suffering often feel this way, especially if they have lived active lives.

This morning, however, I read the following during my devotion time from Mike Mason’s The Gospel According to Job.  I hope you are as blessed and challenged by this as I was.


“Oh, for the days when I was in my prime,
When God’s intimate friendship blessed my house.” (29:4)

Suffering, like the enemy who causes it, is a many-headed beast, and one of the heads is called Uselessness. A sufferer’s existence can seem so pointless, so stagnant and unworthy. Little wonder that Job’s mood in this chapter is one of intense nostalgia as he longs for “the good old days” when not only was he blessed by God, but when God’s blessing enabled him to bless others. Such feelings are perfectly human and understandable. We all want to be useful and productive. But one of the things we learn from the many set-backs of life is that God, in His wisdom, has a use for uselessness. The Lord Himself seems to be fond of standing around and doing nothing. When we imitate Him in this, the Bible calls it “waiting on the Lord.” But just think of how God waits on us! For thousands of years He has waited for mankind to turn to Him. Right now it is just as though He were standing on a street corner outside our home, hands in His pockets, whistling a gospel tune, waiting for us to keep our appointment with Him. Are we too busy with more pressing matters? Being useless, it seems, is not an important enough activity for us, and so we leave it to God.

Of course it is true that, as Jesus taught, “My Father is always working” (John 5:17). But to our human eyes God’s work often looks like idleness. His methods can appear so lackadaisical, so they involve pain on our part. Suffering puts us out of commission (at least from our perspective), so that we can no longer work, no longer contribute, no longer do much of value. Without this intense feeling of uselessness, suffering and even dying might not seem half so bad. Perhaps it is even true that the very soul of suffering is not so much pain itself, in all its forms, as it is the simple humiliation of having all our plans brought to a standstill, the indignity of being made to stop and wait.

How interesting it is that when the Lord appeared to Moses, and later to Joshua, to each of them He said the same thing: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Ex. 3:5; Josh. 5:15). Why should you take off your shoes in the Lord’s presence? Because without shoes you are not going anywhere. You might try to walk, but you will not get very far, especially in the hot sand and sharp rocks of the wilderness. Taking off one’s shoes may not be quite as drastic as cutting off one’s feet, but it amounts to the same thing. Barefootedness means immobilization, and so it is a symbol of submission. Being immobile (in other words, having nothing better to do) is a prerequisite for worship, and worship is the prerequisite for all activity, all service.

Many churches today are eager to mobilize for the Lord, but without paying much attention to the prior and greater work of immobilization. We need to learn how to kick off our shoes and discover that the place where we are standing is holy. When Daniel saw a vision of the Ancient of Days on His throne, “ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.” And what was this multitude doing? Not much. All we are told is that “the court was seated, and the books were opened.” And without anyone moving an inch four powerful empires were destroyed (Dan. 7:10-12). In Heaven, apparently, they know the meaning of the saying, “Don’t just do something—stand there!”

The people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years, and the soles of their shoes never wore out. Why not? Because they only moved at the Lord’s command. In many ways they were disobedient, but in this one point they were constrained to obey because pillars of cloud and of fire were hanging over them. If today we find our souls (pun intended) wearing out, it may be because we are running around doing a lot of things that the Lord has not told us to do. We want to be fruitful. We want to work for our church and contribute to our society. We want to do something, not simply believe. When circumstances are such that we cannot do anything, we get restless and squirm, and just like Job we think back on our full and productive days and we long to see them return. We long to go back, not just so we can feel good again, but so we can get on with our “real work,” get on with making our contribution.

But listen to the words of Catherine Doherty: “If you want to see what a ‘contribution’ really is, look at the Man on the cross. That’s a contribution. When you are hanging on a cross you cannot do anything because you are crucified.”


Anonymous said...

What a radical concept that is so contrary to the insanity of our North American culture: that God would use our uselessness.
Interestingly, I read your blog last night then read Ezekiel in my morning devotions. Ezekiel was called to a hardened people of a familiar language and culture. Glenn, while it's not the ministry you would have chosen, it would seem to me that God has used you and the teachings on suffering and discipleship to rattle the North American church. We have run after experiences of all kinds and left God in the dust in many cases. Pursuing our experiences at the expense of biblical truth has torn at the foundations of our faith. We have often settled for a limp idolotry in the process. My prayer, and I would tend to think many more people's prayers to a large degree from your teaching, is that the Lord would wake us up to Who He is, allow Him to crush our sinfulness and bring us to the refuge of His power and love. As we move into that place, we will become effective ministers of His truth in the world, embracing the suffering and death (whether that's spiritually or includes physically) that comes with that truth. Keep typing; God most certainly is using you. I've heard several comments on how God has used you to dismantle ungodly paradigms. We won't all listen, but many of us do. Thank you, and God bless you as you continue in your faithfulness to Him.

Joe Hendricks said...

Wonderful insight into suffering!
We are praying for you Glenn, and so appreciate your prayers for Heidi!