A scene from The Chosen makes an interesting point, one that we often forget. In the scene, Jesus is calling a new disciple, Simon the Zealot. Simon has spent half his life training to be ready to fight at the side of the Messiah when he arrived. He is proud of the skill that he has developed, and offers it to Jesus. He gets a surprising answer: “I have everything I need, but I want you…No one buys their way into the group because of special skills.” Watch the scene here 1, and see if you can identify with Simon’s confusion.
We don’t have to be useful in order to be usable.
It is easy for me to get tangled up when considering my usefulness to God. Either I go over-board: “I’m so smart, talented, practically-perfect-in-every-way that He can’t wait for me to work for Him.” Or I go “under-board” 2: “I’m not smart enough, don’t have enough money or time or energy for Him to bother having any purpose for me.” Either variation is forgetting a major point: God doesn’t need anything from me. He created the universe with a word; He created me with whatever talents or virtues that I possess; and He can use any part of His creation however He chooses. The Bible is packed full of examples that make this point.
Abraham was part of a family that had migrated from “Ur of the Chaldees” (most likely in southern Iraq, at the northwestern end of the Persian Gulf) to Haran in (in modern southern Turkey near its border with Syria). (See a map of the route here.) Interestingly, the Bible says that they intended to go to Canaan (modern Israel), but stopped short at Haran (Genesis 11:31). For timing reference, Genesis 11:10-27 tells of ten generations between Noah and Abram (later renamed to Abraham). Joshua 24:2 tells us that the family worshipped other gods, not the God of Noah, however. Then came the pivotal moment:
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”Genesis 12:1-3
What was so special about Abram? Only that he obeyed God. “So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him” (Genesis 12:4). That’s all it took.
The rest of Genesis chapters 12 through 23 tells of Abraham’s up-and-down journey with God. He went from lows like trying to “help” God keep his promise of a son (the story of Hagar and Ishmael, Genesis 16 and Genesis 21:8-21) to having faith enough to sacrifice his true son of promise, Isaac, trusting that God would even bring Isaac back to life if necessary (Genesis 22:1-19).
Moses was born as a slave baby destined to be killed immediately. He was miraculously rescued and raised by the Pharaoh’s daughter instead (Exodus 2). Then he killed someone, ran away into the wilderness, and spent forty years as a shepherd. When God called him to lead his people out of slavery, Moses protested vigorously (Exodus 4:1-17).
The rest of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy tell the story of Moses leading the people from Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan. It includes all of the highs that we know and love: The Red Sea, the Ten Commandments, manna in the wilderness. It also includes lows like trying to make himself look good instead of doing what God said (Numbers 20:1-13), which resulted in Moses being punished by being unable to enter the Promised Land himself.
When God took the Hebrew slaves from Egypt and turned them into the nation of Israel, He made a point of telling them why. Hint: It was not because they were so special.
The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.Deuteronomy 7:7-8
Balaam and his donkey
At one point during the Exodus, a rival king named Balak hired a kind-of prophet named Balaam to curse the Israelites. While traveling, even Balaam’s donkey had more sense than he did: The donkey saw an angel blocking the way and refused to continue. As Balaam was beating the donkey for its disobedience, it spoke: “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?” (Numbers 22:21-33)
Once he arrived to meet with Balak, Balaam couldn’t avoid doing God’s will…even when trying to do the opposite. Three times, Balak ordered him to curse the Israelites. All three times, he pronounced blessings instead (Numbers 23 and 24).
During a time when Israel was being oppressed by the Midianites, God had Gideon lead a successful revolt. In his own words, “My clan is the weakest in Manasseh [one of the tribes of Israel], and I am the least in my family.” (Judges 6:15). When Gideon had gathered an army of 32,000 warriors, God winnowed it down to just 300 men (Judges 7:1-8). The reason for that is specifically given in verse 2:
The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’”Judges 7:2
When God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint a new king for Israel, He chose David, the youngest of eight sons in his family. When the prophet came to town, David’s father Jesse did not even call him in from the fields where he was watching the sheep. He didn’t think the baby of the family was going to be of any importance. God’s response to Samuel was “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7, see the whole story in 1 Samuel 16:1-13)
When God was ready for his eternal Son to be born into the world, he chose Mary to be His mother (Luke 1:26-38). She was probably a teenager, from the tiny town of Nazareth, betrothed but not yet married to a poor carpenter.
Jesus’ twelve main disciples, who became the Apostles and leaders of the early church, included fishermen, a hated tax collector, and a Zealot trained for violence against the Roman occupation army. None of them were upstanding pillars of the community. But see what happened when Peter and John stood up to the rulers who arrested them for preaching about Jesus:
Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.Acts 4:13
Paul was probably the only one I’m listing who was well-educated and respected among the people when God first called him. But…he was using those attributes to persecute the church! When Jesus got hold of him, on his way to Damascus to find more Christians to put into jail, things changed. God sent a disciple, Ananias, to help Paul navigate his new reality. When Ananias protested “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” (Acts 9:13-14), God’s answer was
Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.Acts 9:15
Paul went on to found churches throughout the Roman Empire. His letters to those churches comprise over half of the New Testament.
God takes the initiative.
In each of these examples, notice that the people involved had no particular gift to attract God. Also notice that they didn’t even go around trying to attract God’s attention. He chose them, and worked through them. He provided the resources they needed in order to accomplish what He asked of them.
God gets the glory.
God especially delights in using unlikely people. If He always used only those from whom the world already expects great things, it would not seem very remarkable. But when He uses the underdogs, then it becomes obvious that He is doing something special. The credit goes where it belongs, to Him rather than to the person (1 Corinthians 1:25-30) 3.
We just need to be willing, not necessarily able.
All Jesus asks is “Follow Me.” That following doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it never is. But if the heart is there, He will give the privilege of participating with Him in the building of His kingdom 4. So don’t wait until you think you are useful enough. Just be available and willing to be used right now. Then prepare to be amazed at what God accomplishes through you.
Footnotes and Scripture References
- Season 2, Episode 5
- Is that a word? 😁
- I tried to express this in a poem written in 2001 but not posted to this site until twenty years later: “Not Me, But God”
- Here’s another clip from The Chosen. Prior to this scene, Mary was triggered by a trauma from her past, left the group of disciples, and went to drown her sorrows in the nearest bar. Now, in this scene, she is returning to Jesus, confessing that she is not worthy of His redemption and can’t live up to what she should be. He accepts her back anyway.