Even in the era where there are TV shows about hoarding and people’s propensity to keep things that do not appear to add value to their lives, we still are a generation of discarders. According to this article, the average American generates four pounds of trash per day, equating to 200 million tons of trash per year. That is a lot of stuff! The reasons behind our trash largesse are probably many, but perhaps the greatest reason is that we’ve ceased to find a useful purpose for that thing that we are throwing away. We tend to be a nation of pragmatists and consumers – and if something no longer does the thing we want, in the way that we want it do, we simply discard it and purchase something else.
It’s a mentality that sometimes infiltrates our interactions with people. We sum people up by their ability to be useful to us or to project that we are trying to accomplished. We look at their talents, their attitudes and their character and determine whether or not they can be part of what we were doing.
The challenge, of course, is that Christ is in the business of changing people, of strengthening people, and in bestowing wisdom where previously there may have been a lack. After all, who would have thought a shepherd boy could defeat a giant? Or that the child of the king’s former mistress would be besought with unparalleled wisdom? God often does the unexpected, at least according to our standards, and uses people that we would have written off. After all, this is the God who said that the first would be last, and the last first (Matthew 20:16) – an idea completely absurd to our ideas of winners and losers.
Perhaps there is no more unexpected example of how God uses the “unusable” than Paul. Here was a man who persecuted and despised Christians, yet he arguably became the world’s greatest evangelist. Not only did he become a witness for Christ, but he did so to the most ostracized and unlikely group of people (at least from a Jewish religious leader’s point of view) – the Gentiles. He was such an unexpected candidate to be used of God that when Ananias was told to go to him after his conversion, he questioned whether God really knew His man. However, as Acts 9:15-16 tells us the Lord dispelled the concern with these words,
But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (emphasis mine).
Even as Saul, as he was then known, was persecuting Christ’s followers, it was ordained that he would be the one who would be an ambassador of Christ’s message. Even as he was intent on bringing about death, God was intent that he would be used to bring the Gospel of eternal life.
It’s a great reminder to us that God’s standards of usability are often different than our own. As the prophet was reminded about the shepherd boy, man looks at the outside, but the Lord looks at the heart. So when we think someone can’t be used by God, we may want to reconsider that position, especially if that “someone” is us.