Today we are continuing in a sermon series on The Miracle of Mercy. When Jesus rose from the dead after suffering for our sins on the cross, it opened up a brand new day of mercy. His rising from the dead brought us the miracle of mercy. That miracle is ours the moment we believe in Jesus and trust in what he has done for us. The decision to follow Jesus is itself a miracle of God’s mercy. Not one of us would choose to follow Jesus without God giving us a new heart, a heart that he massages and works on until it begins to beat for Him. That heart transplant is a miracle of God’s mercy.
Once we have that new heart we find ourselves on a new journey—a journey to be used by God for his purposes. I want you to know: there is no greater joy in life than to know you’ve been used by God for his purpose. To be part of something greater than you—to be part of God’s redemptive purpose in the world, is an amazing experience like no other. It’s why God put us here on earth. We don’t always know at the time what an impact our life is having on others, but when we realize it—there is no greater feeling.
Back in 2009 I accepted a friend request on Facebook from someone I mentored in the faith when I was working for Young Life, which is an evangelical Christian outreach organization. Janie somehow found be after all these years and she writes: “Sure good to see you and your family. Wow how time really speeds by. I think of you often as I get the opportunity to share how I came to Christ. Your love and mentoring showed me Christ and gave me so much to hang on to as life has come my way. Glad to see you are a minister. It fits. Love, Janie” I was so overwhelmed with emotions after reading her words to know that I was used by God to help someone come to Christ. There is no greater feeling. I didn’t hear from Janie again until March 18. She messaged me a picture and said, “Moving and going through old pictures. Found this!” It was my high school senior picture. She wrote, “Thanks. Special time in my life! Not surprised you’re Rev Jean. You showed me Jesus.”
There is no greater joy than to know you have been used by God. His miracle of mercy makes it possible for anyone to be used by God for his purpose. The Bible says, “Give yourselves completely to God—every part of you—because you’ve been brought from death to life, and now you want to be used by God for good, and for his righteous purposes.” (Romans 6:13) You see, when we give ourselves completely to God—that’s when he can really use us. The problem is a lot of people don’t believe God can really use them. They either feel disqualified or they feel unqualified to be used by God.
Feeing disqualified is what happens when we focus on our past, on the mistakes of our past, on the sins of our past. “How could God possible use me when I’ve done such terrible things in my life? There’s no way God’s going to use me. I’ve disqualified myself because of the bad things I’ve done in my past.” But you’re wrong. God can use anybody because of the miracle of his mercy.
Feeling unqualified is what happens when we think we don’t have anything to offer God. “I don’t have the gifts and talents others have. I don’t have the education and experience others have. I haven’t had the opportunities that others have had. God can’t use me.” But you’re wrong. God can use anybody! God wants to use you in ways you’ve imagined.
When you look at history, there is nobody who has been used by God as much as the apostle Paul. He wasn’t always the apostle Paul. He didn’t always work on the right side of things. But once he experienced Jesus and the miracle of mercy, he gave himself completely to God—every part of him. He went on to almost single handedly spread the Gospel throughout all of the Roman Empire. He wrote half of the books in the New Testament. He was amazing!
In Paul’s second letter to the churches in Corinth we are given the secret to his ability to be used by God. In chapter four he gives us FIVE SECRETS TO STAYING USABLE. If you want to know the thrill and the joy of being used by God for his purposes, then you’ll want to pay attention to these five truths.
FIRST, YOU CAN BE USED BY GOD BECAUSE OF HIS MERCY. The Bible says, “God in his mercy has given us this ministry and work to do. That’s why we do not become discouraged and never give up!” (2nd Corinthians 4:1) The truth is it’s not about you and what you have to offer God. It’s about God and what he has to offer you. Because of his mercy God offers you his undeserved forgiveness and unearned kindness. Because of his mercy God offers you the opportunity to share in his redemptive work in the world. Because of his mercy he can use you to do his work in the world. When you use your abilities to help others, that’s ministry! Every member of the church is called to be a minister. Not everybody is called to be a pastor, but everyone is called to ministry of some kind or another. Your job, whatever it is, can be your ministry when you do it to help others out of your love for God. Your volunteer work can be your ministry when you do it out of love for God. You were created to make a contribution with your life, not to just take up space and consume resources. We are called to be part of something so much bigger than ourselves.
Being used by God is all about his mercy. That’s why he can use anybody. The apostle Paul certainly understood that. Before he was a preacher he was a terrorist. Did you know that? He was part of a genocide movement to rid the earth of Christians. He writes to the church in Galatia saying, “You know what I was like… how I violently persecuted Christians. I did my best to get rid of them… But then something happened. For it pleased God in his kindness to choose me and call me, even before I was born. What undeserved mercy!” (Galatians 1:13 & 15) Paul’s first secret to staying usable by God is to remember it’s all about God’s mercy. God’s undeserved forgiveness and unearned kindness transforms us into people he can use to help others. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, God can still use you because of his mercy. Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. To the church in Ephesus Paul writes, “It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus’ and long ages ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others.” (Ephesians 2:10)
SECOND, YOU CAN BE USED BY GOD BY BEING REAL. You have to be real. You have to be authentic. You have to be genuine in order to be used by God. You have to be yourself. A lot of people think they have to be someone they’re not in order for God to use them. But that’s simply not true. God wants to use you, warts and all. He wants you to be real, not phony or fake. God doesn’t use posers or pretenders. He uses people who are real. God made you to be you.
The thing is, we all start off in life being real and somewhere along the line we cave into peer pressure or parental pressure or social pressure. So many people are trying to be somebody they’re not. A lot of people are living for the expectations of other people. They’re living for the approval of other people. If that’s what you’re doing, you’re always going to be stressed because you’re trying to be someone you’re not. If you’re pretending to be someone you’re not, you’ll always live in fear of being found out and exposed as a fake. If you’re not being real, what you are doing is manipulating others and deceiving others so they don’t find out who you really are. God is going to really be able to use you when you give all that up. You will truly be usable by God when you are real. Paul writes, “We don’t try to trick anyone, and we don’t twist the word of God. Instead, we teach the truth plainly, showing everyone who we really are. Then they can know in their hearts what kind of people we are in God’s sight.” (2nd Corinthians 4:2) That’s Paul’s second secret to being useable by God—being real. You don’t have to be perfect to stay usable by God, but you do have to be real. If we think we have to be perfect before God can use us, he’ll never use us. I’m not perfect. Just ask my husband. I’m not perfect but I don’t have to be for God to really use me. I know I’m flawed. I know I’m a sinner. But I also know I am a trophy of God’s grace and mercy. I don’t have to be afraid of who I am. I’m a child of God. The Bible says, “The Spirit we received does not make us slaves again to fear; it makes us children of God!” (Romans 8:15) We can either live under the bondage of fear or we can live free as a child of God.
THIRD, YOU CAN BE USED BY GOD WHEN YOU REMEMBER IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU. You are not the message you want to send to others. The apostle Paul wrote, “Our message is not about ourselves. It is about Jesus Christ as the Lord. We are merely your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2nd Corinthians 4:5) It’s not about you. It’s about Him. That’s certainly not what the secular culture around says. That’s the most counter culture statement you could possibly make in today’s narcissistic culture. Every advertisement appeals to your sense of self-centeredness. It appeals to your narcissism. If you want to be usable by God, you’ll need to get the focus off of you and onto Jesus.
Far too many people have failed to learn that they are not the center of the universe. God is the center of the universe. But if you live a self-centered life you will become frustrated, you will be unfulfilled, and you will be bored with life. I have to tell myself over and over, it’s not all about me. When I have a really good day, I have to tell myself, it’s not all about me. It’s about God working through me. When I have a really bad day, I have to tell myself, it’s not all about me. It’s about God working through me. God is going to use even my bad day for his glory if I let him, if I rely on him.
Paul says, “We are like clay jars in which this treasure is stored. The real power comes from God and not from us.” (2nd Corinthians 4:7) Clay jars are common and ordinary. There’s nothing special about a clay jar. We are just ordinary clay jar people. It’s not about us. It’s about what God pours into us. He pours his presence and his power into us. He bestows us with gifts and talents. That’s what makes us special. A lot of people think God wants to use only our strengths, but actually he wants to use our weaknesses far more, because then his strength comes through, not our own and he gets the credit, not us, he gets the glory not us. You see, God wants us to be servants, not celebrities. We are most usable when we realize that it’s not about us. That was Paul’s third secret to staying usable by God.
FOURTH, YOU CAN BE USED BEST BY GOD BY USING YOUR PAIN TO HELP OTHERS. Your greatest pain will be your greatest way to help others. If you’ve gone through a really painful experience, God can use that experience as a way for you to help others. Paul was a man who suffered great hardship and suffering for the gospel. He says, “We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up. In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again.” (2nd Corinthians 4:8-9) Paul used his pain and suffering to help others. He said, “All of these sufferings of ours are for your benefit. And the more of you who are won to Christ, the more there are to thank Him for His great mercy, and the more God gets [the] glory!” (2nd Corinthians 4:15)
Sometimes we suffer because of bad decisions we make. We bring hardship and suffering on ourselves by the stupid choices we make, or the temptations we give into. A lot of our suffering we bring on ourselves. Like when we eat too much and exercise too little, out bodies are going to suffer for it. Sometimes we suffer because other people do things to us that cause us great pain. Like when a child is molested or a woman is raped. We’ve all been cheated or scammed or stolen from or deceived and it’s been painful. The highest form of suffering is what Jesus did for us on the cross. He suffered in a way that redeemed us. It was redemptive suffering. He gave his life as a ransom for our sins. That’s redemptive suffering—when we suffer so that others can somehow benefit from our suffering. God can use all these different kinds of sufferings for our good and for the good of others. Paul writes, “This is why we never give up! Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are quite small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last forever!” (2nd Corinthians 4:16) That was Paul’s fourth secret to staying usable by God.
FIFTH, YOU CAN BE USED BY GOD BY KEEPING YOUR FOCUS ON ETERNITY. You’ve got to keep your eyes on the prize. Paul writes, “These little troubles are getting us ready for an eternal glory that will make all our troubles seem like nothing.” (2nd Corinthians 4:17) These little troubles Paul is referring to included three times being shipwrecked, five times being given forty lashes minus one, three times being beaten with rods, once being stoned and thrown into prison on more than one occasion. He was imprisoned numerous times, in danger constantly from bandits and even his own countrymen. He was in danger in the city, in the country and even at sea. This man who suffered so much has also brought so many to know Jesus Christ and his writings continue to bring others to know Christ generation after generation. Here’s his secret. He writes, “So we don’t look at the troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen. For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.” (2nd Corinthians 4:18) Paul kept his focus on eternity. That’s his fifth secret to staying usable by God.
What’s the key to staying focused on eternity? It is being in fellowship. You can’t do it alone. You have to have support. You need to be in fellowship with others who have their eyes on the prize. The Bible says, “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. And three people are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12) It’s not easy to stay focused on eternity.
In the 1960s, Charles Hummel published a little booklet called Tyranny of the Urgent. In it, Hummel argues that there is a regular tension between things that are urgent and things that are important — and far too often, the urgent wins. Paul is trying to tell us that there is a tyranny of the moment. There is a constant tension between living for the moment and living for eternity. Far too often living for the moment wins out unless we stay in fellowship with one another and help one another keep our focus on eternity. Jesus says, “For wherever two or three come together in my name, I will be there with them.” (Matthew 18:20) That’s called a small group fellowship and we all need to be in one! If we don’t stay in fellowship we will succumb to the tyranny of the moment. We will get so distracted by the pleasures of this world and by the pain and suffering of this world and that will keep us from being usable by God. To keep the focus you’ve got to be in fellowship.