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...

Hey Glenn,

Thanks for posting this... it was a great encouragement to me today. Sometimes my need for activity is merely a cloak for the need of my flesh to be stroked. Often, the enjoyment that comes from the entertainments of the world seem to do the same thing... even the wholesome ones. Often I find the inner need to be active is an excuse to avoid denying myself so that I might learn Christ.

Take heart my brother, your voice is as powerful and active now as it has been in the past.

Anonymous said...

This Post has blessed me.I am in the time of life called"aging"and more and more have to let go.I used to glorify in being"busy".But in the times of"forced"idleness,when it seemed that there was only stillness around me,i heard God's voice so much more clearly."Speak to me,my child,I want to hear your soul's voice in prayer,in thoughts,in being aware of my Presence".I am so much more aware of the fact that I am a child of eternity.Did he not create us with eternity in our hearts?I can be free of the imprisoning chains of "Time".
And I am,more and more ,knowing that my Father in Heaven will fulfill every promise and execute every one of his plans.
To my mind came the story of this old man in China who once was a very active preacher,pastor and writer in the church.At the height of his career,he was imprisoned for his faith in Jesus Christ.And after a long imprisonment,he was asked about the forced inactivity.He answered that the time of imprisonment was for him "the honeymoon with Christ".
Suzanna Meyer

Laurel said...

Glenn, I have to add my agreement to the comments left here already, if only as an encouragement to you. It also was a perfect timing reminder for myself and I read it out as an encouragement for my dh, who spent a few years of "uselessness" and, though now it seems his back is healed, he is still sitting with no clear direction. I needed to be reminded for my own sake, as well, so that I wouldn't be judging him and thinking he needs to be out there doing.... what? I don't know! :D :D silly, isn't it? :)

Thank you, again, for your willingness to allow God to use you in whatever way He so chooses each day. May I be what He wants me to be, no matter how "useless" it seems to me:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths. Prov 3:5-7

My key verse in my life right now. And every time I think I've moved on, I'm brought back to it again. Especially the "lean not on your own understanding"....

Oh, Lord, help us to spend our times of "uselessness" trusting in You and learning to listen and growing more in love with You, not because of what you've done in our lives, but just because of Who You Are.

Anonymous said...

"Being immobile (in other words, having nothing better to do) is a prerequisite for worship...."

And what is possibly more in important, something better to do, than worship?

Thank you and God bless!

Melinda Lancaster said...


We have not personally met but someone directed me to this post. After reading it I understand why.

I'm a minister who struggles is fighting the ravishing affects of MS.

For years someone has wisely said to me "those serve also who wait." Although in my heart I knew it was true by flesh wanted to believe otherwise.

Thank you for sharing on the subject of "The Blessing of Uselessness." I suppose I should be useless more often--perhaps I'd be used more than ever before in worship to the One Who's story I've been driven to share with so many.

Sincere blessings!