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Rick Lawrence

Rick (rlawrence@group.com and @RickSkip on Twitter) has been editor of GROUP Magazine for 26 years. He’s author of the just-released book Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry (simplyyouthministry.com). He wrote the books Sifted (www.siftedbook.com) and Shrewd (www.shrewdbook.com) and the upcoming Skin In the Game (2015) as an excuse to immerse himself in the presence of Jesus.

I hear it all the time, in persistent iterations…

• (In prayer) God, please use me…

• (In conversation) I know God can use me/you/them…

• (In sermons) God will not use someone who…

“Use” is surely the preferred way we describe God’s posture toward us as we exercise our gifts in ministry… I’m guessing you’ve framed your own relationship with God in terms of “use” at least once in the last week—that’s how common and acceptable this way of describing our ministry efforts has become. But…

It’s wrong theologically, semantically, emotionally, and relationally…

If you’re a parent, how often do you describe the work or play you do with your kids as “using” them? “Use” is not how a father would describe the way he relates to his children. It must be heartbreaking for Jesus to hear us describe our life with Him using language that subtly portrays Him as, at best, a “boss” and, at worst, a slave owner. Language matters, because language has a subtle power to form our reality. Morty Lefkoe, therapist and founder of consulting firm The Lefkoe Institute, says: “Language is far more than a tool for communication. The word ‘language’ comes from logos, which means category or concept. With language we categorize, distinguish, and create the universe. Ultimately, we perceive the world according to our language.” And if we pay better attention to the language Jesus uses to describe his relationship with us, we get a totally different lexicon…

Jesus has chosen to move with us and through us in His mission of redemption. Of course, He could do it alone, but He chooses not to. Jesus opts for words and phrases that suggest the deepest forms of intimacy and passion, including:

• A sinking-into His presence and a co-mingling of our core identity with His— “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

• An ingestion who He is into our deepest places of vulnerability—“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.”

• Farmers laboring together to plant, water, and reap fruit—“I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.”

• Fellow revelers at a massive party—“…While they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast…”

• Marriage partners—“For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself.”

The common thread among these descriptions is, clearly, “intimate relationship”—and it stands in stark contrast to the transactional connotations of “use.” Jesus is looking for men and women who will respond to His intimate invitation to join Him as He moves into the darkest places on earth on behalf of His troubled and besieged children. He needs lovers who will risk it all for Him because they have already been “ruined” for Him. He does not see us as, primarily, productive units—we are lovers who enjoy being together and are always looking for excuses to do things together. Put another way, He cares more about us than about our “calling.” He doesn’t use His lovers—He goes on adventures with them.

- Rick

9 COMMENTS

  • Klint says:

    So very well said. Our common use of that terminology has bugged me for a long time for the same reasons you’ve outlined here. Thanks for writing!

  • Sam Swann says:

    I wonder if when people declare they want to be used by God they are actually saying that they want to be useFUL in the kingdom. Just another example of how we have made incorrect use of other words part of our language. For example when we say some will return home we say “hopefully, he will arrive home soon.” Actually meaning when he arrives home he will be full of hope. The more proper way to say it would be, “it is my hope that he will be home soon.”

    Just wondering…thanks for the challenging thought Rick!

    • Rick Lawrence Rick Lawrence says:

      Sam, I think you’re right that the mis-use of “use” is simply an innocent mistake. But the power of language is like a glacier cutting a path through rock—eventually the slow-moving glacier (choice of language) changes the landscape. In my view, that’s what “use” has done in our relationship with Jesus.

  • Tamu Gilbert says:

    Wow, that is really eye opening! And very interesting because I think a lot of times the intent of our heart is to be “available” to God for whatever or however He wants to work through us to accomplish His will in the earth. It’ll be somewhat of a task to adjust not only my mind but my confession, but I know through Christ I can do all things. So I will definitely try. Thanks

    • Rick Lawrence Rick Lawrence says:

      Tamu, thanks for your note, and your posture of humility. I love your take on “availability”—but He wants the “availability” of a lover, not a worker or a slave…

  • Betty B. says:

    Very thought provoking Rick! A student recently talked about her friend being “used,” meaning “for another’s pleasure, not my own.” Isn’t that how we want to be “used” by God, for his pleasure, not our own. I guess it’s why language can’t contain Our God! Thanks for your thoughts!

    • Rick Lawrence Rick Lawrence says:

      Thanks for your note, Betty… When the Prodigal returned, humiliated and desperate, the Father threw him a party and reproached his older son for his “use” mentality—He reminded him that everything He owned was already co-owned by him. I think “use” language way underestimates the level of intimacy God is aiming for with us…

  • George Rodriguez says:

    Interesting thoughts Rick. However, have you considered that the apostle Paul actually used the word “use” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)? And that the idea of being “used” by God in his work does not need to be so negative? I can see your point in how carefully selected words can better convey the message. however, I believe Bible writers already did that for us. For example, you take issue at using language that “using language that subtly portrays [Jesus] as, at best, a ‘boss’ and, at worst, a slave owner”, but we have to realize that while we are called friends, we are also called slaves (doulos). Once we come to think that He is Kurios (Lord) then there has to be the other side of the coin, slaves. It is a hard concept to take specially when one considers the history of this great country. However, it is one of those concepts we find in the Bible. I think that the whole idea is that of obedience, and what is more intimate than that?

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