Do you ever pray for the Lord to use you in His work?
In the past, I didn't, but in more recent years, I do. Because of this praying, I have seen some drastic changes in my life and in the activities the Lord has me doing. Reflecting on this has helped me see some things in scripture that I had totally missed before.
Have you ever been working on a project where you needed tools to do it right, reached for a tool, found it to be the wrong one, put it down and searched until you found just the right tool for the job? Or perhaps, the tool you needed was not in the right place? The last time it was used, it was by your neighbor who didn't return it? So, you had to retrieve it from your next door neighbor before you could use it?
Or perhaps you discovered that the tool you needed doesn't exist at all, so you had to fashion one from something else.
Perhaps you have joked about women who always reach for a nail file. In that old wisecrack, the nail file always seems to be the right tool for them, no matter what the task. We also quip about something being as inappropriate as "trying to swat a fly with a hammer."
But needing a tool and not being able to find just the right one caused people throughout history to become toolmakers. The ability of the people of a culture to design, craft and use tools fitted to their tasks has been one yardstick used by archaeologists and anthropologists to estimate the degree of civilization of ancient people.
In our own time, tool design and crafting is a major industry around the world. All because we seek the right tool for the job.
Is God any different? After all, He created us the way we are, with something in us that is a part of His nature.
Consider Abraham. We don't know much about Abraham's life before God called him to leave his home and family in Ur. We can only speculate about the relationship he had with the Creator before that time. We do know that he had a strong faith in God. Whether Abraham prayed for God to use him or not would be sheer speculation, but, now, I can imagine that he must have.
God needed a tool. Abraham was willing, available, and had earnest faith in the Lord, but he was not the right "shape", nor was he in the place where God needed him to be.
As a result, think about what happened to Abraham. God spoke to him and told him to move. Not just to a nearby town, but to a country he had never seen. Away from his family and all his friends.
That goes against our human wisdom, doesn't it? We might think that if we wanted someone really useful, we would keep a person in his accustomed environment, where he was well known, well "connected", and well established in the community. We'd use him where he had a network of friends and relatives who could also be enlisted to help with whatever task was given.
Today, we would cal1 that political or social position.
But God led him away from his base of influence, taking him on what must have been an arduous trip which took several months or years to complete. Then when Abraham arrived in the place where God needed him, what kind of influence did he have with others. None. He was a stranger and pilgrim in the land God had given him.
But now that God had this tool in the right place, apparently Abraham was not "shaped right" to do what God needed him to do. So, He led him into Egypt where he had an almost fatal encounter with the king. Then led him back to "the promised land." But, still, God was not finished molding him into shape.
The son of his old age, promised and delivered by God Himself, was growing up. Abraham must have loved Isaac dearly. Problems came that split up Abraham's family. What heartache that must have caused, sending away Sarah's handmaid and her (and his) son.
If that wasn't enough, God instructed Abraham to kill his only son as a sacrifice. Try to imagine the emotions that tore Abraham's heart as he and his son made the trip to the top of Moriah. When they arrived, Abraham intended to take his son's life to please the God he also loved dearly.
He had a strong faith. So, why did all these thing happen to Abraham?
Can you imagine with me that during these trying times Abraham must have wondered why these terrible things were happening to him? Can't you hear him praying:
"Why me, Lord? I have tried to be faithful to everything you have led me to do. I left my home and my family. I buried my own father and left his grave far behind, just to please you. I almost lost my life in Egypt, doing what I thought you wanted. You promised and gave me a wonderful son, and now you want me to sacrifice him to You. Why?"
Of course, there's no hint in scripture whether Abraham thought these things, but how do you and I think and pray when we are deep in family, financial or other troubles? Especially when we are trying so hard to please the Lord at the same time?
Might not Abraham have had similar thoughts? He was a human being, just like us. He was no different physically, mentally nor emotionally.
But, God had reasons for the things Abraham went through. He was being shaped to be the tool God needed.
Joseph. The favorite son of a very wealthy father. The favorite above all of eleven other sons.
Try to visualize how pleasurable his life must have been. He could have had anything he desired from the generosity of Jacob.
But, he was not popular with his brothers. He was not number one on their Hit Parade. They hated him. Did Joseph ever wish that he were as well-liked by his brothers as by their father? Did he ever wonder, "Why me? What have I done to provoke their hate?"
God gave Joseph vivid, meaningful dreams. But, when he shared them with his family, his brothers were inflamed to greater jealousy. When some wanted to kill him and they put him in a pit, have you ever wondered if Joseph wondered,
"Lord, is my life over? Why? I've been faithful to you and have tried to do what you want. What have I done to deserve this?"
The following day, did he believe his troubles were ended when he was rescued from the pit? Did his hopes dash on the rocks of gloom again when he was sold as a slave to a passing caravan of foreign strangers? Did he think again that God had abandoned him? That he was being punished for something he did not know about?
After he had been in Egypt for years and Pharaoh had elevated him to a high position in government, did he think he had at last been delivered from a punishment he didn't understand? Only to have his hopes shattered again when he was locked into a dungeon prison for a "crime" he did not commit? Did he wonder, "Why me?"
God needed a tool. But Joseph was in the wrong country. God needed him to be in Egypt. God needed his family to be fed and cared for and delivered from one of the world's deepest famines which was coming. God moved him to where he was needed. Placed him high enough in government to have the authority to safeguard the young nation, and shaped him into the right tool through the adversity he suffered.
Joseph was that tool.
He was born a slave. God saved his life when other infant boys were being killed. We don't know for sure, but perhaps his parents knew that he was to be the deliverer of his people from their horrible slavery. He was their hope.
As he grew, a prince in the family of the king, did he know he was to be a deliverer? After all, his own mother was his nursemaid during his formative years. She could have told him that he was their hope for liberation.
During his early years, and until he was approximately 40 years old, was Moses expecting to liberate God's people from slavery? Before you say, "No," ask why he killed an Egyptian taskmaster. What was his motivation? Was it only a strong sense of justice and of right and wrong? Was it a case of mercy for The Underdog? Did he think it was time to do what God had raised him up to do?
Apparently, though he may have thought he was, Moses was not ready yet. He was in the right place, but not quite the right "shape" to be the tool God needed for such an onerous task.
So, Moses ran from Pharaoh's great anger. He went off into a wilderness. A wilderness? Picture that! Four hundred miles from the people he was to lead. In a land where there was nothing. And lots of nothing, at that. If you or I had been planning this, we might have sent him off to a well-populated land, where he could raise an army.
During the next 40 years – think about that, too, 40 more years – God shaped him. He became a sheep herder. He met a woman who because his wife. He began his family. All the while, he was in the wilderness, wandering around, always looking for pasture and water for his sheep. Perhaps that's where he learned a high degree of patience. And a lot of the geography of the Sinaitic Peninsula he would need later.
Did he ever wonder why God took him far away from his people? Into the lonely wilderness? Why did he have to give up the "princing business"? Why did he have to give up being the (grand)son of the king, and possibly being heir to the throne of Egypt? Did his faith ever waver? Did he ever ask, "Why me, Lord? Why me?"
If you were God, how would you have prepared Moses for wandering around in the wilderness, responsible for leading and frequently find camp grounds with water for upwards of a million grumbling, complaining people?
After that 40 years ended, Moses was 80 years old. Would you have picked an 80 year old for the task of deliverer? God did, because he had shaped Moses into the tool He needed for such an arduous task that would require the next 40 years.
This would be a tough Job, one requiring a strong seasoned tool. This was to be one of the hardest jobs God had ever asked any human being to do. I believe it took God all that time to give Moses all the experiences he needed to shape him for the task. During those 80 years, he learned many things well. Moses must have eventually learned the patience he did not possess the time he killed the Egyptian. He learned to plead with God for the lives of his people. He did that over and over when God planned to kill all of them because of their unfaithfulness. He had developed a personal relationship with God, unparalleled in history.
Moses had been shaped into the tool that God needed.
And, how about Paul?
God needed a tool. Wouldn't you or I reach for one that was nearby and available, like Peter, James, or John, to spread the good news to the Gentiles? One who was already versed in Jesus’ teachings? One who had personally traveled with Him for several years, and who had been tempered by persecution?
Or perhaps a well-educated Gentile?
Apparently, those were not the right tools for the massive job God needed done. Instead, He chose a tool that our wisdom would have rejected. He chose a man who was not only not a disciple, but one who was trying to kill or jail all the disciples he could find. When the persecution was well organized and underway in Jerusalem, Saul even went to court to get arrest warrants issued. He planned to travel 100 miles or so to Damascus to stamp out the young community of disciples there, as well.
God chose this tool who was prepared for a leadership role among the Jews. He was well educated in secular education in Tarsus and in Judaism by Gamaliel, one of the leading rabbis of all history. He was qualified to sit on the Sanhedrin, the highest court of the Jews. He was well "connected" in the Jewish national political, social and religious system.
But, he was not shaped right for the job of going to the Gentiles.
This was a tough tool to shape. God used a drastic measure to start the shaping.
Jesus appeared to Saul miraculously. His deep-seated love for God and his knowledge of the prophecies caused him to realize his horrible error when the Lord appeared to him. For the rest of his life, Saul regretted his persecution of the Lord and his people. I believe that with at least the same vigor with which he persecuted, he later spread the word. Though forgiven by his Lord, Paul never forgot what he had done. And, it seems to me that this knowledge of his own past was the strongest motivator in his new work.
He was shipwrecked, stoned three times, beaten with rods, and perhaps other untold hardships. All of these things shaped him into a tool that God used, not only to spread the word to Gentiles, but to love and care for God's people in a way unmatched in history.
His care for all saints caused him to write many letters, reproving, correcting, edifying, encouraging, not only those to whom they were addressed, but to countless other saints through the years. Try to gauge, if you can, the effect of Paul’s work on your own life and relationship with the Lord.
Paul was a tool, but he was in the wrong place and was the wrong shape. But God took care of that.
Can you begin to see what can happen to those who love the Lord and want to be used by Him in His work?
You and I need to want to be tools in the Masters hands. But, we need to recognize that some of the hardships and heartaches that come our way may be from the Lord.
Have you ever wondered why God turned Satan loose on Job? What do we learn from Job? I was always taught that Job teaches us patience. But Job teaches us much more than patience. God gave Satan permission to deal with Job, there's no doubt. But what was God’s purpose? I believe that the Lord used all the adversity that Satan brought into Job's life to reshape Job into a tool that He needed for some special task.
After that chapter of his life closed and the book ended, we don't know what God had in mind for Job to do. But, can you imagine what kind of an effective tool Job became?
When you or I have faith in the Lord and have turned our lives over to Him to do as He will – when we have faith "in Him who has promised" – we should not be surprised when the Lord begins to shape us into "vessels suited to the Master's table."
Imagine hearing God promise you a son. Then, imagine having to wonder for more than ten years if God meant it, or if it were not God who promised, but a delusion.
Imagine having dreams sent from God in which your own father and brothers would bow down to you and serve you. Then, imagine being sold by your own brothers to foreigners as a slave, being thrown into prison accused of a crime you didn't commit.
Imagine believing you were sent to rescue your own nation from a cruel and murderous slavery. Then, when you tried to deliver them, your God sent you out into a wilderness, where there was nothing and no one to be lead. Where there was no one who even cared. And then left you there for a normal lifetime – until you were 80 years old.
Imagine seeing Jesus Christ in a vision and being told by Him that He has a special mission for you. Then imagine going to other Christians and being rejected by them. Imagine being stoned and left for dead by your own former friends.
Imagine. Just try to imagine what's in store for you and me, when we offer ourselves to God to be tools in His hands.
If we do that, perhaps we also will be tempted to ask someday, "Why me, Lord? What have I done to deserve this? Why me?"
It seems to me that when troubles come into our lives we should thank the Lord. When He seems to be sending us in the opposite direction from where we think we ought to go, praise the Lord. Thank Him every day that He molds and shapes us. Thank Him when He treats us as He did Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Job, and Paul.
I encourage you to pray for the Lord to use you. But remember, God's tools are not perfect. We must be prepared for Him to shape us for the job at hand.
Please consider 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 and 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. May God bless you and use you.