Is There a Place for Me?
Do you ever wonder where you fit in to God’s grand plan? Do you ever wonder if there really is a place for you? Maybe when you think about the kind of vessel you are, words like “chipped, cracked, broken, and dirty” come to mind. Maybe you feel like a dusty old jar forgotten on the shelf or an ugly water jug abandoned by the side of the road. Maybe you see yourself as a crystal vase—you look good from a distance and people admire you, but a closer look reveals cracks from top to bottom. You couldn’t hold water if you tried, let alone provide life to another living being.
Maybe you picked up this book on becoming a vessel God can use and thought I don’t even know what kind of vessel I am—how can God use me when I don’t even know what I’m useful for? If so, you are not alone. When I taught this ten-week study for the first time, I quickly discovered that many women weren’t sure what kind of vessel they were; not sure how or where God could use them. Some of the women were looking for a course on spiritual gifts, and while there are certainly some excellent (and very valuable) books on discovering your gifts and talents—this isn’t one of them. Do you know why? Because if you are not living your life as a vessel God can use, understanding your gifts won’t address the real problem. Your turning point will come when you understand how and why God works through frail human vessels like us. Once you understand those two things, God will use you in astounding ways—ways that a hundred spiritual gift courses could never prepare you for. When you come to grips with the truth that God’s thoughts are not like your thoughts and your ways are not his ways, I promise you will be transformed into a vessel he can use. (Then you can take a spiritual gifts class and get much more from it. Check out the book Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts by Don and Katie Fortune, published by Chosen Books.)
When I became a Christian, I had very clear ideas about what my gifts were and how I could be useful to God. My attitude was: God has done so much for me, I want to do things for him in return. Now everybody stand back and watch me work. Unfortunately, my focus was on me and the great things I was going to accomplish for God, rather than on God and the great things he wanted to accomplish through me. Understanding the difference between those two approaches to ministry is at the heart of this study.
For years, I wondered, “Why does God use everyone else? What’s wrong with me?” Deep in my heart of hearts, I longed for the significance that can only come when our lives are a channel through which God can work. I wondered why some women were used in such powerful ways to minister to others, while I felt so ineffective.
Mind you, it’s not that I didn’t try. Far from it. One thing I do have is an abundance of energy and a willing spirit. I poured myself into every ministry opportunity that came along. I taught Vacation Bible School to three- and four-year-olds. I baked casseroles and cookies as part of the Fellowship Committee. I even tried my hand at Jell-O molds—not a pretty sight. I invited newcomers to my home on behalf of the Hospitality Committee. I planned wild and crazy church socials as part of the Social Committee. (Well, crazy by our church’s standards!)
My Sunday school teaching experience ranged from kindergartners to junior high and high school students. Then I became a volunteer youth leader and went well beyond Sunday mornings. I invited the students and their parents to my home. I met with them one-on-one throughout the week. I developed customized Bible studies tailored to their current crises. I visited them on the job. (It was easy to find them; all teenagers work at the mall, you know.) I peddled influence to get them jobs. I even hired them to work around my house. I took them to Christian rock concerts and went camping in the rain. (I urge you to avoid that last experience at all costs.)
I volunteered to head up the Missions Committee. I read dozens of books on the how’s and the why’s, the history and the future of missions. I attended missionary dinners; I had missionaries in our home, and I sent monthly support to missionaries. (Still do!) I faith-fully corresponded with a dozen missionary families and even managed to convince some teenagers to go on short-term mission trips.
I hosted weekly small group Bible studies in our home for nearly a decade. I worked for the Billy Graham Crusade when it came to town and tried to be a mini-evangelist. I memorized the plan of salvation and all the right scriptures a la Evangelism Explosion. I dropped hints to the neighbors and co-workers every day of the week. I debated the merits of Christianity with an apologetic flair that would have put Josh McDowell to shame. I enthusiastically touted the joys of the Christian life. (Didn’t live ’em, just touted ’em.) I invited scores of people to church, to the Crusade, anywhere I thought God might “do his thing.”
Another pet project was my family. I’ve got a mom, a dad, seven older brothers and sisters, who brought with them a parade of spouses, lovers, nieces, nephews, in-laws—you name it. I spent countless hours in agonized prayer over them. I planned and plotted; I manipulated people and events. On several occasions, I did a most remarkable imitation of the Holy Spirit as I witnessed to them and nearly dragged them into the Kingdom. Finally God showed forth his mercy upon my family—he moved me out-of-state.
Well, that’s not even the half of it. As you can see, I certainly wasn’t lacking in zeal. (Tact has always been in short supply, though.) Yet, no matter how hard I tried, it rarely seemed God was really using me in people’s lives. Oh, there were odd breakthroughs here and there. Occasionally, it looked like something I’d said or done had made a difference. But in proportion to the amount of effort I was pouring forth, the returns were dismal.
In fact, God usually worked in spite of me, not because of me. I felt frustrated and exhausted. I had scattered my energies in a thousand different directions, but saw little fruit. The only tangible results were the bitterness that enveloped me and the wake of confused, frustrated, and often angry people I left behind.
So I stopped.
I stopped the committees and the Bible studies, the Sunday school and the mission society. I stopped baking casseroles and sending note cards. I stopped the whirlwind. Funny thing, though, no one seemed to mind. So I stopped going to church altogether. Actually, I stopped living, period. Sure, I inhaled and exhaled, even mustered up a pulse. But, in truth, I had withdrawn from life: I had effectively cut myself off from everyone and everything. I thought it would hurt less. I was wrong. The hours that were once filled with activity, however fruitless, were now filled with depression and despair.
Clearly, this new approach wasn’t working, either. So I came up with a novel ideal. I decided to study my Bible. I was determined to uncover what the heroes of the Bible had in common. What was it that made them so great that the God of the universe hired them to “get the job done” down here on earth?
Do you know what I discovered? I discovered a collection of the most unlikely people imaginable. From homemakers and prophets to prostitutes and murderers, God was able to work through anyone who firmly believed he could and would use imperfect vessels. As I have gradually released my own agenda and turned myself—broken, imperfect vessel that I am—over to God, he has begun to work through my life. This book you hold in your hands is one of the fruits of that process.
Do you want to be a vessel God can use? Let go of your plans to do great things for God and cling to the truth that God is able to work through an imperfect vessel like you. This study will guide you through that process. It begins with an understanding of who God really is and who you are as his creation. It’s a process that involves accepting the purpose for which God created you, even if it’s not the life you envisioned for yourself. It requires being emptied of yourself and allowing God to cleanse you and fill you anew. Then, and only then, will you have anything to give in ministry to others. As you learn to become a moldable, usable vessel in the hands of God, you’ll discover that ministry is no longer a burden, no longer a list of things you have to do. Rather, it’s a simple matter of listening for God’s voice, then following where he leads.
At the end of this book you will find a summary of the “Five Requirements for Becoming a Vessel God Can Use.” I encourage you to turn there often to review them throughout the course of this study. Allow these principles to seep down into your soul and actually become part of your being, your vessel. In this way, the heart of the study will remain with you for years to come—and isn’t that what you want to happen when you undertake a study like this? Whenever you find yourself out of step with God, you can stop and mentally go through the “Five Requirements” to discover where you have gotten off track.
1. Imagine yourself as a vessel. Describe what you see.
2. Which is more important: understanding your spiritual gifts or understanding the one who imparts spiritual gifts? Why?
3. What is the difference between accomplishing things for God and allowing him to accomplish his work through you?
4. Which of the above approaches best describes your Christian life so far?
5. What key lesson did you glean from today’s study?
Understanding what God wants to accomplish through your life is far more important than deciding what you think you can accomplish for him.
The key to effective ministry is understanding how and why God works through imperfect vessels like us.
Becoming a Vessel God Can Use by Donna Partow
Copyright © 1996, 2004 ; ISBN 0764229184
Published by Bethany House Publishers