Have you ever wondered how Santa feels? He has kids asking him for presents every year, yet no one really takes the time to develop a relationship with him or even thank him for that matter. He’s just the dude to go to to get presents.
Every year, people use him.
I wonder how he feels about that?
What I’m writing about today is this language of “using” people. There’s a common use of this phrase among believers today that bothers me because it portrays a distorted view of God. Here’s the phrase: God uses us.
Let’s take a broad look at the use of this phrase, starting with some linguistic observations.
First, notice that this phrase is always used negatively when it’s referring to human beings. When we say “I feel like so and so is using me,” it always expresses a sense of manipulation and control, never anything positive.
Second, being “used” expresses a sense of unawareness on the part of the person being used as to what the user is up to. The user is using the other to accomplish some purpose, but the person being used has no part in that purpose and may not even know what it is.
Bottom line: If you’re being used, you’re being abused.
How about the bible? Does it ever express this idea?
Nope. Phrases like “____ was used by God” or “God used ____” do not exist in the Bible (at least I didn’t find any after looking at every verse using the letters “use” in the NASB, which is a very literal translation). More importantly, the idea behind it, that God is somehow controlling people to accomplish his will, does not exist in the biblical narrative.
Here are some things that the bible does say. He does things with us (Mark 16:20; Acts 14:27). We work together (2 Corinthians 6:1). We are his fellow workers (1 Corinthians 3:9). These express a totally different concept of our relationship with God than being used by him does. Instead of manipulation and control it conveys union, togetherness, and intimacy.
John 15:15 tells us that Jesus no longer considers us slaves because slaves don’t know what the master is doing. What does Jesus mean by this?
Slaves are given orders to carry out, but the master does not tell them his intentions, the “why” behind his decisions and actions. They are just told what to do.
Friends, on the other hand, disclose their plans and their heart behind it to each other. Friends don’t need to tell each other what to do because they know each other. They know the needs and desires of the other and act to fulfill those because they love the other.
And that’s what Jesus counts us as. Friends.
We are not God’s slave-laborers. We are his co-laborers.
You are not a tool in God’s toolbox. You are his lover.
Perhaps you feel that I am being too obsessive over a few words. Here are some reasons why I think the use of this kind of language matters based on the effects that using this kind of language has on people:
- Consider what an unbeliever or a new believer will think when they hear that the God who supposedly loves them wants to use them.
- Since God uses us, and we can’t make him use us, we just have to wait patiently for him until he chooses to use us. In other words, passivity is encouraged.
- This kind of language implies that God’s ultimate goal is to get us to do stuff for him.
- It sounds like God is separate from us, outside instead of inside.
Perhaps you don’t agree with or mean any of the things listed above when you talk about how “God used you.” I hope so. What most people actually mean when they use this phrase is probably along the lines of “I chose to respond to God’s working in me.”
Okay. I get that.
But intentions are not the only thing that counts in communication. What is actually likely to be communicated matters too. And this phrase does not communicate God working in us and our response. And it totally misses the internal relationship that we have with Christ and instead pictures the relationship as external.
“God using us” is simply a poor way of expressing the biblical concept of co-laboring with God. And, instead of bringing clarity, using this kind of language nurtures misconceptions.
I have often heard people pray, “Lord, please use me.” And I have good news for those people: God will not use you. Not because your not good enough, but because you are too good to be used. God’s not going to control you. He could if he wanted to, but he’s not interested. That’s why he gave you a spirit of self-control (2 Timothy 1:7).
So let’s enjoy living life with God.
Don’t wait for God; God’s waiting for you.
Without God, we cannot; without us, He will not. – Augustine
This is not to say that it’s all up to your efforts. Thank God it’s not!
Simply acknowledge that you have died with Christ and now it is him living through you.
There is no usery between you and him. Only love.
And remember the best Christmas present you ever got and will ever get – God himself.