[dropcap cap=I]I know. It's a question many people have asked at some point in their life. "Can God use me?" From a human perspective the answer to that question is most often tied to our own performance rating: "I've made too many mistakes to be of any use to God" or "Once I get my life turned around, then maybe He can use me." The good news is it's not how we view ourselves but how God views us that matters![/dropcap]
Let me share a story with you.
My friend Grace was about as ordinary as anyone I’ve ever known. She wasn’t a likely candidate for high-impact ministry. She lived in an old farmhouse on Strawtown Pike in a rural area of North-Central Indiana. One of her legs was shorter than the other, and she walked around with a signature limp. She was in her seventies, and she wore her wiry gray hair up in a bun. She usually wore a colorful dress and nylon stockings that sometimes bagged around her ankles.
Grace and her husband had raised five boys, but by her senior years, they were grown and living with their families in other places. When her husband passed away, she found herself in a strange season of life—with fewer responsibilities and meaningful things to do. She often prayed that God would give her something significant to do for Him in her final years. She wanted to sprint to the finish line.
Grace once told me, “I don’t know how God could use an old woman like me, but if He’ll show me what He wants me to do, I’ll do it!”I got to be a first-hand witness as God answered her prayers.
One day, she was reading a prison-ministry magazine and found an open letter from an inmate named Bobby, who had recently become a Christian. Bobby was looking for a “Godly grandmother” who would disciple him. He had just committed his life to Christ at a prison revival service, and he wasn’t sure what to do next. Grace wrote the magazine editor and asked if he could help her get connected with Bobby. She told the editor that she had raised five boys and she had it in her to be the spiritual grandmother of another. The editor helped her connect with Bobby.
She wasn’t really sure what to do with her new spiritual grandson, but she found some correspondence Bible studies and began leading him through them. Soon, Bobby led his cellmate to Christ, and Grace became his spiritual grandmother too.
Not long afterward I visited her for lunch, and she showed me pictures of her growing group of “seven boys”—each of whom had become a Christian through Bobby’s influence.
“I’m having the time of my life!” she exclaimed as she shared with me each of their personal stories. “Right now, I’ve got a captive audience,” she said with a smile and a twinkle in her eye, “but I figure they won’t be in prison for the rest of their lives. Today, they’ll impact the lives of their fellow inmates, but some day, they’ll get out of prison and impact the world.”
I stopped by her house again a number of months later. She welcomed me into her home, and I went to hang my coat in her closet, but there was no place to put it. The closet was full of filing cabinets and Bible-study lessons. I looked around her living room and was surprised to find that the couch and coffee table had been replaced by work tables and computers. “Wow! What’s going on, Grace? It doesn’t take all of this to disciple seven inmates.”
“Oh, Dwight, a lot has happened since you were last here,” she replied. “God has done more with this ministry than I ever imagined!” I was eager to hear all about it.
“Did you know that prisoners get transferred?” she continued. “I’ve had boys get transferred to prisons in Alabama and Texas, and they’ve been sharing Christ with inmates in those prisons, too. “I’m now leading Bible studies with inmates in three prisons—all from my little farmhouse on Strawtown Pike.”
I continued to make regular trips to Grace’s house to check up on her. The last time I went, she had a world map up on her wall with dots all over the Americas. “Grace, what are all these dots?” I asked in amazement.
“Those are my boys and all their ‘extras,’” she replied.
“Okay, I know about your boys, but what are their ‘extras.’”
“Well, a while back, my boys started getting out of prison, and they’d lead their wives, children, and other family members to Christ. So, they asked me if I’d be a spiritual grandma to their family members as well. Those are the “extras” that I never expected God to make a part of my spiritual family.”
“But what about all those dots in Latin countries?” I asked. “How did they get there?”
She told me that some of the Hispanic inmates had introduced her to their Spanish-speaking friends and family members when they got out of prison. She started receiving letters written in Spanish from people in Cuba, so she prayed that God would send her someone who could translate. God led her to a retired Spanish teacher named Clara.
“I’m in over my head, Dwight!” she chuckled. “We’re now discipling more than a thousand Spanish-speaking people, and Clara comes over to my house three days a week to translate their correspondence. “I’ve even added seven college students who volunteer with me.”
A few months later, I called her while I was on the road, speaking at an event on the West Coast. “How are you doing, Grandma Grace! You’ve been on my mind this week.”
“You’re not the only one,” she quipped with her trademark laugh. “My kids have been thinking about me this week, too. In fact, they’re worried about me, Dwight. They checked my bank account and found out that I only have $14.63 left in it. Apparently, I’ve spent more than I realized on all this correspondence. They said there’s not even enough money in my account to bury me some day.
“I told them not to worry ‘cause souls will be going to heaven!”
I laughed with her for a few minutes, and then I asked her a question I’d wanted to ask for a long time. “Grace, how many people are you corresponding with?”
“Oh, that doesn’t matter,” she said humbly. “I love all of them as if they’re my own grandkids.”
After some coaxing, I finally got her to give me a number. “I don’t know the exact number,” she replied. “Last I counted there were more than ten-thousand.”
I was shocked. I really didn’t know what to say, so she continued as if it were no big deal. “Last week, the U.S. Postal Service told me I had to get an industrial-size mailbox or they won’t deliver all my mail anymore.”
Then she started laughing so hard that she could hardly speak her next few words: “Dwight, I have a dream that someday the post office will assign me my own zip code!” I began to laugh as well, and soon our laughter gave way to praise. What an amazing thing to witness. God had chosen to send ripples through all of eternity through an old gray-haired widow and an odd assortment of her friends out of a farmhouse on Strawtown Pike in the middle of rural Indiana.
But it shouldn’t have surprised me. God has clearly shown us that that’s His plan. Throughout history (His story), He has often chosen obscure people who live in small places to accomplish His big eternal plans and purposes. Writer Richard Exley says it this way: "God has a history of using the insignificant to accomplish the impossible."
So, why is it that our plans for high-impact ministry in the American church are so different than Jesus’ plan? Why is it that we don’t champion the ministry potential of ordinary people who do ordinary things in ordinary places of life? Why have we become so enamored with ministry activities that happen in the spotlight and on the platform—the up-front “celebrity” forms of ministry?
For some time now, it seems that our ministry heroes have been “Christian celebrities”—talented musicians, dynamic speakers, best-selling authors, high-energy televangelists, powerful Christian leaders, and well-known pastors. But while these high-profile kinds of people have impacted the Kingdom of God in very significant ways, “Christian celebrities” aren’t the answer to the great harvest need!
When the vast work of the Kingdom is done, it will have been accomplished by nameless, faceless people who did what they could, where they were—and God added the increase to their labor. That’s God’s Plan A.
The world needs God’s love expressed in and through the lives of countless faithful Kingdom laborers. He’s not calling just a few select people to make a difference. Instead, His plan is to mobilize a vast army of laborers who go into every place of need in every corner of the world.
This idea was at the heart of God’s movement in the church during the Protestant Reformation started by Martin Luther five centuries ago. "[It is a] false assumption that there is a special calling, a vocation, to which superior Christians are invited to observe…while ordinary Christians fulfill only the commands;” said Luther, “…there simply is no special religious vocation" (Emphasis mine).
I believe this is also at the heart of God’s movement in our day. In fact, I believe He now wants to complete the reformation work He started with Martin Luther all those years ago. He’s fueling a movement of commonplace laborers, and every one of us is called to be a part of it.
When Luther referred to “superior Christians,” he was talking about those who had taken a monastic vow—the clergy. Perhaps in our day, our idea of the “superior Christian” is one who does ministry on a stage or in a spotlight. But there’s no disqualification of the commonplace in this movement. Every Christian has a significant role to play.
The future of God’s Kingdom advance is in human resources. And God is an equal-opportunity employer. I think Jesus was intentional when He chose the word “laborer” to describe His plan for the world. It’s an all-inclusive word. It’s an “everybody” word.
It doesn’t describe what kinds of gifts or talents a laborer has, or what kind of work a laborer does. Maybe that’s because the Kingdom of God needs all kinds of laborers. From those who serve on high-profile platforms to those who serve in the hidden places. From those who serve with their mouths and minds to those who serve with their hands and feet.
The Bible makes it clear that commonplace laborers aren’t the “losers” who get picked last for God’s ministry team, while the “Christian celebrities” get picked first. Willing laborers are God’s first-round draft picks!
Just look at the twelve common men Jesus chose to be His disciples. They weren’t superstars. They weren’t rabbis. They weren’t the most brilliant scholars or the most proven leaders. They were a cross-section of average people—some fishermen, a tax collector, some businessmen, and the like.
A few years ago, I found a tongue-and-cheek memo that illustrates just how average (and even unqualified) these disciples were to start a movement that’s lasted more than two thousand years.
[important title=Letter To Jesus] To: Jesus, Son of Joseph Woodcrafters Carpenter Shop Nazareth 35922 From: Jordan Management Consultants Jerusalem 26544 Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for management positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests, and we have not only run the results through our computer but have also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational-aptitude consultant. It is the staff’s opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education, and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has no leadership qualities. The two brothers, James and John, Sons of Zebedee, place personal interests above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that could undermine company morale. We feel it our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. James, the son of Alpheus, and Thaddeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale. One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of utility and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All the other profiles are self explanatory. We wish you every success in your new venture. Yours Truly, Jordan Management Consultants[/important]
You get the point. In its not-so-serious way, this memo describes some of the serious deficiencies of the men God selected to carry forth the most important message in the world. These are the men He chose to be the leaders of the most important movement in history! But if you and I were in charge, we may have quickly passed them over as being too flawed and, well, commonplace. We may have felt that they were not competent enough to do an important work in God’s Kingdom. And maybe that’s the point.
As He chose weak and imperfect men and women like Abraham, Jacob, Rahab, Gideon, Ruth, David, Mary, Matthew, Peter, and the other eleven disciples, He seemed to be sending an emphatic message from heaven. He seemed to be reinforcing the same message when He chose a stable in a small town to be the birthplace of His Son. And he reinforced it again when he chose carpentry—not a religious position—to be Jesus’ vocation.
And later, when Jesus—the King of Kings and Lord of Lords—was at the height of His glory, God shoes for him to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a chariot.
And finally, when God chose for Jesus to die a criminal’s death on a lowly cross, rather than a hero’s death, He was putting an exclamation point on the message He’d been communicating all along:
God does extraordinary things through ordinary (and even lowly) people and circumstances.
He always has, and apparently, He always will. Just look at what He did through a little old grandma named Grace.
So, why do things look so different today in the North American church? Where along the way did we lose track of the values Jesus gave us? Where did we deviate from His plan?
It seems that we’ve taken His Plan A for reaching the world and watered it down. Distorted it. Added to it. Subtracted from it. Forgotten about parts of it. Combined it with our own plans. And as a result, it hardly even looks like the same plan.
Ask people on the street who are impressed with Jesus and say they really like who they believe He was and what He did. They will quickly tell you they think His church and people look entirely different. They believe Christians are now more enamored with our developed stages, our contemporary music, and our well-orchestrated events. They believe Christians are less attracted to Jesus lifestyle of daily ministry.
The same people who might be “impressed” with our polished and savvy productions (if they would ever come), actually hunger to be more highly “impacted” by authentic and organic up-close encounters—Jesus-style. They wonder how, why, or when we wandered so far away as “followers’ from one so devoted to a simple life-agenda of profoundly loving God and others and the ripples of impact it sent throughout the world.
Are they right?
For too many decades have we failed to remember the importance of each ordinary person—and too quickly elevated the status of those who have special and highly visible gifts in the Body of Christ. Intentionally or unintentionally, we’ve communicated that those who serve from platforms or in the glow of spotlights are the ones God has chosen to do the most influential work of His Kingdom through—leaving the majority of Christ’s body with the impression that they are left to live mundane, unimportant lives—with little influence.
Of course, it’s true that high-profile ministers are doing critical Kingdom work. We need church leaders, pastors, teachers, musicians, and others like them whose ministry service is very visible. (Truth is, part of my own ministry service happens on platforms.) But all of us—no matter what role we play in the Kingdom—have a meaningful, influential, and critical role to play.
The One who started this eternal movement, Jesus, gave us an example to follow two thousand years ago. He surrounded Himself with flawed people with very average gifts. He equipped them during His short time on earth, and then He empowered them by sending His Holy Spirit.
The result? They spread a world-changing message and movement in every direction.
That’s a BIG historical deal to focus on and learn from. It’s time to go back to the future. It’s time for us to return to the fullness of God’s Plan A and recover, renew, and revitalize it in our generation. It’s time to let it once again be the guiding force for the Church’s future. The future will be optimized if we revitalize Jesus original plan.
Grace the Grandma passed away a few years ago. The Kingdom of Darkness was no doubt glad to see her go. But the impact of her life will be felt for decades to come, as each of her “spiritual grandsons” influences the lives of others.
Grace’s life was a living sermon to every one of us. It was a reminder that God still wants to use us all in unimaginable ways to reach the world. It was a reminder that all we have to do is provide the ordinary, and He will provide the extraordinary.
Paul Billheimer once wrote, “The fate of the world is in the hands of nameless saints.” Not Christian celebrities. Not up-front personalities. Not “superior Christians.”
The fate of the world is in the hands of commonplace laborers like Grace the Grandma.
It’s in the hands of people like you.
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