The Word Among Us

September 2017 Issue

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Love

God uses the willing and the humble.

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Love: God uses the willing and the humble.

Linda was excited when she found out that her promotion to a new division at work had been approved. Not only did she receive a pay raise, but she was going to be working for one of the most admired managers in her company.

Jim was known to be hardworking and able to remain calm under pressure, but he also had the reputation of being a kind and caring supervisor. She settled into her new job easily and began enjoying the positive, affirming environment in her division. She didn’t see Jim all that often, but he always seemed to be happy and peaceful.

A few months afterward, Linda fell into an unexpected conversation with Jim on a slow Friday afternoon at the office. She was surprised at how easy it was to talk with him. Not long into the conversation, the topic of religion came up, and Jim began to share openly about his faith. He talked about how he attended a weekly prayer meeting at his parish and how it was at this prayer meeting that he had a deep experience of God a few years ago—an experience that brought his faith to a whole new level of love for Jesus. Linda, a fallen away Catholic herself, was intrigued by Jim’s story and went to the prayer meeting a few times.

Like Jim, Linda found herself changing as she heard the stories of other people at the prayer meeting and as she began to pray every day. Her husband and children saw the change as well. She began to smile more easily. She was more patient with her children and more easy-going around the home. She began going to Mass and even managed to convince her husband to join her. Over time, the whole family came back to the Church.

Where would Linda and her family be today if she had not had that conversation with Jim? Perhaps she would have renewed her faith through some other means, but perhaps not. Regardless, it’s clear that Jim’s witness made a lasting impact on Linda.

“Use Me, Lord.” Every day we are given opportunities to lead people closer to Jesus, to lead them further from Jesus, or to overlook them and have no impact on them at all. The question is whether we believe that we can have such an impact. Our every word and every action can be another opportunity to witness to Jesus. If you make it a point to display your faith through acts of kindness, through patience, and through a peaceful demeanor, you will have a positive impact. Doors will open, and new opportunities will come to you. All it takes is a willing heart and a simple prayer: “Lord, use me.”

God Uses Imperfect People. It can be easy to think God could never use people like us. We look at people like the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. Peter, and St. John and conclude that our faith is not strong enough. We compare ourselves to their heroic, virtuous lives, and we come up short.

But Scripture tells us how God used both likely and unlikely people, people who were worthy and unworthy, people who were extraordinary and ordinary. For instance, Abraham could have considered himself to be too old, and Jeremiah protested that he was too young. Jacob was a schemer. Moses had a speech impediment, and Gideon was weak and fearful. David was a murderer, and Matthew was a tax collector. Even the great St. Paul had devoted his life to persecuting the very Church that Jesus had initiated. They all had shortcomings, but God used them all.

It didn’t matter where people were from or what they had done. Perfection was not a requirement. Neither was being extraordinarily gifted, well connected, or rich. St. Paul gave us the one criterion we need if we want to serve God: “Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world” and “God chose the weak of the world” and “God chose the lowly and despised of the world” (1 Corinthians 1:26-27, 28).

God Uses Humble People. Doesn’t that sound ironic? Paul was intelligent, influential, and powerful, but here he is saying that God doesn’t choose people like himself. How is that possible?

Paul offers an answer in his letter to the Philippians: “Whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. . . . For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own . . . but that which comes through faith in Christ” (Philippians 3:7-9).

Paul used his gains—his education, his writing skills, and his speaking skills—throughout his time as an apostle. But he also called them rubbish if he found that they were causing him to be self-centered or if they were leading him to think that he was better and smarter than everyone else.

Paul knew there is a fine but distinct line between being confident in Christ and being confident in ourselves. That line is called humility. Humility is not about denying our abilities and gifts. It’s knowing that our gifts are just that—gifts from God. Humility is about knowing that God has entrusted us with these talents so that we can use them to bring him glory and to care for his people.

A Three-Step Plan. Jesus is looking for ordinary people who want to do extraordinary things for him. He is willing to overlook our weaknesses and flaws as long as our hearts are in the right place. He knows that humility is the key to our overcoming our sins—the kind of humility that allows the Holy Spirit to reshape us and strengthen us against temptation and sin. He knows that if we aim for humility, we will slowly change. Our outward behavior will come to reflect our inner desire to let the Lord use us for his kingdom.

So how can we be a Church that looks up to heaven and says, “Use me, Lord”? St. Paul offers us a three-step plan.

First, Paul asks us to follow Jesus’ example and “empty” ourselves (Philippians 2:5-7). As dramatic as it sounds, Paul boils it down to a simple approach: don’t “grasp” at “equality with God” (2:6). Remind yourself that you belong to the Lord, not yourself. Confess that you need to follow his commands, not your own desires. Emptying ourselves means telling the Lord, “Thank you for all the gifts you have given to me. I want to use these gifts to build up my loved ones and your Church. I want to empty myself of any pride or any thoughts that lead me to place all my confidence in myself.”

Second, Paul asks us to confess, “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:11). He asks us to remember that Jesus is God, and we are not. Repeating this confession every day will help us remember how precious humility is. It will help us remember that we need Jesus in our lives because he is our Savior and Redeemer. He has the words of life that we need to hear. It seems so small, but making this short confession of faith will help us keep Jesus in the forefront of our minds.

Finally, Paul asks us to “work out” our salvation (Philippians 2:12). This means being faithful to prayer every day so that we can experience his saving love. It means trying our best to hold fast to his love throughout our day so that we don’t give pride or sin any foothold. It means turning to the Lord in repentance when we fall to temptation so that he can “save” us again through his mercy.

If we can practice these three steps, we’ll find ourselves becoming more humble. We’ll gradually become more concerned for other people than ourselves. We will, as Paul said, start to shine like stars in the midst of a dark world (Philippians 2:15).

Created to Love. Scripture tells us that we are God’s “handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance” for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). We have all been appointed by God to do special things for him. Each of us has been created to build people up and not tear them down, to give love and mercy and not just take.

God’s purposes have been built into our spiritual DNA. He created us to love, to serve, and to be used by him. This means that we won’t be at peace until we discover what our calling is. So let’s not wait until we are perfect. Let’s pray, “Lord, I am flawed and weak, but I am willing. I want to be used by you. I want to serve the mission of the Church.”