usefulness

2 Samuel 7, Ezekiel 15

Today’s readings are 2 Samuel 7 and Ezekiel 15.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 15.

This short chapter in Ezekiel is based on a simple observation: Vines are made of wood but they are not useful the way that wood from trees is useful. The wood that makes up a vine is too weak to be fashioned into a useful product. It can’t even be used to “...make pegs from it to hang things on?” (v. 3b). It’s greatest utility comes from the fact that you can burn it, so it can fuel your fire (v. 4). Other than that, it is essentially worthless. You can’t make furniture or homes with it.

In verses 6-8 God compared his people in Jerusalem to those grapevines. Just as the vines are thrown onto the fire, so God will burn his people for their disobedience (vv. 7-8).

The keyword in this chapter is the word “useful.” Just as wood from the trees is very useful for many tasks, so God wanted his people to be useful for Him. Sometimes people object to the idea of being “useful for God” or “used by God.” Shouldn’t God love us for who we are not for what we do that’s useful? Don’t we have value as people that is genuine value apart from any usefulness or uselessness in our lives? As someone said on a podcast, “You’re a human being not a human doing.”

As creatures made in God’s image, we do have intrinsic value. But, because God created us for a purpose--to glorify him--we are incomplete and unhappy when we are not being used. If your refrigerator had feelings, don’t you think it would be happier being useful than sitting in the garage, unplugged, gathering dust and useless? The most fulfilling thing in life is to be useful to the one who owns you.

If you’re dealing with unhappiness that doesn’t seem to have a cause, could it be that you are unhappy because your life is passing by but isn’t contributing much to your Creator? Assess your usefulness for God and how much you’re being used by God. If you conclude that you are not as useful as you could be, what can you do to become more useful for the Lord? And if you are potentially useful but not being used much, where could you apply your usefulness to be used by God more and more effectively?

Joshua 24, Jeremiah 13

Today we’re scheduled to read Joshua 24, Jeremiah 13.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 13:1-11.

Last summer I was assembling something in our backyard for my kids. Somehow I left my tools out in the yard. All fall, winter, and spring. They were discovered late in the spring when I went to put something else together out there. Most of the tools I left are still useable; they’re rusty, but still useable and I think the rust can be cleaned off. But some of them are now useless.

In the opening verses of Jeremiah 13, the prophet is told by the Lord to go buy himself a snappy new belt and wear it around (v. 1). Wouldn’t it be cool if the Lord told you to go buy some new shoes or a new shirt or even a new belt?

Except that he only got to wear it for a little while. Then the Lord told him to go geocache it in a rock crevice. (“He hideth my belt in the crevice of the rock.....”)

Anyway, when he retrieved the belt “many days later” (v. 6) it was “ruined and completely useless” like some of my tools are. Goodbye snappy new belt; I hope the Lord let him replace it from his ministry funds....

Anyway, if you’ve ever lost something and then found it ruined, you can relate to what Jeremiah experienced in this passage. This is how God felt about his people. He proudly put them around his waist so to speak but they ruined their utility by “the stubbornness of their hearts” through idolatry. Now, they were useless for what God wanted them for, namely, “to be my people for my renown and praise and honor” (v. 11).

It’s OK to say someone is “useful” these days, but it is not acceptable to say that someone “used” someone else. Being “useful” is voluntary while being “used” usually indicates someone is being manipulated without realizing it or that they are appreciated not as a person but only for what they can do for someone else. In other words, being “useful” is a compliment while being “used” is degrading. When God says that his people are useless, however, like a rotten belt, it is not degrading his people. It is not degrading for something to do what it was created to do. I am “using” this keyboard and computer to write this devotional. If the keyboard and computer had feelings, they would not feel degraded but grateful that they had been useful.

So it is with us. God created us to glorify himself. Israel--and all of us in the human race, actually--degraded ourselves by giving ourselves to sin instead of being useful to the purpose of glorifying God. When, by faith, we love and serve God we are useful to him. When his people “Give glory to the Lord your God” (v. 16) we are doing what he created us to do and that is the greatest form of satisfaction. God graciously brings “light” (v. 16e) and joy to us when we give him glory through obedience. When life is dissatisfying, it may be because we are serving idols rather than giving glory to God.

Is your life useful for God’s purpose? Are you living in a way that might be degrading your usefulness for the Lord?