So much of my early life in the fundamentalist-evangelical world was about how God was “using” my life then, or, was going to use my life in the future. A common theme or question during those years was: What were my spiritual gifts and was I allowing God to use those gifts in my life? I was told to give my “life” to God. All of me. My talents, gifts, resources, dreams, hopes, and all the rest, so God could use my “life.”
“God is going to use your life son,” I heard more than once growing up. And I know they meant well. They didn’t want a person to waste anything God had given them. None of us do. Much like the US Army, we want to “be all we can be” for God. We want God to use our life. We don’t want to be like the one servant who buried his talents and did nothing with them.
For those old enough to remember the movie The Graduate, there is a scene where Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) is moving past the adults present at his graduation party, trying to escape, really, their questions. Everyone wants to know what Benjamin is going to do with his life, what his plans are and some have advice. One man cryptically pulls Benjamin aside, and almost conspiratorially says one word to him, “plastics.”
This was in the late 60s, so perhaps plastics were the next big thing. Today it would probably be Tesla, Solar, or Bitcoin, I don’t know. We want young people to be “successful” and to live with purpose, vigor, and gusto. We want them to hone their skills and talents—put them to good use, so they can reap the rewards. We don’t want them to miss the next train, the one that will take them to the “top.”
In the fundamentalist-evangelical world, in similar times of transition, graduations, and so forth, we were often pulled aside and whispered to regarding which college or seminary to attend in order to be “successful.” We were also warned about the ones not to attend (“way too liberal…”). There was whispering about which churches to attend and which pastors to know. So much help. So many pats on the back. Because if God was going to use my life, I had to make it a life worth using.
And this meant pursuing, aggressively, the “abundant life” we were told about in John 10, which many of us thought meant the “best life” Joel Osteen told us about. It meant we would get the life talked about in Jeremiah 29 and Proverbs 3. And, magically, amazingly, this life would look like the successful life of our secular counterparts, only it would be a religious life, a moral life, one God could truly bless and be happy about. But, it would look the same as the others as far as the nice car, nice house, white picket fence, good job, 2.5 children, time share, pension, and tooth sparkle with the wide grin when photographed.
Over time, however, I ran up against a sobering and, at first, almost painful, thought. What if God was more interested in my death than my life? Obviously, I don’t mean a physical death. I mean something far more horrible. I mean the death of my ego, pride, and false self. I mean the death of striving to “live” a “successful” life; a life lived in the way too many of us were told it should be lived in order to be seen as not wasting our gifts or talents. I mean the death of the picture I had built (and had built for me by my culture)—the picture of a successful Christian and what that was supposed to look like.
What if God wanted all the masks, all the facades, all the play-acting, all the structures I had built to hide behind, gone? What if I was being asked to stand naked before this God? Then what? Well, the fraud (me) would be exposed. I would rather die first. Exactly.
I still wear plenty of masks, play-act, and try to hide from God, myself, and you. It’s a slow death for me, this Christian life. But I’m finding there is a greater possibility of living when I first begin to understand the dying part.
I’m learning that God can’t use my life, but he can certainly use my death.
“Life is a web of trials and temptations, but only one of them can ever be fatal, and that is the temptation to think it is by further, better, and more aggressive living that we can have life. But that will never work. If the world could have lived its way to salvation, it would have, long ago. The fact is that it can only die its way there, lose its way there….
For Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to reward the rewardable, improve the improvable, or correct the correctable; he came simply to be the resurrection and the life of those who will take their stand on a death he can use instead of on a life he cannot.”
Photo via Pixabay.
About Darrell Lackey
Darrell Lackey has been a lead pastor and currently works in the private sector. He is part of a home gathering of some amazing, wonderful Christians and a graduate of the University of San Francisco and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (Now Gateway). You can follow him or read more of his writings at Divergence (A Journey Out of Funda-gelicalism). He and his wife reside in Northern California.