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TEXT: I Corinthians 1:26-31
SUBJECT: Spiritual Depression #11: Uselessness
There once was a mighty man of valor whose name was David. As a boy keeping his father's flock, he killed a mountain lion with his bare hands, and then a bear, in the same way.
A bit later he took a care package to his brothers who were in the army, and while seeing how things were going with them, a soldier marched out of the Philistine camp and defied any man in Israel to meet him in single combat. No one was eager to do this, however, because the soldier stood more than nine feet tall! But as he went on and on, mocking Israel's manhood and scorning their God, David's blood began to boil-'Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?' David was not the king's first choice to fight the giant, but lacking other volunteers, he let him do it, and he was glad he did, for David took down the giant with a slingshot, and then-to make sure he was dead-pounced on him, drew the huge sword, cut off his mammoth head, and held it up for both armies to see!
Knowing a good man when he saw one, the king took David into his army where he continued to distinguish himself, killing ten times the men his master did. Fearing David's growing popularity, the king offered him a princess, whom David must have wanted, could not afford. Where would a poor man find the dowry for a king's daughter? Thoughtful man he was, the king had an idea, 'How about a hundred Philistine foreskins?' David jumped at the offer and brought him two hundred!
When the king could no longer abide him, David fled to the Philistines and became bodyguard to one of their kings, Achish of Gath. Who valued him as the best man he ever had.
When King Saul died, David was brought home and given the crown over God's People, and he wore it well in peace-and mostly, in war. Under his leadership, Israel went from being a loose collection of tribes (often at odds with one another) to a unified nation and an Empire.
For more than forty years, David fought the battles of the Lord, and not from the rear (as our generals do), but he led the charge himself, and always to victory. He was so mighty in war that he became a type of Christ, God's king, against whom 'nations rage, peoples imagine vain things, kings set themselves, and rulers take counsel' only to hear the mocking laughter of God who says-
'Yet I have set my king on my holy hill in Zion'.
David was a mighty man of valor, a king whose armies could not be turned back and whose warcraft and manliness were known to all, respected, and feared.
But then something happened.
Leading his men against the Philistines, the king was met by Ishbi-Benob, whose father David had fought many years before, and slain. The father's name was.Goliath (yes, that one), and the son was looking for revenge.
Which he nearly got. For David was not the man he used to be. When Abishi saw his king getting the worst of it, he came to his aid and struck down the young giant. Which caused the Philistines to flee as they had many years before.
Then, to quote II Samuel 21:17-
The men of David swore to him saying, 'You shall go out no more with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel'.
The man who had lived to soldier would soldier no more. And not because he wanted to retire, but because he could no longer cut it!
I have always found this story remarkably touching. It wasn't written to make me 'tear up', but it never fails to do it. David, Israel's greatest man of war is sent home, and told, 'We'll take care of it from now on'.
How do you think he felt that day? Because he didn't protest, he must have known they were right. But I didn't ask you, 'What did he know?' I asked you, 'How did he feel?' Is there anything in his story that makes you think he felt great-like a successful man retiring early and moving to Hawaii to play golf every day? I can't see it. And, on the side, have you ever noticed how much golf courses look like cemeteries?
I think, like any other active man who feels called to what he's doing, David must have been crushed when it occurred to him, 'I can't do it anymore. I'm all washed up'.
Thankfully, David didn't stay in this funk; his later years were not wasted pining away at what he used to be. But, for a time at least, he must have been about as low as a man can get.
He must have been depressed. He must have felt useless.
This brings me to the topic of today's sermon, A feeling of uselessness as a major cause of spiritual depression.
THE FEELING OF USELESSNESS
A great many people feel useless. Some-I know-don't truly feel this way, but say they do, to get attention or to justify their sins. If you're one of them, you ought to confess your sins to the Lord, receive His mercy through Christ, find what He has for you to do, and do it with all your might!
I'll say no more to these people, to people who pretend to feel useless, when they're really nothing more than selfish!
I'm speaking to people who really feel useless. You're not alone! Paul says-
There is no temptation that has taken you but what is common to man.
Why is it so common to feel this way? To feel that you've got nothing to contribute to the church or to the world, and that if you died, nobody would miss you? That you're good for nothing? That, in the words of the parable, you're just-
Cumbering up the ground?
There are many reasons for feeling useless. Temperament is one of them. We feel this way because of our 'wiring'. It's not much different than the tendency some of us have to gain weight or the weakness others have of becoming alcoholic. The 'wiring' doesn't make us crave food or drink too much or feel useless, but it nudges us that way-or 'shoves' may be the better word!
How you grew up also has something to do with it. When I was a teenager, we had a pastor and his family stay with us for a few days. The pastor was one of the most likable men I ever knew-except to his son, whom he constantly browbeat. The boy knocked over a drink at the table, and the man went on and on about his clumsiness, his stupidity, his bad manners, and so on, and in particular, I remember him saying, You're useless!
If the man talked this way to his son in front of other people, I wonder how he spoke to him when they were alone? I don't know what happened to the boy, but would you be surprised if-all these years later-he feels useless?
Churches can make people feel useless. When, for example, no one is ever allowed to do anything. Because they can't be trusted to do it or to do it the right way. In our kind of church, women and young people sometimes feel this way. And it's hard to blame them, for we are not always as open and creative as we ought to be in recognizing their work and encouraging them in it.
The circumstances of life play a role too. Think of the middle-aged woman who has spent her whole adult life taking care of her children. But now, they're all gone, and she doesn't know what to do with herself. Maybe she's bored, but that's not her real problem. She feels useless.
Sickness or other physical handicap can also promote the feeling. Except for William Shakespeare, John Milton is England's greatest man of letters. Scholars and poets, of course, don't need big muscles to lift their books, but they sure need good eyes to read them. But as a young man, Milton lost his sight, and in the poem On His Blindness, he wrote-
And that one Talent which is death to hide,
Lodged in me useless.
The great poet, made useless (he thought), and all because of an ailment of the eye. Bedridden people often feel this way, and others who are homebound by sickness or disabled by injury. My dear mother felt this way the last part of her life. After teaching Sunday School for more than forty years, she couldn't anymore, and she sometimes wondered what she was good for at church, now that she couldn't do what she was so loved to do, and was so good at doing!
And then, there's age robbing us of the ability we need to do what we used to do and still want to do. But cannot do anymore. And never will again. In this life.
Finally, we mustn't forget the devil. Paul says we're not ignorant of his devices. This is what feeling useless is-a device or a strategy of the devil to keep us unhappy and, through that, to keep us from serving God and glorifying Him.
THE REASON WE FEEL USELESS
As far as I can tell, my cat does not feel useless lying around the house all day. Sleeping, it seems, is her calling in life, and she's doing everything she can to fulfill it!
How come we can't feel the way she does? If our basic needs are met, why aren't we satisfied doing nothing? It's because-unlike my cat-we're not made or called to do nothing.
God made Adam and Eve and gave them something to do-to keep the garden, to name the animals, and, best of all, to be fruitful and multiply! When they fell, their work became hard and frustrating, but it wasn't taken away from them. They-and we-were made to do something. As humans, and especially, as Christians.
When we can't do much or anything at all, we feel useless, and before long, we become depressed.
This is the problem, it's a serious one, and-with people living longer than they used to-it will only get worse.
What do we do about it? Or, rather, what has God done to make us useful and to rid us of the feeling we aren't?
EVERY CHRISTIAN'S CALLING
The first thing He has done is given us a calling in life. Paul prayed his friends in Thessalonica would-
Walk worthy of their calling.
What calling? Or-to put first things first-what is the Christian's calling in life? The believer is called to do something with his life. This includes what we call secular work as well as the religious side of life. We're to find our calling and follow it. In being the best engineer you can be, or housewife, or teacher, or student, you are following the Lord no less than the man who is cutting through jungles to preach the Gospel to tribes in deepest Papua, New Guinea. This is one call we receive from the Lord-to do something with our lives.
As important as this calling is, it is not primary. We have a higher calling than to 'do something with our lives'. It is to be something, and that is, a Christian, in whatever kind of life God chooses for us.
A sixty-year old man cannot play professional football-but he can be a Christian! A man in the late stages of tuberculosis cannot preach the gospel-but he can be a Christian. A woman with no time to do anything but chase half-a-dozen children around the house cannot study the Bible as she did when she was single-but she can be a Christian!
We're here to do something, but mostly, we're here to be something, and that is, lovers of God. We can be this anywhere, at any time, and under any circumstances.
No Christian is useless, because whatever he can't do, he can always be a Christian, and no one and nothing can separate him from this high calling.
SUBMIT TO THE WISDOM OF GOD
A second thing we can do is submit to the wisdom of God. Did you ever wish you were someone else? I have, plenty of times, and sometimes 'anyone else' would do! If only I were as young as he is or as smart as she is, or had the guts someone else does, then I could really do something for God. I suppose we've all felt this way from time to time.
There's something wrong with this kind of thinking, and it's more than the futility of trying to be what you're not or do what you can't. The wrong is far more serious. Paul tells us what it is in I Corinthians 12:17. Speaking of the church as the Body of Christ, he says-
But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.
The problem in Corinth was that most people wanted the gift of 'tongues' and hardly anybody wanted the other gifts, including the ones that are far more useful than 'tongues'. But Paul says, everyone having the same gift in church is like every part of your body being the same part! Instead of one head, two eyes, thirty-two teeth, and so on, you'd be one big eyeball! If this were true, the human and church body would be grossly deformed.
The body is not this way, however, because God has made each part and put it where it belongs! If left to my own wisdom, I might put my hands at the end of my legs, in order to make tying my shoes easier! But, thankfully, I'm not left to my own wisdom! God put things where they go!
What's true of the human body is also true of the Body of Christ. The Lord has put each one of us where He wants us to be, and this means, everyone is useful. No one is replaceable. My finger is a very five organ (in my opinion), but it would make for a very poor eye!
We can trust the Lord's judgment. No one is useless because God is wise and sovereign, and has each one of us right where we belong-and where He wants us to be.
REMEMBER THE KIND OF PEOPLE GOD USES
Finally, if you want to stop feeling useless, remember the kind of people God mostly uses. Our text says, for the most part, He chose foolish things, weak things, base things, and despised things.
Why would He do this? We don't have to guess, vv.29 and 31 spell it out-
So that no flesh would glory in His sight
He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.
This is not theory. Read the Bible and you will see that God has consistently chosen the unlikely to do His will, and by His grace, they did it, and He got all the credit.
Think of Moses, called to speak to Pharaoh-with a speech impediment!
Think of Gideon, called to fight the mighty Midianites-with an army of 300 men.
Think of Isaiah, called to preach the holiness of God-knowing both he and his people are unclean men with unclean lips.
Left to themselves, they were useless men. But they weren't left to themselves; they were left to God, and He knows how to make the least useful man into the most useful.
Including you. Be of good cheer, my useless brothers and sisters in Christ. The Lord has something for us and, by His grace, we will do it!
To the praise of the glory of His grace. Amen!
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