Drinking the Kool-Aid of Our Own Success

“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Matt. 7:22–33

Jim Jones

Jim Jones

I recently published a post entitled Olly Olly Oxen Free: What if God Will Use Anyone!? The gist of the post (which I’d encourage you to check out) is that God doesn’t decide who he’s going to use strictly by choosing perfect, theologically correct specimens. He’ll often use people who are willing—or at least available.

But in thinking about the content of that post and discussing it with others, I was stricken by this important truth: If God can and will use anyone, then being used by God should not be seen as approval or license.

Back to the Mall

In the original post, I used the allegory of a parent losing their child at the mall. Obviously in a horrible situation like that, you’re going to welcome anyone’s help. You aren’t going to pick and choose people based on their ideology or even quiz them on their moral values—if their willing to help you, you’ll use them.

God might not be that different. He’s hard at work reconciling the world to himself, and, if Jesus weeping over Jerusalem is any indication (Luke 19:41-44), the emotion and urgency invoked by the idea of losing your child might not be too far off.

Because the stakes are so large, God isn’t above using unlikely tools like Zoroastrians (Matt. 2), a medium (1 Sam. 28), or a talking ass (Num. 22).

Don’t miss the significance

This should be heartening news. You don’t have to be perfect for God to use you. You don’t have to have it all together. If you’re available and willing (or even if you’re unavailable and unwilling), God might use you.

But what we desperately need to recognize is that God’s willingness to use you isn’t a sign of pleasure or favor. To assume that pastoring a megachurch, publishing a book, managing a powerful parachurch organization, or writing a successful blog is a sign that God favors me borders on hubris—a hubris that I have been guilty of many times.

The fact is that God is willing to use the tools available to him in spite of us—and not because of us.

It seems crazy and reckless for God to use the ministries of sociopaths, hucksters, and despots, but he does.

I have some really good friends who grew very close to the Lord the many years that they attended Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Like he did for many, God used the ministry of Mark Driscoll to help them in their spiritual journey. For years while Driscoll’s ministry was being used, I think God was trying desperately to communicate his displeasure at some of the methods, tactics, and flaws in the same ministry. Sadly, success is a deceptively potent elixir that will give the imbiber confidence while completely blinding him.

I had another Christian friend years ago who came to know the Lord in San Francisco through the early ministry of Jim Jones—the same Jones who eventually led 909 Americans to death in a murder/suicide pact in the jungles of South America. My friend said that he knew a lot of people who were unable to follow Jones down to establish Jonestown in Guyana, and many of them still follow Christ in healthy, orthodox churches today.

It seems crazy and reckless for God to use the ministries of sociopaths, hucksters, and despots, but he does. And to be honest, that’s probably a good thing. None of us are completely pure in our motives and devotion. It’s just too easy to use Christian ministry as a pedestal for personal glorification. If God was to only use the pure among us, he would be very limited in his ability to save those he is so passionate about.

Using versus knowing

The verse at the beginning of this post is a powerful one. Imagine standing before Christ and trying to use the things you did for him as bargaining chips. Christ probably did use these people’s willingness and availability. They are invoking the authority of actual prophecies and miracles they performed in Christ’s name. It’s not too farfetched to assume that Christ did perform miracles and cast out demons through the “ministries” of these people.

In the end, however, they never developed a relationship with Christ that was their own. They assumed that the successful work they did was a sign of God’s pleasure with them. The fact that they had public success probably was seen as license for private excess. In fact, their public success in their ministries probably did a lot to blind them to their personal need.

If you’re like me, this is an incredibly sobering and scary thought.

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