I remember having a boxed set of The Chronicles of Narnia book series, by C.S. Lewis, when I was young. There was a particular passage that I remembered from The Silver Chair. In it, Eustace Scrubb, an English boy, is being introduced to a hard-of-hearing Dwarf by an Owl (obviously, this is a fantasy story, but C.S. Lewis used that genre for many allegories). We pick up the conversation, here:
“Better tell him I’m Eustace,” said Scrubb.
“The boy’s Eustace, my Lord,” hooted the Owl as loud as it could.
“Useless?”, said the Dwarf irritably. “I dare say he is. Is that any reason for bringing him to court? Hey?”
“Not useless,” said the Owl, “EUSTACE.”
from The Silver Chair, p.33-34, by C.S. Lewis, (c)1953, Macmillan, NY, 1970.
To be honest, sometimes I feel a little useless. I try to make polite conversation in a group, but end up feeling awkward or out of place until I shuffle off to something else, mumbling a feeble excuse. I am presented with problems that I don’t know how to solve. I go to the funeral home to call on friends of someone who has passed away, and am devoid of any words of comfort. I work on a project, only to find it replaced, superseded, or obsoleted by something else.
Maybe it’s just me, but I suspect that we all feel like that, sometimes. When we get to that place, it seems that perhaps the following verse is written exactly for us:
So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.
1 Corinthians 15:58 NLT
This seems like a pretty definitive statement: “nothing” doesn’t leave anything out. When we are serving Jesus, everything has a purpose. A kind word, delivered in Jesus’ name, isn’t wasted. An act of service at the direction of the Holy Spirit, even if the recipient doesn’t return thanks, is still a good thing. Even prayers and selfless love poured out for a person who goes back to a life of sin are not lost.
To be fair, there is much that I have done in my life that is pretty useless. I have missed opportunities, wasted time, and failed to step up when I should have. The difference between the certainty of the verse above and this reality is simple: my pointless actions were not done for the Lord. Instead, they were done for myself, or from my own fallible judgment, or at the misguided – even if well-meaning – direction of other imperfect human beings.
What is even more amazing is that God can still use my failings as part of His plan. Some of my works may be burned up in the judgement (see 1 Corinthians 3:12-15), but God has shown repeatedly that He can take human errors and rebellion, and leverage them for something better. If I trust that God is all-powerful, I no longer have to dwell on my previous shortcomings, but I can look forward to a future where He takes the past – knowing what would and will happen, anyway – and uses it for His purposes.
Still, letting God transform our failures into His successes is one thing, but it is much better when we are following His direction, and letting Him demonstrate His wisdom and plan through our lives. Living for the Lord means living a life of meaning, and not one that is wasted, no matter what our environment may look like, or what others may tell us.
So, when we are down and feel like Eustace Grubb – even if others say that we are useless – let us first make sure that we are laboring for Jesus. Then, casting off the burdens of past shortcomings, let us live with confidence that everything we do for the Lord has a purpose (because God said so), whether or not we happen to see all of the results on this side of eternity.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.