The simple lessons that God has shown me over the past year have been profound, and our recent trip to Russia magnified these truths. God once again proved his faithfulness, taking five ordinary servants to reach out to several hundred people in Russia. When you see the power of God in such a unique way, ministering salvation and healing, you know that there is no higher calling. When you’re asked to go into each room in a large hospital to pray over people, and groups of nurses and doctors are following you room to room because they sense a power, you know that God is there in a special way. When you’re able to go to outdoor markets and parks to minister God’s love to dozens of children eager to accept Jesus, you consider it a privilege and a joy to be used by God in such a remarkable way. Yet the question starts to linger in my mind, why are there not more people here or in other countries serving the Lord? Are we apprehensive to serve God because we have bought into the myth that God only uses “Bible educated” people who are “flawless?”
Over the past several years I have seen believers live their lives according to some disheartening misconceptions which have crept into the church. These misconceptions are holding back laborers that God is calling to go and reap His harvest, whether abroad or at home!
The first misconception is that if you’re not a seminarian, or Bible college educated, then you can’t be used “properly” by God. The second distortion of scriptural truth is that if you have sinned or failed God as a Christian, then God will put you on a shelf and never use you again.
I take encouragement from the life of the apostle Peter, a person with whom I identify both in his strengths, and unfortunately, his weaknesses.
The Ordinary Man Peter
I Peter 1:1 – “Peter an apostle of Jesus Christ…” This alone is an amazing verse. The apostle Peter is an example of how God used a simple man to advance His kingdom and glory. That’s pretty amazing considering that Peter was a fisherman. Peter was not a physician like Luke, nor was he a tax collector like Matthew. Peter did not have any rabbinical training like Paul. He simply knew how to fish. In Acts 4:13, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” The Greek implies that Peter was ignorant and illiterate! Even though the book of 1 Peter is written in excellent Greek, it is because Peter told us that Silas helped him write the book (1 Peter 5:12). What I find amazing is that God used a simple fisherman to become one of the great leaders of the church. This shows many of us (myself included) that we have bought into the lie that the devil is feeding us: The lie that we can’t be used of God! We think that we can’t be used because we are not adequately educated nor trained. We believe that we are too fat or too ugly or too old to be used. We may think that we are too poor or too unworthy! We are told by many of the “educated” Bible teachers that unless you have a working knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, you shouldn’t even attempt a preaching or teaching ministry. We think that since we didn’t go to Bible college or seminary, we are only good for seemingly “meaningless” work. Yet God demonstrates to us through the man Peter that he does not want our abilities, but our availability. God was not concerned that Peter was a fisherman. God was more concerned that Peter was a bond-servant to Him.
How the Church Regards Training
I read this story in Ann Landers and it truly illustrates how the church regards trained people in the ministry:
One of the toughest tasks a church faces is choosing a good minister. A member of an official board undergoing this painful process finally lost patience. He’d watched the pastoral relations committee reject applicant after applicant for some fault, alleged or otherwise. It was time for a bit of soul-searching on the part of the committee. So he stood up and read a letter purporting to be from another applicant.
“Gentleman: Understanding your pulpit is vacant, I should like to apply for the position. I have many qualifications. I’ve been a preacher with much success and also have had some success as a writer. Some say I’m a good organizer. I’ve been a leader most places I’ve been. “I’m over 50 years of age. I have never preached in one place for more than three years. In some places, I have left town after my work caused riots and disturbances. I must admit I have been in jail three or four times, but not because of any real wrong doing.
“My health is not too good, though I still get a great deal done. The churches I have preached in have been small, though located in several large cities. “I’ve not gotten along well with religious leaders in town where I have preached. In fact, some have threatened me and even attacked me physically.
“However, if you can use me, I shall do my best for you.”
The good church folks were aghast. Call an unhealthy, trouble- making, absent-minded ex-jailbird? Was the board member crazy? Who signed the application? Who has such colossal nerve?
The board member eyed them all keenly before he answered, “it’s signed, ‘the Apostle Paul.'”
I thank God for the highly educated leaders in the evangelical church. I have read almost all of Chuck Swindoll’s books. I listen to cassette tapes by Charles Stanley and Chuck Smith for hours. I love the exegesis of the Scriptures in John McArthur’s commentaries as well as other commentaries by brilliant scholars of the Bible. I abhor shallow Christianity, and the command by God in 2 Timothy 2:15 shows us that God is not pleased with it as well, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” It would be totally ludicrous to diminish the idea of going for advanced biblical training, but it’s equally foolish to believe that God only uses biblically-scholared people.
The Scriptures tell us “what do we have that we didn’t receive?” What talents or gifts do you have that God didn’t give you in the first place? When we are serving God, are we to rely on OUR knowledge, OUR might, OUR wisdom, OUR skills, OUR talents, or God’s Spirit? My service to God is not based on my own abilities, wisdom, gifts or knowledge. If you give yourself to God, He is responsible for equipping you and using you. Your job is just to be available to Him for His purposes. God does not care about your education as much as He cares about your relationship with Him. Yes, God wants us to know His Word, but more importantly, He wants us to know Him better. I know of people who are theological geniuses, but don’t know the heart of God! I also know people who have nothing more than a simple faith, but God’s hand is upon their lives in everything that they do because of their total reliance upon Him.
God may choose for you to advance in biblical training or He may choose to educate you Himself! When you study the book of Peter, you will notice that the formerly ignorant fisherman has become one of the church theologians. Some of the doctrines that Peter covers in his epistle would take a lifetime to study…election, foreknowledge, grace, predestination, holiness, submission, etc. Once again we look at Acts 4:13, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” The key to his verse is that “these men had been with Jesus.” As we spend time with Jesus in the Word and in prayer, He trains us for His service. The apostle Paul was highly advanced in Judaism, but Paul tells us in Galatians 1:11-12 how he trained for ministry, “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” Paul spent three years in the desert learning about Jesus (Galatians 1), not from man, but from God.
The person whom God uses the most is not the most educated, the most talented, the most gifted, the most beautiful, the most worthy, but rather the one who puts his total trust upon God’s spirit.
Ordinary People who became Extraordinary Servants A. W. Tozer never even finished high school, yet he was one of the most prolific writers of Christian literature. Even the top seminaries in the country esteem his works. Greg Laurie is a pastor that never went to Bible college. He started a simple Bible study and now has a congregation of over 13,000 people. His church averages over 3000 salvations per year. I’ve brought many Christians to the foreign mission field without knowing what their gifts were. It’s not that I didn’t ask, but the believers themselves did not know what their gifts were! Yet after several days, God would utilize each person in an extraordinary way, showing us all that He is the giver of gifts. All throughout the Bible we see how God uses the ordinary people to become extraordinary servants:
Moses was a shepherd. David was a shepherd. Amos was a shepherd. Peter and Andrew were fishermen.
Jesus was a carpenter before He went into the ministry. He could have learned to be a priest or rabbi, or have chosen a career that would have trained Him better for His “ministry.” Obviously, the Creator of the universe had His reasons for choosing carpentry for a livelihood, even though many of us may not recognize His rationale. Many may doubt Jesus as being properly “trained” for ministry!
God is the one responsible for equipping you and empowering you with His Holy Spirit. Spend time with God in prayer and the Word like the apostles in Acts 6:4. If God is calling you for a work, ask Him how you should become prepared. God is simply looking for those who abandon all and come to Him and simply say “Here am I, use me.” Peter the Blundering Apostle Peter was king of the mess ups. I guess this is the part of Peter that I identify with the most. He had the open mouth insert foot disease. I too have an advanced form of that disease. In fact, usually the only time I open my mouth is when I take one foot out so that I can put the other foot in. All throughout the gospels, we see that Peter was leader of the blunders. In Matthew 17, Jesus took Peter and James up to a high mountain and became transfigured before them. The Scriptures say Jesus’ face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light and then Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus. Peter then saidto Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here, if you wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” God had to rebuke Peter from heaven when he called down saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I AM well pleased; hear Him!” Imagine God the Father having rebuked Peter from heaven!
In Matthew 14:28-29 – Peter asks Jesus if He could join Him on the water, Jesus replied, “Come in…,” and we are left with Peter’s cry for help, “Lord, save me!” In Matt 16, shortly after Jesus told Peter that he was a rock, He then told Peter “get thee behind me Satan.” Peter knew he blew it big time when he denied three times that he knew Jesus. Imagine telling Jesus that you would die with Him and then a short time later you totally deny that you had anything to do with Him? So Peter went back to what he knew best…fishing! I’m sure that Peter figured that he threw away his ministry with his denial of Jesus. With each blunder, the life of Peter demonstrates God’s grace. Because if God can work through the mistakes of Peter, God can use anyone. God’s grace extends to those who are willing to repent of their failures and sins and let Him use them again. Of course there are consequences of sin, and God may not use you in the same capacity as before, but He is more concerned that your relationship with Him is right. The Bible tells of the successes of leaders, but it also points out their failures. Peter was not the first failure, because other great Bible leaders fell and came back: Jonah the prophet ran away from the Lord. Imagine God’s own prophet running away!! Yet God used him later to bring spiritual revival to Nineveh. David committed adultery, had a man killed, then held his sin for over a year before God made him confess. Yet the Scriptures tell us that David had a heart after God. Abraham was subject to failures. His treatment of Hagar is considered abusive. His lies concerning his sister Sarah shows us a cowardly person prone to distrustfulness. God called Abraham a friend of God and made him the father of the Jewish race through whom all the families of the earth would be blessed! Samson was a man who conquered whole armies by himself! Yet, he couldn’t conquer his own sexual temptations. In the end, God once again anointed Samson, and Samson “brought the house down!” God was so angry with Moses at one point that He wanted to kill him (Exodus 4:24)! Moses failed to give God the glory once when he struck a rock and God didn’t let him into the promised land. Yet, Moses is one of the greatest leaders of the Old Testament, having written most of it.
Fear of Failure Sometimes God or the devil closes one door of opportunity and we see this as a failure. We then become fearful of failing again. We give up any conception of serving because we have been burned by people or ministry. Proverbs 29:25 tells us that the fear of man is a snare. We fear failure, injury, or scorn. There are times that we let people intimidate us and we can’t let go of what our critics are saying about us! In the early sixties, a band of young musicians auditioned for Decca records. Decca records totally rejected their musical audition informing the band that their style of music was on the way out. How would you feel if you just auditioned for the world’s largest recording studio and they totally rejected you? Would you quit over fear of failure again? The band went on and eventually became famous, maybe you know of them…the Beatles. In Munich, Germany, a ten year old boy was ridiculed by his school teacher. The teacher told the ten year old that he would never amount to anything in his life. Now that’s a pretty traumatic statement to receive as a ten year old! Many young children have carried such statements into their adulthood. Instead, Albert Einstein used it to motivate himself to achieve. Thomas Edison was one of the world’s great geniuses. While creating the light bulb, he failed over several hundred times before he got if right! Someone asked him how does it feel to fail that many times, and he responded by saying, “They weren’t failures, they were education.” Chuck Smith spent 17 years going through a desert experience of spiritual and financial drought while in the ministry. When Chuck finally came to the realization that ministry wasn’t by his might, nor by his power, but by God’s Spirit, then God blessed him with a congregation of over 30,000 people and over 350 churches under his leadership. We All Fail James says in chapter 3:2: “We all stumble, [fail, error, fall] in many ways.” We all make bad choices and mistakes. We all blow it and we all sin! Just like the Israelites of old, we can become unthankful and unfaithful to God. Sometimes we fall into idolatry and suddenly we don’t reflect God’s values. Then we start to fail in everything and feel miserable like the Israelites of the Old Testament. Yet the same thing that God said to the Israelites in Isaiah 43:4,18,25 applies to us today: “Since you are precious and honored in my sight and because I love you…Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” God wants to forgive our failures, our mistakes and sins. But we have to admit our failures, like the Israelites. Then we have to believe that Jesus forgave them. He tells us in His Word that will He remember them “no more,” so neither should we. Rather we should take hold of the exhortation by the Apostle Paul when he said, “But one thing I do; forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Even if you failed God as miserably as Peter, God has not given up on you! God will use you again for His purposes when you simply come to Him like Peter, and humble yourself before Him. Once Peter came to the point where He died to self, where He let the Holy Spirit have His way, and he became a bond servant of God, then God used him in a great way. God took his inabilities and turned them into God-abilities. Peter was not perfect, as he was rebuked by Paul in Galatians for trying to please men, but he overcame his fear and God made Peter one of the greats of the Bible, one of the foundational rocks in His church. If you think that God can’t use you because you’re not a scholar nor theologian, look at the life of Peter, an uneducated fisherman raised up to be one of the leaders of the church, a stumbling man whose mouth and actions got him into trouble. The Scriptures promise us that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). God will complete His work in you if you would just yield yourself to His Holy Spirit and give Him control over every aspect of your life. Give God your availability, give Him your mistakes, and let Him complete His work, His way in you. Then you will produce fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold. Then you will enter into His rest with the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
“Now may God fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. We pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:9-12).