God can use me in spite of myself; staff lesson #9

“I have had enough Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Have you ever prayed a prayer like this? More than I’d care to admit during my 10 years with InterVarsity I’ve found myself echoing Elijah’s prayer from 1 Kings 19. Early on in my staff career I wondered why, if I was doing what God called me to do, I still felt so depressed. Why, though there were student leaders eager to receive training, mentoring and prayer to be missionaries on their campus, I felt like a failure.

"there are days you feel so down all you can do is lay on the couch eating cheetos watching daytime soaps." -Woody Anderson, former InterVarsity staff and current professor of Theology

Granted there were some days that were genuinely painful- feeling the sting of students gossiping against my leadership, the anguish of receiving a nasty letter in the mail after a fundraising appointment advising me to “get a real job and stop asking for money”, or the crushing disappointment of seeing students I’ve invested in walk away from faith in Jesus or fall into sin that compromises their leadership. On the days I forced myself to get into my cerulean Rav4 and make the drive to Grand Valley State, I would cry out that God to give me the strength just to show up and do my job.

Though I’ve struggled with depression my whole life stories like Elijah’s from scripture has provided me insight and comfort that God uses people in-spite of themselves to carry out his purposes in the world.  Ruth Haley Barton’s book Invitation to Silence and Solitude has helped me tremendously through exploring the story of Elijah and how God meets him in the midst of his feelings of depression, failure and incompetence to follow God and do his work. Though God has used lots of things in my life to help me overcome depression (medication, therapy, exercise, prayer) this book has been one of the most formative in terms of how I see myself and God in light of his calling on my life to minister to college students.

Through the years I’ve learned that God doesn’t expect me to conjure up a false feeling of happiness, joy, excitement or confidence to do his work.  He knows how easily I forget the powerful ways he’s worked in my life and in the lives of others through my obedience to him. Like Elijah, regardless of how I feel, he is present, he is faithful and is able to use me even when I feel useless. In many ways, this is the essence of the gospel; that through Jesus God lifts us out of the miry pit of sin and despair to What has helped you in your profession to trust that God is working through you despite how you feel? Any books, practices or people that have helped to remind you of God’s ability to move in your life and work?

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