So I can bet you that there is no church in Nigeria that did not start a fasting program of sorts for their members this January to kick off 2018. It only makes sense that you would start the year intimately with God to seek direction for His purpose for you at the start of the new year. We at the Catholic Church of Divine Mercy, Lekki were not left behind. Our theme for our 21 day renewal was “Use Me O Lord.’
Now as Catholics we have at the back of our minds that Ash Wednesday is not far off from this January fast – that solemn day which marks the beginning of the 40 day lenten period in preparation for Easter. In fact the devil reminded me of this fact when I was 5 days away from concluding this 21 day fast to lure me into breaking 16 days of its diligent observance. May the Lord rebuke him – nonsense!! The voice came like this ‘DD, why are you still putting in your all in this? After all, you are still going to fast for a whole 40 days in 2 weeks time. Surely that is enough. You have tried.’ Nonsense!! I recognized that lying voice and with the grace of the Almighty God, I use my leg to jump and pass that one jo!!! Mschewww!!
( For those who don’t understand what that means, let me reword – By the grace of God, I was able to overcome that temptation. (Hissing sound by kissing my teeth the way we Nigerians do)
TO BE USED
So back to the 21 day renewal program we just concluded today on the theme of the Lord to use us all. We have all come across the two word submission prayer to God – ‘Use me, Use me.’ However, the priest who led us in the concluding message pointed out to us that we can only ask someone to use us if we love that person. It was then that he challenged us by asking us if we truly love God. At this point, I was like ‘Ofcourse I do! I have just gone through 21 days of strict observance and sacrifice. Would I do that if I didn’t love God?” I would later discover that the answer to that question is a big, fat YES! Yes, I could go through all that activity and still not truly love God.
He referred to Matthew 24 when the disciples asked Jesus what the signs of the end times and Jesus’ return would be. Jesus’ reply is seen in Matthew 24:9-12 and in particular Matthew 24:12 which explains why love is dying “…And because iniquity hath abounded, the charity of many shall grow cold.”
He explained that the love of God is dying since the love towards each other is dying. After all, you cannot claim to love God who you cannot see when you do not love your neighbour who you see as said in 1John 4:20.
So at this point I have started to frown and think about such incidences I hear about when people come across someone who has befallen an unfortunate incident, but instead of helping out, they yield to the voices of alarm and caution and decide to ignore the pleas of help.
Revelations 2:4 was cited to stress that we have lost focus in the midst of all the activities and fasting and sacrifices which is what God had against those in Ephesus, just like He has against us who want to be used by Him:
“Nevertheless, I have this complaint against you; you have lost your first love.”
I can remember how expectant I was to receive my first Holy Communion. I was so excited. I would be receiving Jesus finally. I couldn’t wait. My first love. Fast forward years later to when I was getting confirmed. I had chosen the name which I wanted to be called. I couldn’t wait for the Bishop to lay his hands on me and say those words over me. I couldn’t wait to be drafted into God’s army as a soldier in my own right. My first love. Fast forward decades later to my first Life in the Spirit Seminar when I had written my commitment letter and couldn’t wait for the laying of hands over me after 9 long weeks of commitment. I imagined what it would feel like to have those gifts of the Holy Spirit revived within me and have them fanned into flame. My first love.
SO what happened? How did I become like those in Ephesus? How did I abandon my first love? How did I become a Martha and not a Mary? How? By not truly loving God. The priest stressed that you cannot be used by God when God has something against you like He had against those in Ephesus.
WHY DO YOU WANT TO BE USED?
The priest gave an example of a person who had decided that the prayer seeking to be used by God was one which he did not want to be saying. He confessed that to pray such, made him see God as an employer and him as an employee. Now for those of us who understand the politics of the Boardroom and the scramble to be granted favor by the “powers that be,” we can appreciate this man’s concerns.
To be seen as an employee with God being the employer, entailed that your co-employees were hindrances to your pursuit of being used and having favor from the employer; they were competition. In short, being used would be all about planning and strategizing to lord it over your co-employees and would only cause bitterness and rivalry and surely the depletion of love; if not eradication.
I know some people who look at members of the Catholic Renewal and shake their heads in dismay because they do not see love amongst them due to some of them seeing God as an employer. They have lost their first love and substituted it with operating in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and being engaged in activities. The sad thing is that they may not even be aware, as sometimes I catch myself being that loud clashing cymbal which St Paul warns against in 1 Corinthians 13:1.
It creeps up on you and when it does, no matter how hard you fast, pray or commit yourself in the activities of the church, you find yourself still operating on the same level and not being used by God.
Then I know other people who are attracted to the activities of the Catholic Renewal like bible study, revival programs and retreats. However, they refuse to become members and refuse to commit themselves fully to any of the ministries or societies of the church. The priest stressed that it is only when you COMMIT fully and join as active members to the Renewal which blows throughout the church and into every society, that God can use you and fan into flame that gift which has been deposited in you to shine for His kingdom. He added that we must go with an open heart and mind and keep our focus on the Holy Spirit in order to be used.
HOW TO BE USED – 3 STEP PLAN
So, at this point, I was sober. I was asking myself whether I was one of those who had been praying that prayer as an employee instead of as a grateful recipient of God’s amazing love. Was I someone who loved God because He loved me first? Was I that person whose focus was the Holy Spirit regardless of the distractions abound?
The priest suggested 3 things that we would have to do to qualify to being used. Being used is indeed a qualification but had I qualified by following the 3 step plan below:
- Study the Word of God with all intensity: He explained that we draw strength from the Scripture, as the bible is more than a book. It is God made flesh which speaks to us; it is eternal life.
- Prayer: To be in constant communication with God and listen to Him during your moments of quietude
- Fasting: Archangel Raphael in the Book of Tobit (for those who don’t have that Book, please get a complete bible) advised Tobit and Tobias in Tobit 12:8 to add prayer and almsgiving to fasting
To be used by God is an awesome privilege. So why is it that we find ourselves making excuses, shying away or selecting when and where we want to be used? If we are not prepared to submit to the will of God, then we should not bother to say such a prayer for God to use us. We should be content to be lukewarm and remain unfruitful, taking solace in our delusion that we are active in the church and have the gifts of the Holy Spirit for which we are known.
Do we not realize that every day we awake from sleep in a reason to thank God for his amazing love? The priest stated that sleeping is dying and waking up but yet we take it for granted just like we take the gruesome death and sacrifice of Jesus, done out of an unmerited love for us, for granted. If we could truly appreciate the enormity of God’s love for us, we would be stumbling over each other to volunteer to be used as a worthy vessel for God. We need to be filled with God’s love. We need this love to overflow so that we can love each other and it is only when this happens, that we can love God and He can use us in turn.
How do we do this? By inviting the Holy Spirit to help us in the 3 step plan – study the bible, pray always and fast.
O Lord, may we never forget our first love. Give us the grace to keep our focus always on the Holy Spirit; who then will suitably position us to be used mightily for the glory of Your Name. In Jesus name, we pray. Amen.