Can God Really Use Me?

How to stop your past from derailing your future

(Okay, sing with me) Glory days… oh they pass you by, glory days…

Tightly cuffed jeans… hairspray… Members-Only jackets… Converse All-Stars… What memories flood your mind when you think of high school?  Maybe an awkward high school yearbook photo that may, or may not, show off your meticulously groomed mullet? (Clears throat).

Maybe you grew up in the 50’s and 60’s and rocked a beehive (how glorious) or a ducktail you combed with 10W-40…

What about your family? Maybe images of trips in a station wagon to the Grand Canyon… or that Thanksgiving where grandpa nearly burned the house down while deep-frying a turkey…

These are the pictures that fill your photo albums.  These are the images on display when your friends come to visit. They are always good for a laugh.  These are the fun and nostalgic pictures that leave you shaking your head at how different life used to be.

But there are other pictures, too.

These are the pictures you don’t share.  Pictures of hurt and shame.  Pictures of the mistakes and regrets you still carry years later.  When you talk about your past, the pictures you share are carefully curated.  You may even hide those hurtful pictures from yourself because they are too hard to look at.

Or maybe you think these mistakes are so awful that God has already disqualified you to lead, serve, or make a difference.  Or maybe you think other people will disqualify you if they find out about those pictures.

If you have ever felt this way (or are feeling it now) ask yourself this: Do you think this is what God wants for you? Do you think God wants you to be a slave of your past so it continually prevents you from moving forward?

Let’s take a look at one of the clearest examples from the Bible that demonstrates how God deals with our past: The story of Paul (the man formerly known as Saul).

Saul the Pharisee

We are first introduced to Saul in Acts 7:58, when Stephen (an apostle) is dragged out of the city of Jerusalem to be stoned to death for declaring that Jesus is God.  The crowd “laid there coats at the feet” of Saul – indicating he was a man of importance.  Then when Stephen is killed, Acts 8:1 simply says, “And Saul approved of their killing him.”

Saul was a rising star as a persecutor of Jesus-followers.  He was an expert in the Law.  Think of him as a hot-shot lawyer who believed all these Jesus-followers were distorting God’s commands.  He was ruthless, smart, and persistent.

Paul, reflecting on his past in Galatians 1:13-14 puts it this way: “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.  I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”

Saul meets Jesus

Saul, on his way to arrest Christians in Damascus, is literally knocked off his horse and blinded by light.  He then hears Jesus say, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”  (You can read the whole story in Acts 9).

Saul has a change of heart (and name).

At some point Saul starts going by Paul, probably (at least in part) to disassociate himself from his former identity.  He also starts using his super-lawyer skills for Jesus.  “Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.  At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God… {he} grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 9:19ff)

Paul is confronted with his bad pictures

“When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was really a disciple” (Acts 9:26).  Yes, just when Paul is starting to lead this new life (and experience great ministry success) he is confronted with the mistakes and regrets of his past.

What if Paul let his past stop him from moving forward?  Well, we wouldn’t have two-thirds of the New Testament, for starters.  He was the instrument God used to bring the Gospel to the non-Jewish world, so there’s a good chance we wouldn’t be talking about this right now.

Can God use even me?

Listen, no offense, but I don’t think your mistakes are worse than Paul’s.  He persecuted and killed followers of Jesus.  Can God use you?  Absolutely.  In fact, it’s often the bad pictures God wants to use in order to help and encourage others.

When you’re tempted to shrink back because of your past, just remember:

#1 Your past has shaped you, but it doesn’t have to define you.

#2 God wants to use who you are – just the version of you that is for Him.

 #3 Like Paul, God wants to get a new picture in your head.

Yes, you have a past.  And so does everyone else.  But God wants you to see what He sees.  Redeemed, glorious, gifted – you.  This is the picture that he wants in your photo album.  This is the image on display for the world to see.  This is the image that will leave you shaking your head at how different life used to be.

Want to hear more?  Check out my sermon on this topic here.

 

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