We tend to believe we are most effective when we are busy, and to an extent that is true. Tasks have to be performed, and goals have to be accomplished.
But perpetual activity can also fragment our lives, rapidly shifting us from one thing to another, making it difficult to center on any one thing or person. God certainly has a difficult time being heard when "all these other things" command our attention. The still small voice requires our being "useless" for a period of time, and the discipline of uselessness is a considerable challenge to anyone who measures his personal value against a daily checklist.
Feelings of uselessness are particularly acute when we fail or get sick. Strength equals performance, and failure accomplishes, well, nothing. Our time spent lying ill in bed only convinces us that we are unproductive and, hence, useless.
In sharing Christ's gospel, Paul traveled the world. On the go, day after day, he spread the message across borders and seas. For such an energetic man, repeated imprisonments must have been excruciating. But many of his letters were written from prison. And but for that time of forced inactivity, we might well have none of his great letters. God made creative use of Paul's uselessness.
In the church in Corinth, many people criticized Paul for losing his touch, lacking charisma, changing his plans due to his "thorn in the flesh." Yes, he had shortcomings, Paul admitted; but God's "power works best in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9). Paul even "boasted" of his weaknesses, declaring that the power of Christ would come and rest upon him (2 Cor. 12:9).
Our "thorns in the flesh" remind us that we cannot do everything ourselves, that Christ must help us accomplish anything. In his magnificent way, Christ works through our wounds, failures … and particularly through our uselessness. Our biggest tasks are to busy ourselves with faithfulness and to trust that God is working in us and through us, not just when we see ourselves as effective, but when our ineffectiveness, our weakness, our uselessness exposes his strength.
The Reverend Michael D. Chalk is rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in San Antonio. He serves on TheHighCalling.org Advisory Council. This article is adapted from his article originally titled "The Discipline of Uselessness." Used with permission from TheHighCalling.org. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures quoted are taken from the New Living Translation.