There's nothing worse than feeling "used." There's no worse experience than feeling like you're wanted for what you can give and not for who you are. Have you ever had that experience? It's not pleasant, is it? Makes you want to avoid that person altogether. Perhaps that's why James says that pure and undefiled religion-that is pure and unmixed love for God-consists in caring for widows and orphans in their distress (James 1:27). Not because they're necessarily more important than anyone else, but simply because they cannot repay. Thus, the only reason you would do it is out of love-pure love for God and for them.
Some time ago I was talking with a Christian friend. He's a good man and cares about people. But he had a problem and wasn't sure what to do about it. Near the place where he works there's this older man, a "street person," who constantly "comes around" looking for handouts. The only time this gentleman shows up is when he needs something and he's constantly hunting my friend down to get what he wants. This fellow is an alcoholic, and as of yet, after repeated offers to help him, has done nothing about it. In short, he wants money to further his habit. When he's told "no," he immediately launches into a staccato-like explosion of verbal gunfire-castigating my friend for his so-called "lip service" to Christianity. So my friend and I had a good chat about the situation and what the Lord would have us do to help this fellow. Be that as it may, however, the point I want to make in all this is that my friend has felt very used by this person, repeatedly! It's not much fun.
But we've all had that experience, haven't we? You recall the person who constantly, yet ever so politely, asks you to look after their kids for a "moment" while they "run" to the grocery store, but apart from that, you never hear from them. Then there's the person who's always in crisis. You know the one I'm talking about? Not the person who has genuine needs, or is going through a needy time in their lives, but the person whose life is always on the verge of a complete meltdown, you know, Chernobyl revisited, daily. They suffer under the delusion of "everything is an "Alamo," and you're the "Custard" conscripted to rescue them at the eleventh hour-whether or not it fits with your timetable. Actually, as far as they're concerned, that's a mute point. But, when it comes time for them to help you, it'd be easier to find a four leaf clover, a needle in a haystack, and an honest politician-all in the same day.
Now it is true that many of us have good relationships with friends-friends who love to receive from us, but also love to give back to us-in varied ways-without coercion and apart from compulsion. They just love us and we love and value them. Praise God for good friends in this life (cf. 2 Timothy 4:9-18). Nonetheless, we all know what it feels like to be used by another person; it's that moment when we realize we're only a means to someone else's ends, the fuel, to get them where they need to go. It hurts, pure and simple.
But I wonder if we ever do that to others? I wonder if there are times in which we use people for what we can get out of them, with no real thought of friendship. Now, of course, we cannot be friends with every person we meet, nor with the myriads of people, to whom we must direct certain requests. Similarly, we cannot befriend every person we encounter in the course of conducting business on a daily basis, but I think you know what I mean. There are some people-either in the past or in the present, if we stopped and thought about it for a moment-we'd have to agree, under pang of conscience, that we've used them more than loved them. We've "handled" them more like a commodity and less like a living, breathing, human being created in the image of God. That's sad. But for most-if not all-of us, it's probably true at one time or another. But I wonder...
I wonder if we do that to the one Person who loves us so freely and deeply and yet daily is faced with the pain stemming from our unrequited love. We come to Him for the "payoff," not his presence; we anxiously seek the gifts, giving little attention to the Giver; our good and not his glory. I wonder if it's possible that we "handle" our Lord and Savior in the same kinds of ways that many others often "handle" us. We're not the first to do it you know.
John, that apostle who wrote most about love for God and neighbor, tells us in his Gospel that there were many people who followed Jesus around, "handling" him as if he were nothing more than a food bank. They treated him much the same as that alcoholic man "handled" my friend. But, and we should know this, Jesus is not fooled by our feigned respect and contrived friendship, not then and not now. Indeed, for the sake of the people, he confronts it head on, both then and today. Read carefully what John says:
6:25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you get here?" 6:26 Jesus replied, "I tell you the solemn truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate all the loaves of bread you wanted. 6:27 Do not work for the food that disappears, but for the food that remains to eternal life-the food that the Son of Man will give to you. For God the Father has put his seal of approval on him."
The people Jesus addressed, i.e., those who crossed a lake to find him, were not altogether unlike many of us. Do we often follow Jesus for what we can get out of it, and not because we're deeply in love with him and genuinely trust him as our good Shepherd? Do we look forward to the thought of a full stomach more than knowing and fellowshipping with Life himself? We often seek His hands when we need something, i.e., finances, promotion, help with an errant child, etc. And it is certainly not wrong to ask him for help in these situations. Indeed, he invites us to come to him with these needs, problems, and hurts (Phil 4:6-7)! But, is this a pattern in our lives, where we pursue him primarily to get something we feel we need and then react bitterly when he doesn't give it to us? Or, do we forget about him after he does grant our request (cf. Luke 17:11-19)? Are we chasing after him only for the bread?
Ask God to show you if this is the case. If not, praise him for his grace and ask that he continue to remove any wrinkle, spot, or stain in your love for him. But if you find that it is your habit to seek him primarily for what he can do for you, then ask him to show you more clearly how this is true. Lay your life open before him, in his presence and under his watchful, searching eye, and ask that he liberate your heart from its double-mindedness and draw you into a more pure love for him. Again, as 6:27 says, let's not make the mistake of thinking that just because we have the Lord's hands, we've laid hold of his heart as well. Let's work for the food that remains to eternal life. By this the apostle means that we should receive the gift of the spiritual food that Christ has for us. We do this by entering into his presence by faith and worshipping him alone there. This is real food that lasts and is rightly named "eternal life," for it is taken up with personally knowing and enjoying God himself (cf. John 17:3).
There's no doubt about it: being used by another person really hurts. But I wonder whether we do the same thing to God, if not all the time, perhaps often enough. Today, wherever you stand in regard to this question, resolve before God to grow up in your relationship with Him. Seek the "Blesser," not just the blessings, God Himself and not just His benefits. Remember, Jesus has opened up a new and living way for you to continually enter into your heavenly Father's beautiful presence (Hebrews 10:19-20; Eph 2:18). Daily we are invited to humbly approach him with our sacrifices of praise and our supplications for help. Each and every moment heaven extends an invitation to join the worship at the throne of grace. There's plenty of mercy there and great grace (Hebrews 4:14-16). Ask anyone who's been their recently. They'll tell you the truth. Through his mercy we have been set free to come and truly worship our great God, Savior, and King. These are the kind of people, according to Jesus and his discussion with the woman at the well, that the God who lacks nothing is actually seeking (John 4:23).