How Does God Use Deeply Flawed Servants?

One of my favorite books in the Bible is Habakkuk. In it, the prophet (Habakkuk) is trying to figure out when is God going to take care of all the evil that is happening in the Kingdom of Judah. God responds to the effect that, ‘Don’t worry. I am sending in the Babylonians and they are going to destroy everything.’

Habakkuk is, not surprisingly, not happy about this. He was a Jew as were the people of Judah. He wanted repentance and revival. He did not want them to be destroyed. And… he certainly did not think it was fair and righteous that God would use a people who were (seemingly) worse than the Jews..

God’s response is a bit… poetic… roundabout. However, the argument seems to be something like, “Don’t worry. I will use whoever or whatever I want as my tool of discipline. The Babylonians may be useful in the moment, but I will replace and judge them when the time is right.

But is this a general principle? What about people who are God’s servants by intention rather than merely by sovereign circumstances. What if a minister— pastor, missionary, and such— was deeply flawed. Will God use them? I have heard ministers, such as televangelists, who seemed to be horrible horrible people supported by the argument that their success and at least some of the fruit of their labor proves God’s favor.

An example that comes to mind is someone I will call Bernard. That is most definitely NOT his name. Also, he died decades ago so I am definitely not talking about you, the reader.

Bernard was a minister and a missionary. I won’t give too many details on his ministry. His primary role is in training no Christian servants. Bernard and his family were sent as missionaries by their denomination to Asia. His wife worked with local women, while Bernard established a training program for Christian ministers. He did this for 4 years. After that, however, he and his family had to leave. Bernard had been acting out sexually causing deep problems where he was serving.

Going back to the United States he found a position that would not be described as missionary work, but still essentially doing the same thing. He served there for awhile, but the same problems sprang up and he and his family had to move again. Bernard did continue to do ministry work, but in (relative) obscurity for a few more years.

This sounds like failure to me… but it is a bit more complicated than that. Bernard became known as the founder of the training program in the mission field because his first trainee (I will call him “Ben”) took the mantle of the ministry and ran with it successfully for decades. Now, this program is successfully being implemented where Bernard served in the field, as well as many other sites in Asia. Ben is commonly seen as the “Father” of this ministry, even though Bernard is still seen as the initiator.

In the United States, the place he worked was with a young colleague/trainee who went on to be a major leader and innovator in this minister training movement.

I chose to be very vague here. I have a friend who likes to tell stories where he changes the name but keeps enough details that those who are in the know… well, they know. I don’t like to do that. I am focus on principle here, not personality.

In principle, God used Bernard to jumpstart the work in Asia, and continue the work in America. You might say that God used him to plant the seeds. Others, however, cultivated and harvested the fruit.

I think God uses who God uses. God uses the best and the brightest. God uses the humblest and the most servant-minded. But sometimes God uses the most flawed. God used Balaam in the Old Testament and God used Judas Iscariot in the New. The former appeared to have a divine prophetic gift, the latter was a miracle worker. God used them when he needed them, and then set them aside for others who were motivated by love for God rather than adulation, money and other things.

I still think this topic needs more consideration… but I think this is a good start in my reflection. For now.

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