Day 248

How Can You Be Useful to God?

Wisdom Psalm 105:23-36
New Testament 2 Corinthians 7:2-16
Old Testament Isaiah 5:8-8:10


Pippa and I had just returned home from the hospital. Earlier that day, my mother had died of a heart attack while at her desk at work. She was sixty-nine.

I was in a state of shock and turmoil within. I wandered out of our home for a breath of fresh air and was thinking that the one person I really wanted to see was Sandy Millar – our pastor and friend.

At that moment, I looked up and recognised his car approaching. He had just heard our news and had driven straight round to see us. God used Sandy’s arrival that day to bring us great comfort and encouragement.

In today’s New Testament passage, we read that Titus’ arrival was used by God to bring Paul great comfort and encouragement when Paul was in a state of turmoil, exhaustion, oppression, affliction, dread and fear: ‘But God, who comforts and encourages and refreshes and cheers the depressed and the sinking, comforted and encouraged and refreshed and cheered us by the arrival of Titus’ (2 Corinthians 7:6, AMP).

Titus’ arrival brought even further encouragement because he carried news of how the Corinthians were being useful to God. As a result, Paul ‘rejoiced still more’ (v.7, AMP).

However bleak things may appear, God always seems to raise up people who are instruments ‘for noble purposes… useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work’ (2 Timothy 2:21). How can you and I be useful to God?


Psalm 105:23-36

23 Then Israel entered Egypt;
   Jacob resided as a foreigner in the land of Ham.
24 The Lord made his people very fruitful;
   he made them too numerous for their foes,
25 whose hearts he turned to hate his people,
   to conspire against his servants.
26 He sent Moses his servant,
   and Aaron, whom he had chosen.
27 They performed his signs among them,
   his wonders in the land of Ham.
28 He sent darkness and made the land dark—
   for had they not rebelled against his words?
29 He turned their waters into blood,
   causing their fish to die.
30 Their land teemed with frogs,
   which went up into the bedrooms of their rulers.
31 He spoke, and there came swarms of flies,
   and gnats throughout their country.
32 He turned their rain into hail,
   with lightning throughout their land;
33 he struck down their vines and fig trees
   and shattered the trees of their country.
34 He spoke, and the locusts came,
   grasshoppers without number;
35 they ate up every green thing in their land,
   ate up the produce of their soil.
36 Then he struck down all the firstborn in their land,
   the firstfruits of all their manhood.


Be prepared to take the lead

Do you sometimes feel you are in a spiritual wasteland in your workplace, your city, or even in your entire nation?

The psalmist recalls one of the bleakest periods for the people of God. God had blessed them. They had become ‘very fruitful’ (v.24). But their success caused them to be hated (v.25a). Their foes conspired against them (v.25b). ‘They abused and cheated God’s servants’ (v.25, MSG).

The people of God were oppressed and enslaved. They were in a ‘spiritual wasteland’ (v.27, MSG). But God ‘sent Moses his servant, and Aaron, whom he had chosen’ (v.26). God chose Moses and Aaron. They responded (admittedly very reluctantly in the case of Moses) to the call to lead. They performed miraculous signs and wonders and set God’s people free: ‘They worked marvels in that spiritual wasteland’ (v.27, MSG).


Lord, as I look at our nation and see the state of the church, I cry out to you to raise up people like Moses and Aaron to lead your people out of the spiritual wasteland.

New Testament

2 Corinthians 7:2-16

Paul’s Joy Over the Church’s Repentance

2 Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one. 3 I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. 4 I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.

5 For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn —conflicts on the outside, fears within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.

8 Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— 9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. 12 So even though I wrote to you, it was neither on account of the one who did the wrong nor on account of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. 13 By all this we are encouraged.

In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you. 14 I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well. 15 And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling. 16 I am glad I can have complete confidence in you.


Turn to God in times of trouble

Sometimes in life we hit a wall of pain and distress. It overwhelms us. It could be caused by bereavement, redundancy, sickness, disappointment, or other circumstances beyond our control. It could even, as in the case of the Corinthians, be caused by our own sin or mistakes.

What matters is how you respond. For some, times such as these drive them away from God. For others, like the Corinthians, it is the making of them. Their distress drove them to God. It transformed them into a people whom God was able to use powerfully.

Paul was someone whom God used greatly. But it was not a smooth ride; it was not a stress-free life. Paul did not go around bringing trouble on his own head. He writes, ‘We have never hurt a soul, never exploited or taken advantage of anyone’ (v.2, MSG). Nevertheless, he continues to speak of ‘all our troubles’ (v.4). He writes about ‘fights in the church’ and the ‘fears in our hearts’ (v.5, MSG).

Paul loved the Corinthians (vv.3–4a). Although Paul’s love for them was not always reciprocated, it brought him enormous joy when it was. When he heard from Titus about their longing for him, and their deep sorrow and ardent concern for him, he said ‘my joy was greater than ever’ (v.7).

Paul had the courage to confront them in a letter. Initially it caused them hurt (v.8) – as this kind of confrontation often does. At first, Paul regretted writing the letter but thankfully the Corinthians had the right response. They allowed it to draw them closer to God. We all mess up at times. Godly King David sinned greatly (2 Samuel 11 and 12). Even the great apostle Peter messed up. However, what matters is how you respond.

‘You let the distress bring you to God, not drive you from him… We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God… end up on a deathbed of regrets’ (2 Corinthians 7:9–10, MSG).

The wrong kind of sorrow, typified by Saul in the Old Testament and Judas Iscariot, did not lead to repentance but rather to death: ‘worldly sorrow brings death’ (v.10c). The Corinthians, like King David (see Psalm 51) and the apostle Peter, responded in the right way.

‘And now isn’t it wonderful all the ways in which this distress has goaded you closer to God? You’re more alive, more concerned, more sensitive, more reverent, more human, more passionate, more responsible’ (2 Corinthians 7:11, MSG).

Titus witnessed the transformation in their lives as a result of their response to distress. He was exuberant about it. He was himself revived and refreshed by everything the Corinthians did for him.

He could not stop talking to Paul about them: ‘Going over again and again the story of your prompt obedience, and the dignity and sensitivity of your hospitality. He was quite overwhelmed by it all! And I couldn’t be more pleased – I’m so confident and proud of you’ (vv.15–16, MSG).


Thank you, Lord, that when I turn to you in times of trouble you transform me and make me more alive, concerned, sensitive, reverent, human, passionate, responsible and more useful to you.

Old Testament

Isaiah 5:8-8:10

Woes and Judgments

8 Woe to you who add house to house
   and join field to field
till no space is left
   and you live alone in the land.

9 The Lord Almighty has declared in my hearing:

“Surely the great houses will become desolate,
   the fine mansions left without occupants.
10 A ten-acre vineyard will produce only a bath of wine;
   a homer of seed will yield only an ephah of grain.”

11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning
   to run after their drinks,
who stay up late at night
   till they are inflamed with wine.
12 They have harps and lyres at their banquets,
   pipes and timbrels and wine,
but they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord,
   no respect for the work of his hands.
13 Therefore my people will go into exile
   for lack of understanding;
those of high rank will die of hunger
   and the common people will be parched with thirst.
14 Therefore Death expands its jaws,
   opening wide its mouth;
into it will descend their nobles and masses
   with all their brawlers and revelers.
15 So people will be brought low
   and everyone humbled,
   the eyes of the arrogant humbled.
16 But the Lord Almighty will be exalted by his justice,
   and the holy God will be proved holy by his righteous acts.
17 Then sheep will graze as in their own pasture;
   lambs will feed among the ruins of the rich.

18 Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit,
   and wickedness as with cart ropes,
19 to those who say, “Let God hurry;
   let him hasten his work
   so we may see it.
The plan of the Holy One of Israel—
   let it approach, let it come into view,
so we may know it.”

20 Woe to those who call evil good
   and good evil,
who put darkness for light
   and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
   and sweet for bitter.

21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
   and clever in their own sight.

22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine
   and champions at mixing drinks,
23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe,
   but deny justice to the innocent.
24 Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw
   and as dry grass sinks down in the flames,
so their roots will decay
   and their flowers blow away like dust;
for they have rejected the law of the Lord Almighty
   and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel.
25 Therefore the Lord’s anger burns against his people;
   his hand is raised and he strikes them down.
The mountains shake,
   and the dead bodies are like refuse in the streets.

Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
   his hand is still upraised.

26 He lifts up a banner for the distant nations,
   he whistles for those at the ends of the earth.
Here they come,
   swiftly and speedily!
27 Not one of them grows tired or stumbles,
   not one slumbers or sleeps;
not a belt is loosened at the waist,
   not a sandal strap is broken.
28 Their arrows are sharp,
   all their bows are strung;
their horses’ hooves seem like flint,
   their chariot wheels like a whirlwind.
29 Their roar is like that of the lion,
   they roar like young lions;
they growl as they seize their prey
   and carry it off with no one to rescue.
30 In that day they will roar over it
   like the roaring of the sea.
And if one looks at the land,
   there is only darkness and distress;
   even the sun will be darkened by clouds.

Isaiah’s Commission

6 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
   the whole earth is full of his glory.”

4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. ”

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? ”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

9 He said, “Go and tell this people:

“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
  be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
10 Make the heart of this people calloused;
  make their ears dull
  and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
  hear with their ears,
  understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

11 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”

And he answered:

“Until the cities lie ruined
  and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
and the fields ruined and ravaged,
12 until the Lord has sent everyone far away
  and the land is utterly forsaken.
13 And though a tenth remains in the land,
  it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
  leave stumps when they are cut down,
  so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

The Sign of Immanuel

7 When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.

2 Now the house of David was told, “Aram has allied itself with Ephraim ”; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.

3 Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer’s Field. 4 Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood—because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. 5 Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying, 6 “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.” 7 Yet this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

  “‘It will not take place,
  it will not happen,
8 for the head of Aram is Damascus,
  and the head of Damascus is only Rezin.
Within sixty-five years
  Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.
9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
  and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son.
If you do not stand firm in your faith,
  you will not stand at all.’”

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights. ”

12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test. ”

13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. 17 The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria. ”

Assyria, the Lord’s Instrument

18 In that day the Lord will whistle for flies from the Nile delta in Egypt and for bees from the land of Assyria. 19 They will all come and settle in the steep ravines and in the crevices in the rocks, on all the thornbushes and at all the water holes. 20 In that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the Euphrates River —the king of Assyria —to shave your head and private parts, and to cut off your beard also. 21 In that day, a person will keep alive a young cow and two goats. 22 And because of the abundance of the milk they give, there will be curds to eat. All who remain in the land will eat curds and honey. 23 In that day, in every place where there were a thousand vines worth a thousand silver shekels, there will be only briers and thorns. 24 Hunters will go there with bow and arrow, for the land will be covered with briers and thorns. 25 As for all the hills once cultivated by the hoe, you will no longer go there for fear of the briers and thorns; they will become places where cattle are turned loose and where sheep run.

Isaiah and His Children as Signs

8 The Lord said to me, “Take a large scroll and write on it with an ordinary pen: Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.” 2 So I called in Uriah the priest and Zechariah son of Jeberekiah as reliable witnesses for me. 3 Then I made love to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the Lord said to me, “Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. 4 For before the boy knows how to say ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria. ”

5 The Lord spoke to me again:

6 “Because this people has rejected
  the gently flowing waters of Shiloah
and rejoices over Rezin
  and the son of Remaliah,
7 therefore the Lord is about to bring against them
  the mighty floodwaters of the Euphrates—
  the king of Assyria with all his pomp.
It will overflow all its channels,
  run over all its banks
8 and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it,
  passing through it and reaching up to the neck.
Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land,

9 Raise the war cry, you nations, and be shattered!
  Listen, all you distant lands.
Prepare for battle, and be shattered!
  Prepare for battle, and be shattered!
10 Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted;
  propose your plan, but it will not stand,
  for God is with us.


Respond to God’s call and say, ‘I’ll go’

As we look around the world today we see many nations in desperate times. The description in this passage is of a nation rife with injustice.

The leaders ‘grab all the land… evicting the old owners… taking over the country, leaving everyone homeless and landless… Those extravagant estates will be deserted. A ten-acre vineyard will produce a pint of wine’ (5:8–10, MSG).

Meanwhile, the leaders make sure ‘their banquets are well furnished’ with music and ‘plenty of wine’ while the common people ‘die of thirst’. Their leaders call evil good and good evil (vv.8–22, MSG).

But what authority does Isaiah have to speak to the society in this way? During a dark period in Israel’s history, God called him. He describes the vision he had around 740 BC, in the year that King Uzziah died (6:1):

  1. He encountered God

    Isaiah describes an overwhelming sense of the presence of God – his majesty, holiness, glory and power (vv.1–4). The key words are ‘I saw the Lord’ (v.1). The key to his call was not just a nice experience; it was a life-changing encounter.

  2. He was cleansed

    Isaiah saw the holiness of God and said, ‘Woe to me... I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty’ (v.5). The closer you are to the light the more it reveals your sin.

    But then God takes the initiative and provides a means of cleansing: ‘Look. This coal has touched your lips. Gone your guilt, your sins wiped out’ (v.7, MSG).

    It is through the cross of Christ that your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. You do not need to go around loaded by guilt, but rather you can be filled with a sense of God’s love for you.

  3. He said to God, ‘I’ll go’

    Isaiah responded to God’s call. God asked him the question – I have done all this for you, now will you go for me? Your whole life is before you, what are you going to do with it? He said, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ (v.8a).

    Isaiah responded, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ (v.8b). He saw there was a desperate need. He made no excuses. He did not delay. He said to God, ‘I’ll go’ (v.8, MSG). God used him greatly.

    This was nothing compared to the one whom Isaiah prophesied about. He says, ‘The Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel’ (7:14). This had a historical fulfilment in the birth of Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (8:1). However, the ultimate fulfilment of this prophecy was in Jesus Christ, who is Immanuel, God with us (vv.8,10 – see Matthew 1:23).


Lord, thank you that you say to me ‘your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for’ (Isaiah 6:7). I want to respond today by saying to you: ‘Here am I, send me!’

Pippa adds

In 2 Corinthians 7:2 it says,

‘Make room for us in your hearts.’

One of the things we learnt going through a pandemic is how much we longed to be together face-to-face with our family, friends and church community. Life is still very uncertain, but prioritising people at this time is of most importance.



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Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

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