Are we willing to celebrate when God chooses to use others rather than us?
Finding God’s Life for My Will
By Mike Donehey
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
—Harry S. Truman
I’ll never forget the day I stopped asking God to use me. I did. I quit cold turkey. It was about eight years ago, and I was in Wisconsin for Lifest, one of the first summer festivals our band, Tenth Avenue North, ever played. We were backstage, huddled in our van trying to escape the early afternoon sun, praying before our set. I was cheating and my eyes were open a little as I watched the other more notable artists going back and forth from their buses to the catering tent.
I found it hard to concentrate as I wondered what it would be like to be at their level. What would it be like to have a ministry like theirs? Imagine influence like that! I tried to pray harder. I shut my eyes and doubled down, “Use us, God! Oh Father, use our set immensely for your glory!” Of course, God saw right through my noble pleas. I could almost feel a physical tap on my shoulder as I heard the Spirit whisper, But what if I want to use the other bands? Ouch. That hurt. I knew exactly where this was going. God was showing me the prayer behind my prayer.
Has that ever happened to you? Even though I was ostensibly asking him to use my band, what I was really asking was for him to use me more than the other bands. It wasn’t a prayer of offering myself to his service. It was a prayer of asking that my service ascribe worth to me. I might have been saying, “Use us for your glory!” But what I really meant was “Use us for our glory.” It was a subtle but subversive distinction.
When I first started playing music with my band, I believe most of my motives were pure. For years, we prayed the same prayer before every show: “God, please use our band. What could be better than doing what we love in a way that’s useful to You?” We wanted to be a light to the world and help set the captives free. Over time, though, my heart subconsciously shifted. Even though I was still praying the same words, “God, use our band,” in my heart I was really praying, “God, use our band more than the other bands.” As crazy as it sounds, it was no longer enough to be used by God. I needed to be used more than everyone else. I’ve often found that to be true in many areas of my life. It’s usually my good works that keep me from clinging to Christ, not my bad ones.
That hot July day, God quietly challenged my prayers, helping me see how comparison had dug its ugly claws into me. He simply suggested, What if I want to use the other bands? But this question was enough to cause me to change course. God gave me an entirely new prayer to pray, and I’ve never prayed the same way since. Now, instead of asking to be used, I simply ask God to move. I no longer pray, “God use me.” I pray, “God use anyone.” Whether he uses me, my band, a volunteer or another artist, it doesn’t change my potential for joy.
With this prayer, I’m celebrating how God is moving, whether I’m in the picture or not. I find that the more I celebrate others, the more joyful I become. Let me say it this way: Celebration keeps me from comparison and jealousy. When I focus my energies on lauding others and not on outdoing them, 10 times out of 10 I get more joy, not less.
Oftentimes, though, we do the opposite. Instead of passing out high fives of congratulations, we talk smack about those doing better than us. We think we need to hold back our compliments to protect our little slice of glory, as if there’s not enough to go around. All the while, we could be getting an extra helping. These are the supernatural mathematics of celebration. The more we celebrate others, the more joy there is. We’re not fighting over the same piece of pie. God is even offering us an extra share of joy if we would willingly offer up our share of the applause. The victories of others become ours. Your victories become mine. How beautiful it is that our sorrow lessens when divided among friends and our joy multiplies?
I had this conversation with my friend Gareth the other day. Gareth is one of the founding members of an Irish worship band called Rend Collective. We both agreed we had been stifling our own joy, trying to be used more than everyone else. After our talk, he turned around and wrote a song called “Counting Every Blessing.” It might be my favorite of the songs he’s written too. The more we count our blessings, it would seem, the more there are to share.
Excerpted from Finding God’s Life for My Will by Mike Donehey Copyright © 2019 by Michael Donehey. Published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, on August 6, 2019.