How to Be Useful

James Smith, 1859


"It is my desire," said a young Christian, "to be useful. I want to do something for Him who has done so much for me. But I need a little advice. Can you tell me in a few words, how to act so as to succeed in my efforts?"

The desire is good, and the effort should be made. The advice, such as it is, is forthcoming.

First, look well to your motives for very much depends on this. A selfish motive will never command God's blessing. Many a young man has felt a desire to be useful, and has gone to work but has failed; just because he was prompted by spiritual pride, or by some other carnal principle or motive. If you would succeed in your efforts to do good see to it that you are influenced . . .
by the love of Christ,
by sympathy with perishing sinners,
and by zeal for the glory of God.

Then, look out for work that you can do, not be aspiring to what is beyond your abilities, or for which you are not at present qualified. You may be able to give a religious tract, and speak a few loving words to recommend the Savior; if so, do it. Or you may be able to instruct a class of poor children, endeavoring to snatch them from ruin, and to win them for Jesus; if so, do it. By and by, you may be able to speak to a few friends, in order to provoke unto love and good works; and then to go out into some neglected village, hamlet, or back street of the town, and collect together a few who never hear the gospel, and tell them in simple, heartfelt, strains of a Redeemer's love. In this way, you will find your talents increase, and your courage and confidence gain strength.

But do not attempt to begin where you should leave off. If you aim at a pulpit, it may be only to display your abilities and then you will manifest your folly. But, if you are willing to do anything for Jesus, and begin by doing little things first you will secure God's blessing, and no doubt succeed.

Having selected the work which appears to be most adapted to your station in life, and abilities then exercise faith in God. Believe his promises, realize his presence, and place implicit confidence in him. If you believe that God will bless the most simple efforts put forth for his glory; if you realize that God is with you, as he has promised to be; and if you speak or act, having confidence in God then you will conquer fear, overcome difficulties, and act as a servant of God.

Be much in prayer. Nothing will do so much to qualify you for your work, or to bring you into a proper state of mind for your work as earnest, fervent, secret prayer! I suppose there is not a successful servant of God living but who, in looking back, is ready to exclaim with a sigh, "Oh, that I had prayed more!" Prayer will bring down the blessing of God upon you. Much prayer will constrain the Lord Jesus to be specially present with you.

Labor in the work. Make a business of it. Don't take it by way of amusement, or relaxation, or to take up a vacant hour. But set your heart upon it as important, as necessary to be done, and to be done by you.

If we labor at all, we should labor for God. If we throw our heart into anything, we should throw it into God's work. If we agonize at all, after we have entered in at the strait gate we should agonize to save souls from death.

Follow up every effort, with a direct appeal to God for his blessing. Before commencing we should pray; while engaged in the work our hearts should be ascending to God; and when we have done anything, we should at once lay it before the Lord, and earnestly crave his blessing upon it. Paul must plant, and Apollos must water but the increase must come from God! To use the means is ours to bless the means is God's.

Then we should praise the Lord. Praise him for any talent which he has given us, for the disposition to make use of our talent, for any opportunity to do a little for him, and for any and every intimation that he is crowning our efforts with his blessing.

What is commenced in humility, from a pure motive, and is carried on in faith and prayer is sure to be followed with God's blessing. But if our efforts originate in self, and are carried on for our own credit, honor, and glory they must eventually fail. As therefore we wish to succeed, and as spiritual pride is so subtle and deceiving it befits us to examine ourselves thoroughly and frequently, and to place not only our work but ourselves before the Lord, that he may search, try, and sanctify us, so that we may offer unto him a sacrifice in righteousness.