This was not turning out like I had dreamed.

I had been called by God—called to go. I had been obedient, hadn’t I? We had sold some things, given away others, and said tearful goodbyes to loved ones. We had packed what was left into a few bags and set our faces resolutely toward Asia.

I had given up all I knew so that I could go to be a witness—and not just next door. A thirteen-hour time difference away, no less! Surely that counted for something, right?

Yet here I was, doing laundry, wiping preschool noses, and messing up mounds of dishes as I labored to cook from scratch. I rarely even had the opportunity to get out of the house. This was not what I had signed up for.

My gifts were being wasted, and I felt useless.

Ever felt that way yourself?

Over the twenty years that our family lived in East Asia, I learned a few principles about unfulfillment. Here are some of the basics:

1. Whatever the calling, seasons of futility will come.

Just as winter is necessary for the growth of a great oak, spiritual winters are used mightily in the lives of God’s servants. Roots deepen when fruit and foliage are not sapping the system.

Have you been praying for depth? You may not realize it, but you have been asking for a spiritual winter.

Have you been asking to know Him more? That includes not only resurrection but also sufferings (Philippians 3:10)—sufferings that sometimes come in the form of being overlooked, neglected, or even misunderstood.

Every spiritual plant has seed and every spiritual tree bears fruit (Genesis 1:29). The Lord never wastes any of His energy. Everything that He does is effectual and efficient, especially as it pertains to His dealings with you. The pointlessness you feel is a precursor to fruit-bearing, if only you will let Him accomplish His purposes in you.

After all, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24).

2. The feeling of futility is often a direct result of His pruning shears.

When I pinch off a new tendril of our Star Jasmine plant, I do so to encourage it to fill in. If left alone, it tends to expend all of its energies into a couple of really long shoots. Snipping the new growth forces its existing branches to strengthen for the coming winter. Nevertheless, each time I prune, the site of my snip oozes just a little.

There is a sense in which our Master Gardner also wounds when He prunes. What we sense to be effective sprouting may actually be a waste of energy in His divine economy (John 15:3). The more quickly we accept the disappearance of budding pride, the sooner He can bring new and strengthened life elsewhere in our lives.

3. Disillusionment is necessary to alert us to impure motives.

The mundane and unfulfilling help pinpoint anything in us that is bent on personal recognition, rather than on glorifying Him. His pruning shears go right to the source, separating the spiritual from that which is merely selfish and soulish (Hebrews 4:12).

In my early commitment to God, I would have sworn to you that all my intentions were for Him alone. Unfortunately, the tedious and the tiresome uncovered otherwise.

He alone knows what is still quite alive with independence within you. He alone has the gentleness and wisdom to prune it back.

When you commit “everything” to Him, your most difficult tests may come in the monotonous rather than the magnanimous.

Your faith must be in Who He is, not in what you feel. Every disappointment you have with Him is because He did not give you what you wanted, not because He did not do as He promised. Oh, if we could only distinguish between the two!


@2013 Thrive.


Question to consider:  What would you add to this listing? What useful lessons have you learned through uselessness?