Book review: Valuable, by Liz Carter

Book review: Valuable, by Liz Carter

“What do you do?”

It’s a question we so commonly ask when meeting someone new. It’s a quick and easy way to find out something about them and, hopefully, to open up the conversation to more topics.

Yet for some people, it can be an incredibly painful, ostracising question. What if they don’t do anything? What if they can’t?

Since childhood, Liz Carter has suffered from a chronic lung condition that often leaves her hospitalised or housebound for weeks at a time. Her difficulty breathing means that often, just getting to church is a challenge, let alone volunteering for serving teams.

She has often felt the label ‘useless’ hanging over her head. She would love to be useful to God, but how can she when her body is flooded with pain?

She has come to learn – or perhaps is in the process of learning – that she may be looking at this the wrong way around. What if God doesn’t measure our worth in what we do for him? What if our value rests in something other than our usefulness?

I completely agree with her thesis, and think it is something the church really needs to grasp and live out. It is one of our great distinctives in a culture that is obsessed with productivity and progress. But it is incredibly hard to grasp and to explain, and I think some of the stories Liz tells to try to illustrate her point don’t help.

She shares the experiences of some friends who have found great freedom in recognising God’s unconditional love for them when they were fearing they could never earn his favour. Unfortunately for Liz’s point, this freedom has usually led to them finding they are able to contribute to the body of Christ in some way. This is fantastic for them, but I wonder how it would hit those who simply can’t see how they or their loved ones could ever find any role. What about those with dementia, whose trajectory is only deterioration? Or others who are shut in at home and who struggle to use Zoom and other online platforms to connect with people? Or what about those who are fully able-bodied, but who feel that they let God down so often he must be getting to his wits’ end with them?

The good news for all of us is that God doesn’t require us to do anything. In fact, in his eyes we are all utterly weak and helpless. Although most of us take breathing for granted, we couldn’t even do that without him. All our abilities and our strengths and our competencies are given by him, so he’s not impressed by anything we do, because it was all in his power anyway.

He is pleased and delighted by our faithfulness, and full of compassion in our weaknesses, because he knows exactly what our limitations are. It’s no surprise to him when our bodies, minds or emotions don’t work perfectly, so how can he be disappointed in us for it?

Humans place a much higher value on achievement and contribution than God seems to. It’s wonderful when we discover – as so many of Liz Carter’s friends have – that he delights in the tiniest thing we give back to him, but we must be wary of the danger of slipping into thinking that he loves us any more when we are serving him. That just doesn’t seem to be the case.

We are all familiar with the story of Mary and Martha, but how easily we forget, or fail to grasp, that Jesus said Mary had chosen the better thing. It was better to sit in silence than to serve. That’s because what he really wants is our hearts, our worship, our devotion.

Towards the end of the book, Liz points out that the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches us that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever”. John Piper teaches that the best way to glorify God is to enjoy him, so the phrase could be expressed as, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.” So that’s all we have to do. That’s what Mary did that Jesus loved so much, she just sat and adored him, soaking up his every word, wanting to be close to him. Martha’s service was good, but it was not as good as simply being in his presence.

The book of Isaiah contains some of the most wonderful, incredible, powerful, encouraging words of God to his broken down, weak, disasters of a people.

There are so many I could pick, but let’s stick with one of the best: in Isaiah 62 we see that his goal is our righteousness and salvation and glory (vv1-2), and then,

“You shall be called by a new name
    that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
    and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
    and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
    and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
    and your land shall be married.
For … as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
    so shall your God rejoice over you.” (vv2-5)

When Christ’s rule and reign is fully established on this earth, never again will anyone call you Forsaken, Useless, Worthless, or Helpless. You will never again feel a burden to anyone, because all will know that God declares over you his great love for you and his great delight in you. (Of course, all our bodies will be whole and perfect then, too, but God will not love you more because of it – it’s just that others will be able to see how much he has always loved you.)

I felt as though this message could have come across more strongly in Liz’s book, as I think there is more she could have said and further she could have gone.

God is not a user

One really helpful point she made, though, which I’d never thought of and think is very important, is around the language of ‘use’. Too many people have experienced being ‘used’ in a manipulative or abusive sense: used by a string of boyfriends, perhaps, or used by a boss to do his dirty work. For those people, hearing language like “God wants to use you” can hold those kinds of connotations – God could sound like just another selfish, abusive tyrant, wanting to use us up and cast us aside. Liz spends a chapter looking at how often the word ‘use’ appears in the Bible related to humans (not many) and exploring its meaning. Suffice it to say, God never says he wants to use us – though you should read the book to see how she deals with the nuances of calling us vessels for his purposes – I haven’t got space to cover that here.

It’s a thought-provoking book – as you can see, it got my mind whirring on a few things – on a topic which probably hasn’t had enough attention in the past. I hoped to be able to pass it on to some friends who struggle with their sense of worth, but I think it is probably more useful for those of us who don’t (so much), to help us notice the harmful and unbiblical language we so often use, and begin to think differently about how we treat those in our congregations who aren’t able to be on serving teams. They are deeply, inherently, beautifully valuable to God, just as they are, and we must see them in the same way, too.


Valuable, by Liz Carter, is available from The Good Book Company

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