60. How to Be Useful

Cause and effect.

These three simple, innocent words sometimes represent an incredible chain of events—not just a chain, but an entire web of events. A single action may have unbelievable consequences.

There’s a story I’d like to share. It involves two of my favorite authors, J.R.R Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. They’re both famous, but for very different reasons.

Tolkien is renowned as a literary critic and author of fantasy fiction. While he’s most famous for writing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, he’s also held in high regard for his contributions to the study of Anglo-Saxon literature and innovative approaches to literary criticism.

Lewis is also a famous author of fantasy fiction, but he is mostly remembered for his books about Christianity. The author of The Chronicles of Narnia dabbled in apologetics, theology, biblical studies and philosophy. From Mere Christianity to The Screwtape Letters, his books have had an incalculable impact on modern Christianity. In the decades since his death, Lewis has become something of a Christian celebrity.

J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis are both famous, but only one is remembered as a great Christian. Many people don’t even know that Tolkien was a Christian. Ask anyone which man served God more effectively and the answer will be C.S. Lewis ninety-nine times out of every hundred.

Lewis’s books have led many people to Christ, and given many Christians a clearer understanding of what Christianity is all about. Many of the people whom C.S. Lewis helped through his writing have gone on to help others. For example, Chuck Colson, who committed his life to Christ after reading Mere Christianity, went on to found a ministry called Prison Fellowship, which has served hundreds of prisoners, ex-prisoners and families worldwide.

We see those three words, cause and effect, working through the life of one man to impact many thousands of lives.

Even though C.S. Lewis is a much more famous Christian than J.R.R. Tolkien, I believe Tolkien was every bit as useful to God as Lewis. This belief may seem a bit odd. The Lord of the Rings is an amazing literary work—a literary work, moreover, especially beloved by Christians—but it isn’t exactly famous for pointing people toward Christ. Really, how many conversion stories begin with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey?

Through the process of cause and effect, C.S. Lewis and his books have impacted thousands of people. However, there’s something about his life that most people don’t know.

That process of cause and effect didn’t begin with C.S. Lewis.

It began long before Lewis, and it involved an Oxford professor named J.R.R. Tolkien.

After many years as an atheist, Lewis reluctantly accepted a vague belief in God and became a theist in 1929. A couple of years later, he happened to go for a walk in an Oxford park with two fellow professors, Hugo Dyson and John Tolkien. As they walked, they discussed myths and mythmaking.

Lewis was surprised by Tolkien’s belief that myths can originate in God and reflect eternal truth. Christianity is beautiful, maintained Tolkien, because it’s a myth. This doesn’t mean Christianity is untrue like other myths. Tolkien believed Christianity is beautiful because it’s the only myth that perfectly reflects the truth.

Perhaps, suggested Tolkien, someone could serve God by writing myths.

C.S. Lewis converted from theism to Christianity a few days later. “I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ,” he wrote in a letter to a friend. He added, “My long night walk with Dyson and Tolkien had a great deal to do with it.”

Would Lewis have become a Christian without Tolkien? Only God knows. However, there is one thing of which we can be sure: Tolkien helped lead Lewis to Christ. After Lewis became a Christian, he went on to write the books that would instruct, encourage, comfort, correct and strengthen thousands of people around the world.

What those people owe to Lewis, they owe in part to Tolkien.

Why does this matter?

Why have I shared this story about cause and effect?

I’ve shared this story because I’ve heard people suggest that Christians must enter official, fulltime ministries to serve God effectively.


God can use anybody anywhere.

He can use a math teacher or a computer programmer as readily as a pastor or missionary.

All that he asks is that we follow him wherever he leads us.

Let’s say a person has the desire and ability to become a carpenter. Is it too farfetched to believe that God wants that person to be a carpenter? For that person to become something else, say a pastor or missionary, would be like trying to screw in a bolt with a hammer or hammer in a nail with a screwdriver. Let someone with a passion for ministry become a pastor or missionary. Let the one who loves carpentry become a carpenter.

The Apostle Paul wrote: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”

I would add, “If a man’s gift is painting, let him paint; if it is building, let him build; if it is police work, let him become a police officer; if it is playing soccer, let him become a soccer player,” and so on.

Lewis had a passion for Christianity, and God used him.

Tolkien had a passion for mythology, and God used him.

If you’ve chosen to follow Christ, don’t worry that your plans might “not be Christian enough.” Do your best to serve Christ wherever you are. Be willing to accept whatever opportunities he gives you.

If you do that, wherever you are, Christ will use you.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.”

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