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Thomas the Tank Engine is described as a ‘really useful engine’ and this term of praise is seen to be one of the highest possible in the children’s series by Rev. W. Awdry.

Most of us agree that usefulness is a valuable character trait, but struggle to know how to define this, as usefulness seems inherently subjective. What is useful to my husband as an engineer is not necessarily useful to me as a teacher. Photographs of signs in French were eminently useful to me when I was teaching that subject, but don’t have quite the same usefulness now!

Most Christians would also say that to be useful to God is something to which we should aspire. NIcky Gumbel, in his daily Bible reading notes, suggests 25 practical and down-to-earth ways we can increase our usefulness to God.

  1. Love your enemy (Prov 25:21-22, see also Rom 12:20).

  2. Watch your tongue. Paul warns Timothy to ‘avoid godless chatter’ (2 Tim 2:16). What we talk about really matters.

  3. Avoid quarrelling (Prov 25:24; 2 Tim 2:14, 23-24). Some people are argumentative by nature, but this is not useful.

  4. Bring good news. (Prov 25:25) Focus on the positive and the good news of the gospel message.

  5. Stand your ground. (Prov 25:26) Don’t let evil win! (Rom 12:21)

  6. Don’t seek honour. (Prov 25:27) Self-promotion rarely brings good results.

  7. Be self-controlled (Prov 25:27, Gal 5:22-23). ‘Rocket’ Christians whose tempers flare at the slightest provocation are not useful.

  8. Don’t worry about what others say. (Prov 26:2) It’s better to focus on what God says than to fret about the opinions of others.

  9. Pass it on. (2 Tim 2:2) Our responsibility is to pass on what we know of Christ to others (and to some extent, this is a measure of usefulness.) As parents and grandparents, we have a responsibility to pass on the faith (see 2 Tim 1:5).

  10. Endure hardship (2 Tim 2:4, 10, 12) Endurance precedes reigning! It acts as a witness and a spur to others.

  11. Avoid distractions (2 Tim 2:4). We need a clear focus and determination to do what is important.

  12. Keep to the rules. (2 Tim 2:4) God’s laws are to be obeyed. They’re there for a reason.

  13. Work hard. (2 Tim 2:6) Hard work is commended by God.

  14. Meditate on God’s word. (2 Tim 2:7) Make time to ponder and reflect. Write it down. If we gobble a meal down and rush off, we tend to end up with indigestion. One thing I love about French culture is the tendency to linger over meals and see this as an opportunity to build relationships, not just partake of food. Let’s linger over God’s word.

  15. Focus on Jesus. (2 Tim 2:8) He’s the centre!

  16. Correctly handle God’s word. (2 Tim 2:15) Don’t take things out of context. Think about the genre of writing you are reading (history? poetry? letters?) Dig deep!

  17. Turn away from sin. (2 Tim 2:19) Repentance is not a one-off act. It’s an ongoing lifestyle.

  18. Be a peacemaker. (2 Tim 2:22-23) We need to avoid strife and promote peace wherever we go.

  19. Be kind to everyone. (2 Tim 2:24) ‘Everyone’ is an all-encompassing word which allows no exceptions!

  20. Learn to teach. (2 Tim 2:24-25) This doesn’t simply mean the formal act of teaching, but includes being a role model to all in everything we do and say. Many lessons are better caught than taught, as they say. We influence others more than we realise through our lives, words and actions.

  21. Don’t be resentful. (2 Tim 2:24) Resentment poisons relationships and stunts spiritual growth faster than just about anything else.

  22. Hear the word of the Lord. (Jer 49:14) This is the secret to usefulness! What God says is so much more important than what people say.

  23. Allow God to speak through you. (Jer 50:1) We may feel awkward sometimes doing this (‘I think God might be saying…’), but our usefulness can be increased as we wait on God and then speak out what He says.

  24. Walk closely with God. (Jer 50:4) To be useful is to ‘hold tight to God.’ (Jer 50:5, The Message)

  25. Find rest in the Lord. (Jer 50:6) Usefulness isn’t all about frantic activity. We need the proper work/ rest balance prescribed by God.