know a woman who at 63 picked up a paintbrush for the first
time. Over the next fifteen years she won about a dozen county
and state awards in women’s club competitions in Maryland
for landscape painting. On one occasion she won first place in
her category, competing with women of all ages.
This woman, I'm proud to say, was my mom. Her example
demonstrates, as well as any I can think of, how we can
pass through much of our life not realizing we have certain significant potential. Most
of us have only a faint perception of the range of gifts God
has put within us.
my teenage years and early twenties I had no inkling that I
could teach and, for that matter, no inclination to be a
teacher. Yet for many years now, my ministry has centered around teaching, and I've
greatly enjoyed my work. But I had practically finished
college before I began to appreciate that I might have the
gifts for a teaching ministry.
in considering our potential, we are always in danger of
thinking too highly of ourselves. “Don’t cherish
exaggerated ideas of yourself or your importance,” Paul
admonishes us (Rom 12:3 Phillips). We can foolishly entertain
ideals for our life that are totally out of line with how God
has made us. As a young high school student, I imagined myself becoming
a great singer. Fortunately, a tape recorder and brutally honest
friends helped me face my limitations.
Scripture also emphasizes that we can think too little of
ourselves. Paul continues: “but try to have a sane estimate
of your capabilities by the light of the faith that God has
given to you all.” Underrating our potential can be as
detrimental to our service for Christ as a bloated
clearly makes this point in the familiar parable of the
talents (Mt 25:14-30). A master gives a sum of money to three
servants--five talents to one, two talents to another and one
talent to the third. The first two invest the money and
realize impressive returns. The third, out of fear, buries his
talent to keep it safe.
talents in this parable symbolize opportunities we have for
using our abilities. The point of the story, then, is that God
gives us abilities along with the chance to make significant
contributions with them. Yet, like the servant who buried his
talent, we can fail to recognize our potential and the doors
God opens for us.
Than Meets the Eye
parable can only have the impact Jesus intended, though, if we
understand the value of a talent at the time he spoke. We
modern readers typically assume it wasn’t a substantial sum.
In fact, the talent was equal to more than fifteen years’
wages of a common laborer in Palestine.
point, of course, was not lost on Jesus’ listeners. The
servant given the one talent hadn’t received a meager
provision, but a gift of more than fifteen times his annual
salary! Why, then, did he fail to appreciate the potential
that was in his hands? Undoubtedly, because he compared his
sum to what the other servants received and concluded that his
was insignificant by comparison.
of us are “one-talent” persons. We are not going to be
another Billy Graham, Mahatma Ghandi or Mother Teresa. When we
see ourselves falling short of the accomplishments of certain
renowned individuals, we can lose the motivation to take our
own potential seriously. Each of us without exception,
however, has significant gifts--and opportunities to invest
them for Christ that vastly exceed our expectations.
this provision amounts to specifically varies greatly from
person to person. But God wants each of us to begin with the a
priori assumption that he has endowed us with important
ability to meet vital human needs, and that he will open all
the doors necessary for us to be productive. This attitude of
faith will help us take meaningful steps toward fully
understanding our gifts and the opportunities Christ provides
us to make a difference.
you are a student, view your course work as a chance to
sharpen your God-given abilities and to come to understand
them more completely. As you faithfully develop these skills,
God in due time will open the floodgates for you to put them
Each of us
should also keep in mind that life is an ongoing process--a
remarkable adventure--of discovering our potential. At any
point, new light may break through, and we may realize we have
certain talent that we hadn't previously recognized.
But most important, don’t
belittle your potential through unhealthy comparisons with
others. See yourself as God has made you--a one-of-a-kind
creation, with a combination of gifts and opportunities that no
one else has ever possessed. After all, according to the
parable of the talents, you have at least fifteen years’
wages staring you in the face--just for starters.