a woman who at age sixty-three picked up a paint
brush 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.
The example of this woman--my
mom--shows how we can go a lifetime without
realizing we have certain significant potential.
Most of us have only a faint perception of the
range of gifts God has put within us.
In my early twenties I had no inkling that I
could teach and, for that matter, no inclination
to be a teacher. Today my ministry centers around
teaching, and I thoroughly enjoy my work. But I
had practically finished college before I knew I
could use teaching for Christ's glory.
Respecting Our Gifts
Granted, 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 ourselves which
are totally out of line with the way God has made
us. As a junior-high student I imagined myself
becoming a great singer. Fortunately, a tape
recorder and brutally honest friends helped me
face my limitations.
But 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." It is as detrimental
to our service for Christ to have too small an
appreciation of our potential as it is to have a
Jesus 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 dividends. The
third, out of fear, buries his talent to keep it
The talents in this parable symbolize
opportunities we have for using our abilities.
The point of the story, then, is that God gives
to his children both abilities and opportunities
for putting them to use. Yet like the servant who
buried his talent, we can fail to recognize them.
More Than Meets the Eye
The parable can only have the impact it was
intended to have, though, if we understand the
value of a talent at the time Jesus spoke. One
talent equaled more than fifteen years' wages of
a common laborer in Palestine.
This point was surely not lost on Jesus'
listeners. The servant with the one talent hadn't
been given a meager provision, but a sum more
than fifteen times his yearly salary! Why, then,
did he fail to see the potential that was in his
hands? Undoubtedly, because he compared his sum
with that given to the other servants and
concluded it was insignificant by comparison.
Most of us are "one-talent" persons.
We are not going to be another Billy Graham,
Ghandi or Mother Teresa. When we see ourselves as
falling short of the giftedness 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 greatly exceed our expectations.
What these are specifically varies greatly
from person to person. But God wants each of us
to assume that he has given us important
abilities to meet vital human needs, and that he
will provide each of us with ideal opportunities
for using them. This attitude of faith will help
us take meaningful steps toward fully
understanding our potential.
If you are a student, view your course work as
a chance to sharpen your God-given abilities and
to come to understand them more fully. As you
faithfully develop these skills, God in due time
will open the floodgates for you to put them to
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
which 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.