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has given you the ability to do something well. It's an area of talent
where you can express your personality, find creative fulfillment and
be of service to others. It may be a technical ability; or a talent
for music, art or drama. Perhaps it's a skill in working with
people--a heart for counseling, pastoring or helping those who are
destitute. It may be ability in science or medicine; or the mentality
for business; or a gift for working with your hands in carpentry,
sculpture or embroidery; or a skill in preparing food. You may have a
gift for communicating--through teaching or writing. Perhaps you are
gifted in some other area, or have a unique blend of different
as a Christian, you face a dilemma: while using your gift will help
others, it will also draw attention to yourself. Will this attention
be spiritually unhealthy for you? Will it cause you to think more
highly of yourself than you ought to think? And will it cause others
to honor you above Christ? Is it best just to refrain from using your
gift altogether--to avoid any ego problems, and so Christ will be
glorified in your weakness and not in your strength?
are not always easy questions. It is clear that God sometimes calls a
Christian to disregard a gift for a time. I suspect it is more
typically because a person is insecure than conceited. Someone who
thinks poorly of herself in general may be basing her self-worth too
strongly on a particular talent. She may benefit from putting her gift
aside for a while, particularly if she is in a fellowship where people
genuinely care about her. Finding that others love her and appreciate
her, whether or not she is using her gift, will be a big boost to her
morale and confidence in Christ.
tendency to stake one's identity too strongly on a gift can be
especially strong for a new believer who has brought an imbalanced
self-concept into the Christian life. Thus, Paul declares, "Never
be in a hurry to ordain a man" (I Tim 5:22)--cautioning against
putting a new Christian in a position of honor who hasn't developed
the maturity in Christ to handle it.
while God sometimes does call a Christian to disregard a gift, this
seems to be the exceptional situation in the normal Christian life.
The overwhelming emphasis in biblical teaching is upon using
our gifts and employing them in service to Christ. Very little is said
about the occasional situation where God may ask us to hold back.
Rather, we are told in strong language in various places to get about
the business of using the gifts God has given us, and to give our full
attention to developing them.
minces no words in Romans 12:3-8, for instance:
cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or your importance, but try to
have a sane estimate of your capabilities by the light of faith that
God has given to you all. . . . Through the grace of God we have
different gifts. If our gift is preaching, let us preach to the limit
of our vision. If it is serving others, let us concentrate on our
service; if it is teaching let us give all we have to our teaching;
and if our gift be the stimulating of the faith of others let us set
ourselves to it. Let the man who is called to give, give freely; let
the man who wields authority think of his responsibilities; and let
the man who feels sympathy for his fellows act cheerfully."
In this passage Paul certainly condemns the
bloated ego: "Donít cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or
your importance." But he also discourages the sort of false
humility and self-deprecation we too easily fall into regarding our
gifts. "Have a sane estimate of your capabilities," Paul
urges--in other words, recognize them as part of Godís call upon
your life. Paul doesnít rule out the special situation where God
might want us to refrain from using a gift for a time; Paul himself
held back from public ministry for a period after his conversion. Yet
he makes the general principle clear: God wants us to pursue our
areas of potential earnestly.
certainly recognized that Christians' motives would sometimes be less
than perfect when they used their gifts. Yet he says nothing here
about holding back on that account. Scripture never promises that
perfect purity of intention can be part of our Christian
experience this side of eternity. While the Bible stresses that the
Spirit-filled believer has incredible resources, nowhere does it
suggest that all selfishness of motive can vanish.
we're not careful, we'll find ourselves waiting and waiting for a
certain purity of motive that will never come. In the meantime the
body of Christ and the world is deprived of the benefit of our gift.
self-torture we subject ourselves to in examining our motives can be
insidious. When God prods us do something productive with our life, he
gives us good motives for doing so. We feel compassion for those whom
we hope to help, and joy over the prospects of growing and being
almost immediately, more selfish reasons for doing what God is
inspiring us to do come to mind. And we begin to dwell these less
we go a further step. We conclude that God couldnít possibly want us
to take this direction with our life after all--because our motives
are so rotten!
donít doubt that this mental process--which Iíve long termed the
"double whammy"--is one of Satanís prime ways of
influencing us and diverting us from being effective for Christ. First
he gives us bad motives for doing what God wants us to do. Then he
convinces us not to do it because of our selfish motives.
Itís no accident that Scripture terms him "the accuser"
the fact that weíve gone through this progression of thinking
doesnít alter the fact that God has called us to take a particular
step with our life in the first place. Focusing on our motives too
much can blur our thinking and keep us from recognizing the call of
certainly not suggesting that we should complacently accept selfish
motives or nurture them. We should do whatever we can to keep our
intentions pure and Christ-honoring. Regular time alone with Christ is
so important--where we ask him to deepen our love for him and
to give us the highest motives for what he has called us to do.
to attempt to purify our motives merely by focusing on them is a
dead-end street. Usually we do better to go ahead and use our gifts,
praying that as we move forward, God will mold our intentions as he
sees best. It's through being in motion that we give him the best
opportunity to work within us--to humble us where necessary, and to
encourage us where we need it as well.
should also remember a psychological truth. We don't gain humility by
disregarding a gift or developing it only superficially. Humility
comes when we make a serious effort to perfect a talent, only to
discover that we still have worlds to conquer. The irony is that we're
likely to feel more conceit over a talent we've just barely developed
than one into which we've poured our life. "A little learning is
a dangerous thing."
motives--let's face it--are a murky matter. Often it simply isn't
possible to take our spiritual temperature and determine whether our
motives are good are bad. The desire for others to like us and commend
what we do, for instance, is unhealthy if it becomes obsessive. But some
desire for others' approval is not only healthy but necessary for
productive living. It makes us more alert to others' needs, more
concerned with helping them and communicating effectively. It's part
of the chemistry that binds people together in relationships--the
essence of people needing people.
of us, I suspect, have times when our need to be accepted by others
becomes too extreme, as well as times when it's not strong enough. Yet
often we have no way of knowing for certain whether this motive is in
right balance. We cannot pour our motives into measuring cups and
determine exactly how they portion out with each other, and it's
futile to become too introspective about them.
desire to enjoy our work is another motive that often confuses us.
Many Christians feel guilty because they like their work and find
creative satisfaction in what they do. They believe they are not
entitled to this enjoyment--that they are to strive to enjoy God
Scripture extols the importance enjoying our work! A central
theme of Ecclesiastes is that enjoying our work is vital to healthy
living (Eccl 2:24, 3:13, 3:22, 5:18-20, 9:9-10). And a major purpose
of festivals in the Old Testament was to give people a chance to
celebrate what God had enabled them to accomplish (Deut 16:15).
Indeed, part of how we are to enjoy God and honor him is through enjoying
gratefully the work he has called us to do.
work--like anything--can become an idol if it consumes us to the point
of stealing our affection from God. Yet C. S. Lewis said it right when
he observed that our problem in life is not with loving things too
much--but with not loving God enough. Trying to reduce our love for an
otherwise good area of life that has become too great an attraction
for us is not the way to keep our affections pure. Rather, we should
do what we can to increase our love for God. That is the best step we
can take toward keeping our other interests in healthy balance.
the Double Whammy
time we decide to devote ourselves to developing and using a talent,
we take a risk. Our ego may get too involved. Our motives may be less
than perfect, and we may attach too much importance to being
successful with our gift.
the risk is usually much greater if we refrain from using our gift. We
deny others the benefits of our talent. We deny ourselves the joy of
using it. And we deny the Lord a golden opportunity to work in us and
need to ask ourselves which risk is more worth taking. In most cases,
using our gift wins hands down. As a rule, we should choose to live in
the center of our gifts as much as possible, praying that God will
give us motives honoring to Christ as we move ahead. This approach to
life will most fully assure that we are being productive for
Christ--and focused on him as well.
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