September 1, 2003
 We Come
Bearing Gifts

Waking to Your
Hidden Potential
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I 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.

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 teenage years and 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 began to appreciate that I might have the gifts for a teaching ministry.

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 our life that are totally out of line with how God has made us. As a junior higher, 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.” Underrating our potential can be as detrimental to our service for Christ as having a bloated self-image.

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 returns. The third, out of fear, buries his talent to keep it safe.

The talents in this parable symbolize opportunities we have for using our abilities. The point of the story, then, is that God gives us abilities and 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.

More Than Meets the Eye

The 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.

This 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.

Most 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.

What 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.

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 completely. As you faithfully develop these skills, God in due time will open the floodgates for you to put them to work.

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.

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