GIFTED AND CALLED
by Rev Robert (Bob) Smith
This sermon is based on 1 Corinthians 12: v1-11
Dr. Hugh Moorhead, of North-eastern University in America, once wrote to250 well-known philosophers, scientists, writers and intellectuals and asked for their thoughts on what is the purpose of life. He then published the responses in his book The Meaning of Life.
Some of them offered their best guesses and others simply said they had no idea. There were even some who wrote back and said that if he knew the answer would he please let them know.
Most of us instinctively sense that there has to be more to life than scrabbling for a living and trying to find some pleasure in life before we die. And most of us feel there’s something we are meant to do with our lives, too. The problem is finding out what it is.
It’s pretty clear that there is in our affluent western worlda desperate crisis of meaning. And yet there has never been a time when more attention has been given to the search for it. We are flooded with self-help books, motivational speakers and life coaches.
But they only take us so far in our search. They try to help us envision our dreams, set goals and believe in ourselves. Yet becoming successful and finding meaning are not necessarily the same thing.
The lives of many of the world’s most successful people echo those sad words of Solomon; the wisest of Israel’s kings, who wrote: “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind…”
It reminds me of the words of a missionary who spoke powerfully to our angst when he said: ‘Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn't really matter.’
The biggest question in life surely is what am I here for?That’s why we’d do well to reflect on Jesus’ words to his disciples – and to us: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit - fruit that will last.’
Jesus once likened God to a wealthy man who went on a journey after having entrusted his property to his three servants. To one he gave 5000 silver coins, to another 2000 and to the third 1000; “to each according to his ability” is the way he put it. His intention was that each of them should use what he’d been given.
The outcome of the story was that the first two used what they’d been given and doubled it, while the third played it safe, buried it, then when the master returned, handed back exactly what he’d been given.
The key to understanding this story is not in the actual amounts of money they’d received and returned, but rather in the effort they put into using what they’d been given. Their master was just as pleased with the servant who doubled his 2000 to 4000, as he was with the servant who doubled his 5000 to 10000. His problem was with the servant who just buried what he’d received and did nothing with it.
In translating this to our life situation, we see that those amounts of silver refer to those packages of abilities, gifts and opportunities that God has given to each of us. Though we are not equal in what we have received, we are required to be equal in the effort we put into using them. And the only condemnation is for those who don’t even try. Use it or lose itis one of the great principles of life.
In the context of this parable it’s interesting to note that it was the servant who received the smallest amount who was the one who was condemned. Could it be, I wonder, that Jesus was, even then, aware that those of us who think poorly of ourselves in comparison to others, tend to be the ones who most often fail to live fruitful lives?
I’m sure Jesus would have agreed with Julius Rosenwald: ‘If you think life has given you a lemon, learn to make lemonade.’
The good news is that God never calls us without equipping us. We are, each of us, born with a whole swag of abilities and potential. Added to that, the Bible tells us that through His Spirit within us, God gives us “spiritual gifts”;special gifts for building up his church and accomplishing his work in the world. And this is where we find our unique call and purpose in life.
There are several references in the Bible to these gifts and there are usually considered to be about nineteen of them, falling into three categories: 1st. those gifts associated with teaching, preaching and proclamation – the up-front gifts; 2nd.those associated with service and support – the behind the scenes gifts; and 3rd. those rare but seemingly more spectacular gifts that are ‘signs’ to a materialistic world of the power of God – like divine healing, miracles etc.
I don’t have time to get into detail on this today. What I do want to do is emphasise that every believer has been given one or more of these spiritual gifts. And I want to emphasise that in God’s sight there’s no status list whereby some are considered superior to others.
We certainly have our status lists. We usually give far more prominence to those who gifted in the areas of up-front leadership than we do to those who work quietly behind the scenes. However, that’s not the way God sees it. We all have our contributions to make, and it is the sum of them that builds God’s Kingdom.
The big question is, how do we discover our gifts and what God is calling us to do? I remember in Washington DC, in 1981, visiting a little old lady who was considered to be an expert on this subject. Her name was Elizabeth O’Connor and she’d written several bestselling books on the subject of gifts and call. I asked her the question, how on earth do we know what we are meant to do? God doesn’t seem to send angels and visions to spell it out to us like in the Bible.
I still remember her answer: ‘Your call is written into your very being. It is what, in your heart of hearts, you would most want to be doing.’I remember my response too. I said: ‘It can’t be as simple as that. Surely there has to be self-denial and self-sacrifice about it.’She just smiled and said: ‘I’ll leave you to think about it.’
Well I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and the older I get the more I believe she was right. You are called in your way every bit as much as I am in mine. And the more you become aware of it, the more you get a sense inside yourself of the rightnessof it.
Bill Hybels talks about our call being the point where our abilities,our opportunitiesand our passionmeet.
I believe that the process of discovering our gifts and call is a lifelong journey in which new insights and opportunities are given to us as we respond faithfully to the ones we’ve already received. This is clear in Jesus’ parable of the three servants. The reward for the servants who proved faithful in using what had been given to them was that they were given even greater responsibilities. As we prove ourselves faithful in the small things, God entrusts us with greater things; and this is a process that will continue on into eternity.
However, there are three things that I believe helpus in the process of discovery. The first is to ask ourselves, what does my heart tell me?This is particularly so for those of us who tend to be intuitive. The psychiatrist Dr Fritz Perls, quoting Shakespeare, used to say that we all live our lives like actors on 2 stages. One is the outwardstage where we live the sort of life we feel is expected of us. The other is the inwardstage which is the way we are in our dreams. And then he said: But the real you is the you that lives on that inward stage.
The second question is to ask ourselves, what does my mind tell me? It is important for us to look back over all the things we have done and identify the things that truly brought us a sense of joy and achievement. When we do something and feel energised by it, we can be pretty sure that we have been working in the area of our gifts.
The third question is to ask ourselves, what do other people tell me?We should always take heed of those whom we recognise as people of insight and wisdom. Sometimes, their perspectives provide the final piece of the jigsaw that enables the complete picture to emerge.
However, I suspect that the biggest problem for many of us – particularly those of us in our senior years – is the tendency to discount ourselves and our usefulness, not only in society generally, but also to the work of God. We easily forget that great Biblical adage that says: ‘Grey hair is a crown of splendour.’ In doing this we run the risk of becoming like the servant in Jesus story who was condemned for having buried what had been entrusted to him.
It’s all too common, even in the Church, to write off seniors as irrelevant, just at the time when, in God’s view of life, they may be receiving their greatest and profoundest insights; not in physical achievement but in spiritual discernment.
God doesn’t intend for us to retire from our spiritual journey of discovery. The Bible says we can ‘still bring forth fruit in old age.’It may well take a different form to that of our younger days, but it will be no less of value to God’s Kingdom, and probably have greater substance – as I realise when I read sermons I preached in my youth
But the most important factor of all in this process of discovering our gifts and call is faithfulness.The Bible says: ‘It is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”
That means thatnever allow ourselves to cease from seeking God’s will for our lives; we keep on keeping on and we never give up.