Sunday, November 30, 2014

Don’t Neglect Your Gift (1 Timothy 4:12 – 4:16)

Don’t let anyone belittle you because you are young. Instead, show the faithful, young and old, an example of how to live: set the standard for how to talk, act, love, and be faithful and pure. Until I get there, make sure to devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching. Don’t neglect the gift that was given to you through the prophecy spoken when the company of the elders laid their hands on you. Cultivate all these practices; live by them so that all will see how you are advancing and growing. Take care of yourself, concentrate on your teaching, and stick with these things. If you do, then you will be effective in bringing salvation to yourself and all who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:12-4:16)
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There's a great scene at the beginning of The Equalizer where a young lady named Teri asks Robert (The Equalizer) what happens in The Old Man and the Sea. Robert tells her that the old man catches a fish. She asks, "Why didn't he just let the fish go?" Robert replies, "Old man's gotta be the old man. Fish has got to be the fish. Gotta be who you are in this world, no matter what." 

It's not fatalistic resignation. It's also not parroting some silly version of, "You are perfect just the way you are!" Robert was pointing out that we are all made for a purpose, with a role to play. We gotta’ find that purpose and live it. It's an acknowledgment that we are made for some things and not others. 

You see the importance of this principle in Scripture numerous times, but I am going to point out my favorite one: Gideon (Judges 6:11-14):

“Now in Ophrah, a messenger from God sat under an oak tree that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite. Gideon, the son of Joash, was beating out wheat in the winepress so that the Midianites could not see what he was doing. The  messenger appeared to Gideon and said, “The Eternal One is with you, mighty warrior.”  Gideon replied, “Sir, if He is with us, then why has all this misfortune come on us? Where are all the miracles that our ancestors told us about? They said, “Didn’t the Eternal deliver us out of Egypt?” But now He has left us. He has made us servants of the Midianites.” The messenger of God replied, “Go out with your strength and rescue Israel from the oppression of Midian. Do you understand that I am the one sending you?”

Gideon was not made to farm; he was made to fight. I wonder just how discouraged he must have been as day after day slipped away in what probably felt like an unfulfilled, wasted life. Gideon had forgotten who he was – who God made Him to be. The angel brings a message of purpose and power: Gideon was to “go out with his strength”  because “I am the one sending you.” Gideon has strength!  And God will send him to a place where Gideon’s strengths make him not only effective but important. 

So how can we find our strengths (given to us by God) and go where God intends for us to go? How can we be sure we are not neglecting the many kinds of gifts that God has given us? How can we find a life that is meaningful and purposeful? For the purpose of this discussion, I am going to branch out from the very specific meaning Paul has in this verse (spiritual gifts) in order to talk more broadly about the many ways God gifts and/or empowers us to represent Christ, the gospel, and the Kingdom. 

I think we discover what God made us to be by looking at three key areas: our  godly passions, our opportunities and our gifts.

GODLY PASSIONS

"My zeal for God and his work burns hot within me." (Psalm 69:9)
"Your message burns in my heart and bones, and I cannot keep silent." (Jeremiah 20:9)

God has made us to be passionate, to care deeply about something. Not everything we long for is good - it is a fallen world - so we need to view our passions in light of Scripture. That's why it's "godly" passions and not just anything about which we feel strongly. As the Holy Spirit works in us and moves us toward a world that needs Christ's salvation and healing, our passion will begin to clarify. It could be a cause (poverty, depression, abuse, addiction, depression) a group of people (the persecuted, imprisoned, the poor, the unborn, the church, or your family) or a talent (music, athletics, sports, culinary arts).  

I love the story of Olympic sprinter Eric Liddell who, when challenged about wasting his time running, said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel his pleasure.”What breaks your heart or brings you joy? What are the things you are not okay with, or the things you cannot get enough of? What are the things that, when you do them, you feel God’s pleasure?

OPPORTUNITIES

It’s popular to say, “You can be anything you want to be.” It’s also not true. Guys, you can't be the first female president. Aspiring teachers, you are going to need a degree. If you want to take two years to focus on getting published, you will need some cash in the back. You are going to be restrained or empowered by your financial situation, family obligations, the economy, your education, the particular need of the city or church in which you live, your background of life experiences, your health or physical ability. If your passions exceed your opportunities, you are going to be frustrated!

However, it’s important to remember: God is sovereign over our circumstances. Things that look like they will bring nothing but harm can bring us something good when God is involved (read the story of Joseph to see how that works). However, we are responsible for what we do in the midst of our circumstances. Can we change them or not? How will our circumstances effect the course of our life? Instead of brooding on how our circumstances are keeping us from being who God made us to be, why not think of how we might invest in the opportunities currently around us? 

GIFTS (6 ways to see them)

There is an interesting phrase in social work called a “strengths perspective.” The idea is that if you want to know where to go or what to do in life so that you will flourish, it’s better to focus on how to use your strengths than to get caught up in all the ways you are weak.

  • Personality: (http://www.16personalities.com/personality-types). There are many personality tests out there, but the Myers-Briggs Personality test is one of the most popular (it is used by 80% of Fortune 500 Companies). While tests like these are not entirely accurate, they are helpful in matching your personality type with people in particular vocations who tend to share your personality. (Keep in mind that you want to consider your intelligence type as well as your natural and spiritual gifts to get a well-rounded picture of who you are). 
  • Intelligence Type:  According to  Howard Gardner, intelligence is 1)The ability to create a valued product or service or solve problems or 2) the ability to gather new knowledge. There has been a strong move in recent years to be more aware of Multiple Intelligences (ways in which people learn and communicate that do not fit the standard educational model). Read more about 8 different types of intelligence at  http://www.literacynet.org/mi/intro/index.html
  • Natural Gifts: (http://www.strengthsfinder.com/home.aspx). Big Picture or details? Visionary or implementer? Talk or listen? Think or do? Quick on your feet or methodical? Organize or implement?  Language, Math, Music, Art, Sports, Relationships, Money, Farming, Technology, Building, Cleaning? We are all wired differently. It impacts how we process the world. Identifying how we are wired can go a long way in matching us up with opportunities in which we can flourish instead of be frustrated.
  • The Abilities in Our Disabilities.  There are times when the things that put hurdles in our life are the very things that provide us with unexpected strengths.  Goalkeeper Tim Howard credits his Tourette’s for his ability as a goalkeeper. He says it gives him an advantage by channeling his nervousness (though doctors think it could just be that the mental and physical discipline he has developed helps him). People who struggle with dyslexia are often better at identifying visual clues, and they tend to see the Big Picture in a given situation. In fact, 35% of entrepreneurs have dyslexia. People with Asperger’s tend to have advanced vocabularies, better pattern recognition, good focus on details, and flourish within rules and boundaries. People who stutter can face multiple hurdles, but as my son Braden has written, ”It pushed me into music – I could sing smoothly and play instruments without worry. 
It pushed me into sports – I could play and all I had to do was smile. 
It pushed me to math – I could communicate in a written language. 
It pushed me to writing – I could speak my mind without pause. I might not be able to speak like everyone else, but no one can express themselves the way I can.” 
  • Affirmation: A company of elders laid hands on Timothy and either imparted or confirmed a spiritual gift in Timothy (it depends on the commentary). Either way, the principle is solid. There is something to be said for having who you are  - specifically, who God made you to be - by godly, trustworthy people around you. What do others say about you? What do you hear over and over? That, too, is a strong indicator of who God made you to be. (Check out a great way to about finding out what others have to say at https://hbr.org/2005/01/how-to-play-to-your-strengths/) 
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Don’t neglect the gift that was given to you through the prophecy spoken when the company of the elders laid their hands on you. Cultivate all these practices; live by them so that all will see how you are advancing and growing. Take care of yourself, concentrate on your teaching, and stick with these things. If you do, then you will be effective in bringing salvation to yourself and all who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:14-4:16)

"Cultivate all these practices." If you go back to verse 12, that command encompasses three things: character (how we talk, act and love with faithfulness and purity), teaching (staying true to the fundamentals of our Christian faith), and being who God made us to be (not neglecting our gift. 

Why?  For the cause of the gospel. It’s not about us and our ability to look or be awesome. It’s about Christ. It’s about surrendering who we are to Christ, then focusing who we are in the service of Christ for the sake of His message of salvation, which is the only true hope of the world. 

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