We are likely familiar with the parable of the talents. There are two different versions. The first is found in Matthew 25:14-30 and the second in Luke 19:11-27. The versions are different because Jesus would have taught the same stories in different ways as He travelled about teaching. I am looking at Matthew’s version. When I have heard teaching on the subject the focus has always been on the outcome. Instead of that let’s start at the beginning. At points in my career, particularly in my management roles, there were sometimes ridiculous expectations rather than realistic goals. I once told my staff that what we were being expected to do was ‘change the tire while driving down the highway!’ Goals that stretch us are useful but they still need to be realistic. My response to the ridiculous was, “If you goal for me this year is to be able to jump over the building at the end of the year, we need a new goal as that isn’t going to happen.” In the parable of the talents Jesus presents the goal or task as realistic.
14 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. 15 And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Matthew 25:14–15 (NKJV)
Here we have a man who had servants and gave them responsibility according to their ‘ability.’ That is, the owner gave each servant an area of responsibility based on what he could realistically be expected to achieve. Jesus embedded a principle here. Our Father has given to each of us talents, gifts or abilities. When our lives are weighed at the end of this age, He will not compare what we have done with what someone else has accomplished. His assessment will be based on what we have done with what we have been given. The two talents servant wasn’t expected to achieve what the five talents servant accomplished. He was expected to achieve what he was able to accomplish with two talents.
I think one of the problems we have in the church is a tendency to focus on or desire the talents of others without really seeing our own. For example, I may want to be a great preacher and look at great preachers I admire and wish I could be like them. However, that would be wasting my time, and my talent. I have often said over the years that I like neither giving or receiving lectures. I am a teacher not a preacher. I want to engage and interact with people not talk at them. If I look at and seek to learn from great interactive teachers that is a good use of my time. Trying to be a great preacher wouldn’t be.
Part of my teaching gift is writing, this being an example. Over the years my friend Wouter has spoken into my life a good deal about my writing and in heeding his advice my writing has improved. Wouter is a gifted teacher and taught high school English for decades. I would be foolish to not receive his advice and corrections. At the same time, though we both teach our styles are not the same and my goal is not to teach or write like Wouter, it is to teach and write well as Randy. I heard Josh McDowell say something nearly forty years ago. He said, “If you spend all of your time being someone else who is going to spend all of their time being you.” That has always stuck with me.
Each of us have gifts and talents, each of us has a calling from Jesus. There are cases where people have developed gifts that weren’t obvious early on. I know of more than one person who felt called by Jesus to play a musical instrument and be a worshipper. They then just ‘did it’ with no formal training. Jesus calling them activated something He had put in them. A qualifier here, musical training and ability does not in and of itself make one a worship leader. I have heard skilled musicians in church who frankly do not understand worship nor can they lead others into His presence. (My next post will address the pairing of gifts and calling).
Aside from worship and teaching there are many gifts and callings. We each need to discern ours through prayer, input from others and our inner sense of calling. When we do that and consistently live it out we can look forward to these words at the end of the age, ‘well done good and faithful servant’ (Matthew 25:21).