June 1, 2000
 We Come
Bearing Gifts

Waking to Your
Hidden Potential
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I know a woman who at age sixty-three picked up a paint brush 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 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 knew I could use teaching for Christ's glory.

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 ourselves which are totally out of line with the way God has made us. As a junior-high student 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." It is as detrimental to our service for Christ to have too small an appreciation of our potential as it is to have 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 dividends. 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 to his children both abilities and opportunities for putting them to use. Yet like the servant who buried his talent, we can fail to recognize them.

More Than Meets the Eye

The parable can only have the impact it was intended to have, though, if we understand the value of a talent at the time Jesus spoke. One talent equaled more than fifteen years' wages of a common laborer in Palestine.

This point was surely not lost on Jesus' listeners. The servant with the one talent hadn't been given a meager provision, but a sum more than fifteen times his yearly salary! Why, then, did he fail to see the potential that was in his hands? Undoubtedly, because he compared his sum with that given to the other servants and concluded it was insignificant by comparison.

Most of us are "one-talent" persons. We are not going to be another Billy Graham, Ghandi or Mother Teresa. When we see ourselves as falling short of the giftedness 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 greatly exceed our expectations.

What these are specifically varies greatly from person to person. But God wants each of us to assume that he has given us important abilities to meet vital human needs, and that he will provide each of us with ideal opportunities for using them. This attitude of faith will help us take meaningful steps toward fully understanding our potential.

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 fully. 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 which 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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