Saturday, July 29, 2017

Calling, Talents, and Macedonia

Finding your purpose in life — or your ‘life calling’ — has at times had the unfortunate side-effect of twisting many sincere Jesus-followers into pretzel-like contortions that would make a Cirque de Soleil performer green with envy.

Much like having a ‘life verse’, I remember many conversations as a young Christian with my friends about discovering our ‘calling’ — as much or more than we agonized about finding God’s choice of a spouse for us, or pouring over Spiritual Gift Inventories to puzzle out what our spiritual gift(s) might be.
Okay, I’m being somewhat facetious when I say it like that, so let me hasten to point out that all of these areas in life — vocation, marriage, and serving others (the raisón d'etre for having spiritual gifts) — should be seriously and prayerfully considered. Just not via some neurotic, angst-riddled anxiety trip.
Scouring the Bible wasn’t as helpful as we might have wished — mainly because we were working on the assumption that ‘calling’ was the equivalent of ‘vocation’. But as we continued to search the Scriptures, we made a fascinating, life-changing discovery.
There were/are a ton of verses about our ethical, moral, and spiritual ‘calling’:
  1. Jesus’ call to His first disciples was simply, “Follow Me” (Matt. 4:18-22).
    They ended up doing a wide variety of things: handing out fish and bread to 500+ people, baptizing on Jesus’ behalf, accompanying Jesus when He healed the sick, witnessing the Transfiguration, being sent out two-by-two to heal the sick, cast out demons and announce the Kingdom… but the original ‘call’ to the disciples (and us) is simply to stop being our own bosses, and humbly “follow”.
  2. Every Christian shares the same ‘calling’ known as the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20).
    Some people have a special gift at being evangelists, but all of us are called to be “witnesses” (Acts 1:8).
  3. At various points in the New Testament, we also discovered that part of our ‘calling’ — God’s will for our lives — included (but is not limited to):
    • not conforming to the ways/mindset of the world, resulting in a clearer ability to know God’s will (Rom. 12:2)
    • a holy (set apart) lifestyle, which includes both our ethics (aka the Sermon on the Mount: Matt. 5-7), as well as our sexuality (1 Thess. 4:3-7)
    • having an attitude that is joyful, prayerful, and thankful (1 Thess. 5:16-18)
    • speaking truthfully, not allowing anger to fester, working honestly instead of deceptively, choosing our words carefully to bring encouragement, and replacing bitterness, rage, violence and slander (social media ‘alternative facts’?) with kindness, compassion, and forgiveness (Eph. 4:25-32)
  4. Just to name a few.
In other words, a huge chunk of our spiritual ‘calling’ — God’s will for our lives — has to do with our character.
With that understanding in place, another facet of finding your niche has to do with — wait for it — serving. That’s why we are given spiritual gifts: to serve others. That’s why God has given us unique gifts and talents: to serve others. And — not shockingly — that’s how Jesus modelled life for us: by serving others (John 13:1-17).

When it comes to making decisions about where we should invest our time and energy in serving, Wendy & I have often used what we call the “Talents & Macedonia” approach.

The “Talents”, of course, is taken from the parable Jesus told about two servants who were given ‘talents’ (a King James phrase for a sum of money), who faithfully used them and were fruitful, as contrasted to one lazy sluggard (Jesus called him “wicked” as well) who buried what he’d been given in the sand and tried to blame his master for his lack of fruitfulness (Matt. 25:14-30).

In the parable, the master is not impressed, and the point of Jesus’ story is that we are responsible to use what God has given us, for His purposes. Burying our talents in the sand — no matter who we blame for that decision — is not an option in the Kingdom.

“Macedonia” comes from the story of the apostle Paul and his team when they were blocked from entering the provinces of Asia and later Bithynia. They had been tasked with preaching the Gospel among the Gentiles, but for whatever reason, God wasn’t opening doors for them.

Then Paul had a vision in the night of a man in Macedonia, and the team concluded that Macedonia was where God was calling them (Acts 16:6-10). The epistle to the Philippians was later written to the church that was started there.

From these two seemingly unconnected stories, Wendy & I have developed a helpful grid for decision-making:
  1. We have been given gifts — spiritual, natural, personality, interests, vocational training — that we want to use to serve. If there are no opportunities to use our gifts, we can’t use that as an excuse to passively “bury our gifts in the sand”, and so…
  2. We must be on the alert for a “Macedonian call” to serve somewhere else, where our gifts are needed. The call to serve with what we’ve been given is geographically transferable.
    Bloom where you’re planted’, if at all possible. If not, move to a new flower box, and bloom there instead.
So, there you have it:
  1. The bulk of our ‘calling’ is to become more Christ-like in our character.
  2. We have been given gifts (‘talents’) by our Master, and burying them in the sand isn’t a Jesus-honouring option.
  3. If we can’t use our gifts where we are, then God has somewhere else already in mind for us to flourish in.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph. 2:10)

2 comments:

  1. Amen, brother. I think I print this one out, and hang it somewhere where we see this daily. We so needed to be reminded of this principle... we forgot... we don't do that much study in the Bible... heck, we don't even talk about it, or faith, for that matter, anymore... Wendy dreamt one day about me being a strong woman, well, I don't feel like that now.
    Now that I think about it, we were pressed down the calling/talents-facts recently. During an arts conference. And then again, by some church-members, last week. And now you, with your blogpost.
    Thank you. We have a lot to think and talk and pray about... if we remember how to do that.
    :*

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  2. Love you and Nico-Dirk. Wish we could spend some time with you guys in person again. Sounds like we'd have a lot to talk about.

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