This year on my birthday I took some time, as many people do, to reflect on my life. I’m happy to report that I think it’s pretty awesome. Not because I’ve lived in three foreign countries and visited 24 others, earned a couple of degrees and won a few awards, or not even because of my cute little family. I thank God for all of these things, but my life is awesome in much more basic ways.
Not that I take any credit for this. Almost daily, I pause to think about the grand opportunity that I’ve been given to have this awesome life. If any number of things that are totally out of my control were different, I venture to say my life would not be so awesome. For instance, imagine I were exactly who I am, but I had been born in England in the 1600s. I wouldn’t have been able to go to school and use my God-given intellect. Let’s change another single fact: what if I were exactly who I am but had lingered just a little too long in the womb and, denied of oxygen, been born with a limited capacity for learning. Yea, that would have changed a few things.
It’s not just me though. If you’re reading this, your life is probably just as awesome as mine. Take a quick assessment:
Were you born in the 20th or 21st century?
Were you born in a developed country?
Can you read?
Do you speak the world’s dominant language (hint: you’re reading it right now)?
Do you have the means and intelligence to access the Internet?
Do you live where you can attend a church service without fear of imprisonment or other persecution?
Are you reading this while enjoying decent health, with functional eye sight?
Will you turn off lights before you get into an actual bed tonight?
Will you wake tomorrow morning with a very good probability of having the means to eat three meals?
Added to all these favorable conditions, do you have at least one talent or skill, such as athletic, mechanical, musical or artistic ability, good organizational, interpersonal or communication skills?
If you answered yes to these questions, you have 10 talents by virtue of the time, place, circumstance and natural endowments God gave you at birth! A child turning one year old today could (in theory) say her life is as awesome as mine!
Often, when we take stock of our lives, either on our birthdays, or when some new benchmark comes to our attention (like a friend buys a new car, or a neighbor goes on a cruise to Antarctica), we fail to acknowledge the 10 talents we started out with at birth. Instead, we’re more inclined to identify certain talents we weren’t given, or to completely miss the mark and dwell on stuff and things that have nothing to do with talents at all, evidenced by the fact that money can buy them. Instead of correctly understanding that we, as 10-talent people, have more than about 90 percent of the world’s population, we tend to overlook entirely our 10 talents and compare ourselves to everyone else in the 10-talent group. Compared to this elite group, we don’t rank so high and it leaves us feeling deprived. It’s a very clever optical illusion that distracts us from the truth of our privileged position.
A birthday is a great time to step way back and look at the big picture and see that as 10-talent people, we are truly blessed. Recognizing and then really letting it sink in are just the first steps. The bigger issue is this: What are we going to do with those talents? This might be a good time for a short story:
There was a man who was “about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them.
“To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.
“Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents.
“In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more.
“But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
“Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.
“The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’
“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
“Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’
“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
“And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed.
‘And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’
“But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed.
‘Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.
‘Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’
“For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.
“Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 25:14-30)
Gads! What a scary ending. Puts the fear of God into ya! Makes me want to be sure to use my talents correctly!
My birthday is also a great time to read the ticker tape and see how my talents are doing. What am I doing to multiple each of my 10 talents? This is an entirely different set of questions than the ones we used to identify our talents. If God has entrusted me with these 10 things, how am I using them to His glory? Another way to ask this might be, What have I stored up for myself in Heaven? How am I putting to work my God-given capital to build stock in His kingdom?
Recall from the story, that as 10-talent people, more is expected of us: we are given our talents according to our ability. If God picked us to be 10-talent people, we can’t worm our way out of being big producers with some measly excuse about our lack of ability. It was according to our ability that we received the talents. Neither, as 10-talent people, can we compare ourselves to five and one talent producers and feel pretty good about what we’re doing.
Just as we are inclined to focus on the wrong scale when estimating our talents, we are also inclined to an errant perspective when we analyze how our talents are yielding. We tend to focus on what we are doing with our talents. We could more accurately assess our yield by asking what we could be doing with our talents. We may feel good about using our organizational skills on the church planning board, but could we also be organizing a city-wide furniture drive for the poor at Christmastime? We may feel good that we’re singing in the choir, but what about that song that God gave us that remains in our head when it could be written, published and enhancing the worship experience of thousands of people?
I’m no Madonna fan, never have been, but there is something pretty amazing about Madonna that we should all take note of: she’s not that talented. I have personally known a hundred church choir singers with talent superior to Madonna’s, as I’m sure you have. No joke, I probably sing better than Madonna. So what does she have that the rest of us singers don’t? Gumption. And, Sisters in Christ, am I grieved to say, in general, we lack gumption.
If on your birthday (or any day), you have a nagging feeling that you’ve not quite accomplished all you could or should have by this age, that could be the voice of the Holy Spirit saying gently, “Turn your television off and get to work for me!” Don’t watch TV? Then maybe you’ve allowed yourself to become too busy with things of temporal importance to the neglect of things of eternal importance, and the HS is saying gently, “Stop shopping and get to work for me!” Or “Quite that silly job and come to work for me.” Or “Downsize so you don’t have to spend all weekend keeping up the yard and the boat and then you’ll have more time for me.” Or “Move to the inner city, which will cut your commute by two hours a day, housing costs in half and then I’ll be able to better use you as My witness to hurting people.” That nagging feeling of dissatisfaction could be any number of things the Holy Spirit is trying to tell you. The important thing is to pay attention to it, slow down, figure it out, then act on it so you won’t be all “woe is me” on your next birthday. Careful though, sin is crouching at the door to redirect that God inspired dissatisfaction and shift your focus to your position among the 10-talent people and to how you rank against temporal benchmarks.
Want more out of your life? Here’s the secret: Be faithful with a few things, and God will put you in charge of many things.
What more could you be doing with your 10 talents?