What can we get from this? Especially if we look at these parables as concerning unwrapping the gifts which God has entrusted to us? First off, there is desire. Wanting to be used by God is the first step in unwrapping our gifts. In a very real sense, we bar our own doors. We set our own limits because we don’t really desire to be used of God. St. Paul encouraged the believers in Corinth by saying: “Eagerly desire spiritual gifts.” (1 Cor. 14:1) Often, our personal priorities come ahead of God’s and we leave His gifts unwrapped and in the box. Many of us don’t value or appreciate them very much, mostly because we don’t have a clue as to what they are! We never get past the wrapping paper.
If we have identified our gifts, the next question is: “What are we willing to do with them?” In the parable, the servant was afraid to run the risk of investing his money because he knew the master was a hard and exacting person. One reason we don’t unwrap our gifts is fear. We fear what people will say, we fear looking stupid, we fear failure, or fear of getting hurt. Rather than risking that, rather than chancing the negative experience, we leave our gifts wrapped up. But, you know, the master didn’t say, “because you have been very SUCCESSFUL in a very small matter” but “because you have been TRUSTWORTHY --I will put you in charge of many things.” (v. 21).
So, first we need to desire to be used of God, but we go beyond that to actually putting the gift to use. We have to become a risk taker. As you first begin to unwrap your gift, you probably won’t feel entirely comfortable. You may feel scared to teach that first Sunday school class, to cultivate the gift of hospitality, to make that first hospital visit, to speak that first prophetic word, to pray for that first healing, or to do anything that you haven’t done before. You stretch yourself beyond your current limits. You extend your current borders. When you are asked to do something, do you automatically say, “Oh, I couldn’t do that! Oh, it’s not a good time. I am not worthy!” When we say, “I can’t,” it usually means, “I won’t.”
Unwrapping our spiritual gifts is usually a process over a period of time. It doesn’t happen quickly or easily. As the Lord finds you trustworthy and faithful, He will add more. If He gives you a word of knowledge or a word of wisdom and you apply it to the situation, then He will be able to use you the next time. You begin by taking baby steps in the use of your gift after you unwrap it. This is where your faith comes in. St. Paul tells us “we have different gifts according to the grace given us. If a person’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.” It takes our faith to begin to operate in our gifts once they are unwrapped. Just do it. Faith helps us to move out of fear of failure, fear of looking stupid, fear of being criticized. A little step of faith gets you started. When praying for someone who is sick--just begin to speak the words--more will come. Fear says, “What if I fall flat on my butt?” Faith says, “More will come.”
As we walk in faith with our eyes and ears open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, ideas will begin to come. The idea comes and you step out in faith to do it--to speak or to serve. You just attempt to do it. You become more concerned about being faithful and trustworthy than being perfect. If you are teaching, prepare as best you can and then just go ahead and do it. If singing, practice as best you can and then just do it. That is how you operate in your gift according to your faith. If you get one word, “in the tongues of men or of angels,” speak it out when it is needed and more will come. It might be difficult, it might be scary, but you’re learning to “walk by faith and not by sight.”
To those who were actively doing something with the talents they had received, the master said, “Well done--because you have been faithful and trustworthy, I will increase what you already have.” How have you been doing at investing the divine talent that God has given you? Ask yourself this question, “What would the church be like if every member were just like me?” Would our church be empty on Sunday, or full to overflowing, if everyone attended as I do? How much Bible study and prayer would occur if everyone took the time I do? How many bruised, hurting, lonely people, would be touched by the church if every member acted exactly as I do? Would we need more ushers and offering plates if everyone gave like me? Would the church just be an attractive social club? Would it be closed, bankrupt, out of business? Or would it be a dynamic force for Jesus in our community and our world if everyone were just like me? So, what would the church be like if every member were just like you? What have you done with what God has given you? Have you invested it or have you wasted it?
On the other hand, we can also hope to hear the master’s praise, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” In modern terms we might use the sports cliche of “what counts is not whether you win or lose but how you play the game.” That’s a true statement. God gives us many things. Why He does so is not always clear, but what God expects of us is clear. God expects us to try to develop the good things we have. God expects us to invest what he has given to us in His work. What counts is not whether we are successful at the attempt. But whether or not we are willing to risk it all for God’s sake. To invest ourselves in God’s kingdom. To take what we have and use it in God’s work. To pass on the blessings we have received from God to those who hunger and those who thirst. To seek to build community and bring hope to the outcasts and the aliens among us.
God believes in us. He trusts us to do well with the gifts He gives us. If we have tried to work with what God has given, if we have invested ourselves as well as we are able in his work, then God will be pleased with us will invite us to enter into His joy and give to us even more than we first received from Him. Thanks be to God for His mercy and grace. What talent is He asking you to invest? How will you respond?
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Steve Stutz, M.Div., is a former mainline denominational pastor and certified Transformational Life Coach. As a spiritual director and coach, he specializes in helping busy people find their way through the challenges and obstacles that keep them from fulfilling their potential–in business, in relationships, spiritually and temporally! He works with individuals and congregations ecumenically and around the world. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org