How to Let Your Spiritual Talents Go to Waste
Which special skills has God endowed you with? Before you were ever born, and again when he made you new in Christ, God intentionally selected gifts for you: strengths, interests, and talents that are uniquely yours to develop and use. What, you don’t think that’s true? Do you recognize them, if so? Can you describe some concrete ways you plan to apply and hone these skills?
If you have faith in Jesus, he has made some of his divine abilities available to you. No matter who you are or how “talented” you may think you are in comparison to others, God has given you certain skills for a reason: to help other people.
One and the same God empowers different actions in different people, just as there are many kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Holy Spirit. The Spirit makes Himself known to each person for the benefit of all. First Corinthians 12:4-7
It’s “in you” that “in everyone” refers to. To you and to each of you.
A place where skills wither
Though we each have unique capacities for good, not everyone lives up to them. Some people just throw away God’s marvelous and unique gifts to them. You can find them, in a sense, collecting dust on shelves down there; they’re just extras from a life that wasn’t your main priority.
Paul exhorts the Roman church, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us employ them” (Romans 12:6). Why then do we fail to fully realize our potential? What is it that prevents you from making use of the gifts God has given you? We don’t always recognize when we’re wasting the gifts and talents God has given us. These are the tools of Satan’s trade. He will tempt us away from God in a thousand subtle ways if he can’t get us to reject him outright. He’ll plant a barely perceptible temptation that rots our instincts and suffocates our potential over time.
In the end, most spiritual gifts are neglected rather than simply rejected.
The neglect of spiritual gifts is more common than open rejection. These temptations lead to spiritual dead ends, where one can rest comfortably but get nowhere. In Romans 12, Paul skirts four of these dead ends.
Avenue of Selfishness
One of the most common ways we squander such resources is by using them to fulfill our own wants rather than those of those around us. Right after making such a profound assertion about who we are, Paul then commands us to put those talents to use:
We may be numerous, but we serve as different parts of Christ’s body. (Romans 12:5)
God doesn’t give us talents primarily so that we might further our jobs, indulge in our passions, or feel a feeling of accomplishment or fulfillment; rather, they are to be used for the benefit of the church, the body of Christ. The church has a need for your particular set of skills and abilities, which is why you’ve been called to serve in that capacity.
As a whole, this is not how people think. What good are presents if I can’t decide how to spend them? We take stock of our skills, opportunities, and free time like a 5-year-old looking over his collection of Matchbox cars and exclaiming, “Mine!” It’s clear that God has a very different perspective on presents. In other words, he wonders, what good are presents if they wilt on the vines of ego? Not at all; rather, we can only take use of God’s gifts if we hold on to them lightly and cheerfully declare, “Yours!”
Boulvard de la Fierté
We risk wasting our talents not just due to the selfishness that prevents us from seeing the needs of others, but also due to the arrogance that causes us to think too highly of ourselves. Within the context of the preceding verses, Paul writes
By God’s mercy, I urge everyone of you to maintain a healthy dose of humility and to rely on your God-given faculties of discernment to determine your own personal level of faith. [[Romans 12:3]]
Too much introspection or the belief that the people whose needs we might be able to assist are beneath us can cause talents to rot. We think ourselves too talented for a love that is unremarkable and unappreciated. The inflated sense of self-importance that comes from pride causes us to lose touch with reality and to discount the importance of meeting basic human needs. However, at that altitude, God-given talents die of asphyxiation. When based on realistic, everyday lives and needs, they come to life and thrive. We’ll never realize the full potential of our abilities unless we’re willing to use them on our knees.
If we don’t use our talents on our knees, they will never be developed to their fullest potential.
The previous phrase has a weapon that Paul hides against this gift-smothering pride: “think sober thoughts about yourself, each according to the measure of faith that God has allotted.” God decides which skills you’ll have. God even decides how much faith you’ll have. As example, “What do you have that I didn’t get?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Remember that your success in whatever is due only to God’s ingenuity and kindness.
Avenue of the Worlds
A third dead end is perhaps the most pervasive and nuanced: a lack of worldliness. Because we value and prioritize the things of the world over God’s kingdom and his righteousness, we often fail to make the most of our abilities (Matthew 6:33). It’s all too simple to follow the mob as they slowly make their way away from the cross. Paul urges Christians to “not be conformed to this world” through the renovation of their minds so that they might “test and approve” God’s will as good and perfect (Romans 12:2).
To what extent might conformity go wrong? We give more of ourselves at work than at home or in worship. Our interests in life outside of work thrill us more than the prospect of eternal life in heaven. The most “relaxing” and soothing thing for us to do is to browse through the social media scraps of complete strangers. Even if we make time to watch our favorite shows and movies regularly, we often find it difficult to set aside quiet time to connect with God.
It’s no surprise that our time, attention, finances, and skills keep going to the wrong people or causes when our hearts aren’t in the right places (or never land at all). Those who make effective use of their talents go against what society tells them they should do. Through the Bible, prayer, and the company of other Christians, they are able to discern where God would have them take and invest their resources.
Circle of Passivity
As we round the final bend on this straight and narrow path of fidelity, we are brought back to Romans 12:6: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” Passivity is like a particularly robust plant that destroys gardens full of talent.
How many gifts from God do we let wither because we are too busy, afraid, or unmotivated to use them? We felt compelled to help in some capacity, but we put it off. Even though we suspected they required a phone or a visit, we figured someone else would take the initiative. We knew the church needed someone to cover that ground, but we continued making up reasons to stay in the dugout. Paul tells the church, “You have abilities (yes, even you), so use them,” whether someone is young or old, male or female, a new believer or an old saint, healthy or hurting, extroverted or reserved, musically talented or not. Regardless of your skill set, I hope you’ll be able to put it to good use in the service of others.
Just because God has endowed you with higher levels of grace in specific areas to meet the needs of others does not make you more gifted than everyone else or mean that God does not require all of us to teach, serve, exhort, give, and lead in diverse ways. To be good stewards of God’s various grace, we are to use the abilities God has given us to benefit one another (1 Peter 4:10). Get to work, using the skills and knowledge God has given you.
Wait, What Are My Gifts?
However, some people may still be in the dark about their abilities. You may not have ever considered yourself “talented” and hence be unable to name any specific ability or body of information that you would classify as such. In what ways may a person get started discovering their talents?
Paul does provide some illustrations in Romans 12:6-8: Find someone with a teaching gift, even if it’s just to teach a small group of preschoolers every Sunday. Find someone who has a heart for service, even if it’s just doing some light housework for a widow a few pews down on Sundays. Find someone to exhort, even if it’s the guy who has been teaching the same group of three or four 6-year-olds every week. Some are endowed to exhort, to encourage, challenge, correct, and inspire.
There’s a lot more that could be said, but to get started, consider this: What do you enjoy doing well that a ministry or family in your church could need? For what do other people express gratitude toward you? It might involve instructing or motivating those who do so. It could involve conducting a musical performance or preparing a stage. It could involve either preparing or serving food. It could involve inviting strangers into your home or making an effort to reach out to the lonely. That could be consistently praying for other members or simply greeting visitors on Sunday morning. Even a tiny church has big needs. Smaller churches can have more requirements since there are fewer leaders and fewer resources available to meet those needs. So, tell me, what is it that you do really well that satisfies the needs of other people?
You can still put your talents to good use even if they’ve gotten lost in a dead end. Refrain from squandering God’s blessings on the pride, selfishness, worldliness, and apathy that will destroy them. Remove the barriers that have kept your talents confined. Find an area where you excel by God’s grace, and then ask him to point you toward a need you can fill.