About once a week I read something that is so beautiful, so powerful, so exquisitely written, that I have two distinct reactions:
1. Total Delight.
2. Crushing Discouragement.
The second reaction is not about jealousy, though I certainly struggle with that too. More often, the discouragement comes from feeling kicked in the stomach by reality. Truly great writing–the kind that takes your breath away–reminds me of the cold hard truth that I will probably never write like that.
I promise this isn’t false modesty, and I’m not being unfair to myself. I know myself and my gifts. Some writers have the heart of an artist. They use their words like a painter’s brush. They can capture the majesty and mystery of life and faith in the most subtle yet devastating flicks of their pen.
I, on the other hand, was not born with an artist’s heart. Instead, I was given the heart of a teacher. It’s not that the two are mutually exclusive–some writers are a perfect blend of the two–but I fall more on the side of teaching. My writing is more of a tool to communicate than an end in itself.
I know it sounds silly, but I’ve felt a lot of shame about this. Whenever I’m in the presence of bona fide writer writers, I feel very sheepish. I feel like a hack, like I’m not really one of them. My writing is not the caliber of my role models, or even my friends, so I shrink inside.
If you’ve read much of my writing, you know I am passionate about Christians using their gifts. God gave each of us talents, and we all play an important role in the Body of Christ. In fact, the Body is crippled if it misses even one. I am a big cheerleader for that truth.
However, for all my clapping and cheering about gifts, my own self-doubt points to something I missed. As much as I encourage Christians to hone and steward their gifts, I overlooked an aspect of “gifts” that is distinctly Christian:
Sometimes, God askes us to embrace the modesty of our gifts. Sometimes, He even asks us to scale them down more.
This is a very different message from cultivate! practice! train! get better! your gifts make you SPECIAL!
It’s not that those messages are wrong–they’re actually very important–but there is a subtle “bigger is better” message underlying them. When it comes to our gifts, there’s a temptation to start climbing the ladder of success. We can start to measure our gifts by our achievements, or our praise.
Contrast that temptation with the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 2. Paul, a highly educated man, wrote this of his ministry:
When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (v. 1-5)
Paul pulled back on his gifts. He didn’t use them to their fullest expression, and his example has challenged me in two ways:
First, it encourages me to welcome the limitations of my gifts. I might not write with the soul of a poet, but that’s not really my concern. God gave me particular gifts for a particular kind of influence. I may not be an artist, but there is a time and a place for teachers too. The world needs both.
Second, sometimes God calls us to rein in our gifts. Even in the areas where you truly excel, God might be calling you to smallness. This is an area where I especially relate to Paul because, like him, I have a lot of education under my belt. I know how to write academically. However I rarely write for academic audiences, so I adjust my words. I write not “with eloquence or human wisdom,” but in a way that, I hope, makes God’s truth accessible.
To be totally honest with you, that second part is the hardest for me. What’s difficult is not the writing style, but my insecurity about what others think–old classmates, professors, fellow writers–I wonder if they think I’m not as serious as they are. I wonder if they think my calling is below them.
In the face of that fear, Paul’s words fill me with peace. I remember that it’s not about me, and it doesn’t matter if anyone judges my writing (they’re probably not anyway!), as long as God is glorified.
I also take comfort in this: Jesus himself “did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped” but humbled himself and took the form of the servant (Phil. 2). In many ways, this is the ultimate paradigm for thinking about our gifts. God doesn’t measure our gifts in comparison with one another. He measures them by love. Our gifts are for loving God and loving others. Sometimes, that means not being the best. Sometimes that means humbling yourself and making yourself small so that you can reach those who feel small too.
The next time Satan whispers, “Your gifts don’t matter because they’re not as good as hers,” remember: when your gifts are less than someone else’s, when your gifts feel small and invisible, or when you sense God calling you to pull them back–that might be the precise moment when they matter most.