When I was in college I took a course on Interpersonal Communications. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to. I majored in communications because that way you could get free studio time for your rock band. I was in a rock band. So in exchange for free studio time, I had to take Interpersonal Communications.
What I discovered was that I really didn’t mind the class. I quite liked it actually. I found it all very interesting and intriguing. I remember feeling a bit disappointed even, that I would never be able to apply these skills in real life. Because I was in a rock band.
I had many similar experiences in my early adulthood. I took a public speaking class. Again, because I had to. For my final speech, the grand finale, I stood before the class and delivered a stirring address from one of the great American orators of 20th century; H.I. McDunnough from Raising Arizona.
I enjoyed the class, but again, no real world application … rock band.
I was a barista at Starbucks in those early post-college years. I needed a job, I liked coffee (still like coffee), I liked health insurance. For years I would visit with wildly diverse community of people; a few minutes every day. Often they would lean on the bar and share their lives with me; their hurts, their struggles, their joys and frustrations. I tried to be a good listener. But my primary task was to make a good latte. Plus, you know, rock band.
Then there was my relationship with music. Music was my singular passion. I would’ve described it as my calling, my vocation. But as the years went by, I realized that even this great passion of music was learning me feeling empty, unfulfilled, unsatisfied.
Hindsight is 2020. When I look back on my life I can see not only the spiritual gifts that God gave me, but the manner in which He was nurturing and strengthening those gifts … in spite of myself! It was the classes that I didn’t sign up for that began to pave the way for the priesthood. It was the hundreds and hundreds of sidebar conversations at the coffee shop that marked the early beginnings of pastoral ministry.
And the music. The thing I loved the most and was terrified to give up upon moving to seminary, God has returned to me a hundredfold. I am blessed to sing all the time as a priest. Not for other people, but directly to God in worship! Nothing could be more satisfying.
God has given each one of us very particular gifts. We can use those gifts for earthly purposes, they will work. But the primary purpose for which He has given us these gifts, is heavenly.
Peter and Andrew were fisherman. There they are about their earthly trade, casting their nets into the sea. Our Lord approaches them, and invites them to consider using their gifts for heavenly purposes. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Follow me, and I will empower you, to use the gifts I have given you, for their intended purpose! To the glory of God, for the salvation of God, to share and spread and extend His gracious love and saving grace, His heavenly kingdom across the earth.
There is a satisfaction and fulfillment in this life that money can’t buy, that no drug can achieve, or earthly relationship quench, that comes from walking in Gods will, and delighting in His way that is uniquely manifested when we exercise our spiritual gifts for the purposes God has intended.
This is a dynamic process. There are seasons of life. If you are not sure how God is calling you to serve Him with the gifts He has given you, pray about it! If, after intentional prayer, you do not feel called to serve in a particular way, you shouldn’t do it! To do so would be disobedient! In the same way, if after intentional prayer you feel that God is calling you to serve in a particular way, explore that way! Go down that road a little further. Talk to someone about it. Pray about it some more. If it won’t go away, you’re probably on the right path. If the thought of that calling terrifies you, I’m sorry to say that is probably a sign to walk down that road a little further.
How easily we forget that this is God’s work we are talking about. The fear comes from deceiving ourselves into thinking that we somehow need to accomplish something. We don’t! In truth, we can’t! It is His work, these are His gifts given to us, and it is His power working in us that accomplishes “infinitely more than we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3.20). Jesus says, “Follow me, and I will make you into the person I have created and called you to be.” Our main job, our primary roll, is to be open, and obedient, and faithful to the call. He will do the rest. He who calls us is faithful.
We are all — each one of us — uniquely gifted by God. The design of God’s purpose for His people, for His church, is an exquisite wholistic body that is far greater than the some of its parts. We are all equipped and called to play our unique part. Imagine this, no one else can play your part. No one else can take your place in the body. There are no subs. Which means, that without any single one of us, the vision of the whole cannot be fully realized. That’s how special and unique God has made each one of us.
The gifts we are given can be utilized anywhere, not just within the “walls” of the “institutional church.” Remember, we are the church wherever we are called to live and work and serve. That said, many spiritual gifts are given specifically for use within the life of a local parish community. The worshipping church is the very nerve center, the engine room, the source of divine grace and spiritual energies by which the gifts themselves are discerned and strengthened and perfected. Naturally, many of us are called to utilize our spiritual gifts in the local church.
God equips us collectively, as a community, to accomplish the work of His body the church. My job, and your job, as individuals is very simple; it’s not to point out what other people should or shouldn’t do, it’s not to criticize or compare or be jealous of what I don’t have, or who I wish I was more like. My job is very simply … to do my part. Your job is to do your part. That’s it! That’s what we are responsible for!
When and as we each individually take seriously our gifts and calling, and allow God to lead us, and transform us, and empower us to play our unique part in His body the church, that’s when life gets really, really satisfying, and deeply fulfilling, and even at times, dare I say … fun.
Which is what we’re all looking for to begin with, right?
Adapted from the sermon. Audio available here.