DAY 31 Understanding Your Shape You shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother's womb. Psalm 139:13 (Msg) Only you can be you. God designed each of us so there would be no duplication in the world. No one has the exact same mix of factors that make you unique. That means no one else on earth will ever be able to play the role God planned for you. If you don't make your unique contribution to the Body of Christ, it won't be made. The Bible says, "There are different kinds of spiritual gifts ... different ways of serving ... [and] different abilities to perform service." In the last chapter we looked at the first two of these: your spiritual gifts and your heart. Now we will look at the rest of your SHAPE for serving God. SHAPE: APPLYING YOUR ABILITIES Your abilities are the natural talents you were born with. Some people have a natural ability with words: They came out of the womb talking! Other people have natural athletic abilities, excelling in physical coordination. Still others are good at mathematics or music or mechanics. When God wanted to create the Tabernacle and all the utensils for worship, he provided artists and craftsmen who were shaped with the "skill, ability, and knowledge in all kinds of crafts to make artistic designs ... and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship." Today God still bestows these abilities and thousands of others, so people can serve him. All of our abilities come from God. Even abilities used to sin are God-given; they are just being misused or abused. The Bible says, "God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well." Since your natural abilities are from God, they are just as important and as "spiritual" as your spiritual gifts. The only difference is that you were given them at birth. One of the most common excuses people give for not serving is "I just don't have any abilities to offer." This is ludicrous. You have dozens, probably hundreds, of untapped, unrecognized, and unused abilities that are lying dormant inside you. Many studies have revealed that the average person possesses from 500 to 700 different skills and abilities-far more than you realize. For instance, your brain can store 100 trillion facts. Your mind can handle 15,000 decisions a second, as is the case when your digestive system is working. Your nose can smell up to 10,000 different odors. Your touch can detect an item 1/25,000th of an inch thick, and your tongue can taste one part of quinine in 2 million parts of water. You are a bundle of incredible abilities, an amazing creation of God. Part of the church's responsibility is to identify and release your abilities for serving God. Every ability can be used for God's glory. Paul said, "Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." The Bible is filled with examples of different abilities that God uses for his glory. Here are just a few of those mentioned in Scripture: artistic ability, architectural ability, administering, baking, boat making, candy making, debating, designing, embalming, embroidering, engraving, farming, fishing, gardening, leading, managing, masonry, making music, making weapons, needle work, painting, planting, philosophizing, machinability, inventing, carpentry, sailing, selling, being a soldier, tailoring, teaching, writing literature and poetry. The Bible says, "There are different abilities to perform service, but the same God gives ability to all for their particular service." God has a place in his church where your specialties can shine and you can make a difference. It's up to you to find that place. God gives some people the ability to make a lot of money. Moses told the Israelites, "Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth."6 People with this ability are good at building a business, making deals or sales, and reaping a profit. If you have this business ability, you should be using it for God's glory. How? First, realize your ability came from God and give him the credit. Second, use your business to serve a need of others and to share your faith with unbelievers. Third, return at least a tithe (10 percent) of the profit to God as an act of worship.' Finally, make your goal to be a Kingdom Builder rather than just a Wealth Builder. I will explain this in chapter 34. What I'm able to do, God wants me to do. You are the only person on earth who can use your abilities. No one else can play your role, because they don't have the unique shape that God has given you. The Bible says that God equips you "with all you need for doing his will.” To discover God's will for your life, you should seriously examine what you are good at doing and what you're not good at. If God hasn't given you the ability to carry a tune, he isn't going to expect you to be an opera singer. God will never ask you to dedicate your life to a task you have no talent for. On the other hand, the abilities you do have are a strong indication of what God wants you to do with your life. They are clues to knowing God's will for you. If you're good at designing or recruiting or drawing or organizing, it is a safe assumption that God's plan for your life includes that skill somehow. God doesn't waste abilities; he matches our calling and our capabilities. Your abilities were not given just to make a living; God gave them to you for your ministry. Peter said, "God has given each of you some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other, passing on to others God's many kinds of blessings." At this writing, nearly 7,000 people are using their abilities in ministry at Saddleback Church, providing every kind of service you could imagine: repairing donated cars to be given to the needy; finding the best deal for church purchases; landscaping; organizing files; designing art, programs, and buildings; providing health care; preparing meals; composing songs; teaching music; writing grant proposals; coaching teams; doing research for sermons or translating them; and hundreds of other specialized tasks. New members are told, "Whatever you're good at, you should be doing for your church!" SHAPE: USING YOUR PERSONALITY We don't realize how truly unique each of us is. DNA molecules can unite in an infinite number of ways. The number is 10 to the 2,400,000,000th power. That number is the likelihood that you'd ever find somebody just like you. If you were to write out that number with each zero being one inch wide, you'd need a strip of paper 37,000 miles long! To put this in perspective, some scientists have guessed that all the particles in the universe are probably less than 10 with 76 zeros behind it, far less than the possibilities of your DNA. Your uniqueness is a scientific fact of life. When God made you, he broke the mold. There never has been, and never will be, anybody exactly like you. It is obvious that God loves variety-just look around! He created each of us with a unique combination of personality traits. God made introverts and extroverts. He made people who love routine and those who love variety. He made some people "thinkers" and others "feelers." Some people work best when given an individual assignment while others work better with a team. The Bible says, "God works through different people in different ways, but it is the same God who achieves his purpose through them all.” The Bible gives us plenty of proof that God uses all types of personalities. Peter was a sanguine. Paul was a choleric. Jeremiah was a melancholy. When you look at the personality differences in the twelve disciples, it's easy to see why they sometimes had interpersonal conflict. There is no "right" or "wrong" temperament for ministry. We need all kinds of personalities to balance the church and give it flavor. The world would be a very boring place if we were all plain vanilla. Fortunately, people come in more than thirty-one flavors. Your personality will affect how and where you use your spiritual gifts and abilities. For instance, two people may have the same gift of evangelism, but if one is introverted and the other is extroverted, that gift will be expressed in different ways. Woodworkers know that it's easier to work with the grain rather than against it. In the same way, when you are forced to minister in a manner that is "out of character" for your temperament, it creates tension and discomfort, requires extra effort and energy, and produces less than the best results. This is why mimicking someone else's ministry never works. You don't have their personality. Besides, God made you to be you! You can learn from the examples of others, but you must filter what you learn through your own shape. Today there are many books and tools that can help you understand your personality so you can determine how to use it for God. Like stained glass, our different personalities reflect God's light in many colors and patterns. This blesses the family of God with depth and variety. It also blesses us personally. It feels good to do what God made you to do. When you minister in a manner consistent with the personality God gave you, you experience fulfillment, satisfaction, and fruitfulness. SHAPE: EMPLOYING YOUR EXPERIENCES You have been shaped by your experiences in life, most of which were beyond your control. God allowed them for his purpose of molding you." In determining your shape for serving God, you should examine at least six kinds of experiences from your past: * Family experiences: What did you learn growing up in your family? * Educational experiences: What were your favorite subjects in school? * Vocational experiences: What jobs have you been most effective in and enjoyed most? * Spiritual experiences: What have been your most meaningful times with God? * Ministry experiences: How have you served God in the past? * Painful experiences: What problems, hurts, thorns, and trials have you learned from? It is this last category, painful experiences, that God uses the most to prepare you for ministry. God never wastes a hurt! In fact, your greatest ministry will most likely come out of your greatest hurt. Who could better minister to the parents of a Down syndrome child than another couple who have a child afflicted in the same way? Who could better help an alcoholic recover than someone who fought that demon and found freedom? Who could better comfort a wife whose husband has left her for an affair than a woman who went through that agony herself? God intentionally allows you to go through painful experiences to equip you for ministry to others. The Bible says, "He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us." If you really desire to be used by God, you must understand a powerful truth: The very experiences that you have resented or regretted most in life-the ones you've wanted to hide and forget-are the experiences God wants to use to help others. They are your ministry! For God to use your painful experiences, you must be willing to share them. You have to stop covering them up, and you must honestly admit your faults, failures, and fears. Doing this will probably be your most effective ministry. People are always more encouraged when we share how God's grace helped us in weakness than when we brag about our strengths. Paul understood this truth, so he was honest about his bouts with depression. He admitted, "I think you ought to know, dear brothers, about the hard time we went through in Asia. We were really crushed and overwhelmed, and feared we would never live through it. We felt we were doomed to die and saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for then we put everything into the hands of God, who alone could save us, for he can even raise the dead. And he did help us and saved us from a terrible death; yes, and we expect hint to do it again and again." If Paul had kept his experience of doubt and depression a secret, millions of people would never have benefited from it. Only shared experiences can help others. Aldous Huxley said, "Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you." What will you do with what you've been through? Don't waste your pain; use it to help others. As we've looked at these five ways God has shaped you for service, I hope you have a deeper appreciation for God's sovereignty and a clearer idea of how he has prepared you for the purpose of serving him. Using your shape is the secret of both fruitfulness and fulfillment in ministry. You will be most effective when you use your spiritual gifts and abilities in the area of your heart's desire, and in a way that best expresses your personality and experiences. The better the fit, the more successful you will be. DAY THIRTY-ONE THINKING ABOUT MY PURPOSE Point to Ponder: Nobody else can be me. Verse to Remember: "God has given each of you some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other, passing on to others God's many kinds of blessings." 1 Peter 4:10 (LB) Question to Consider: What God-given ability or personal experience can I offer to my church?