DAY 32 Using What God Gave You Since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ's body, lets just go ahead and be what we were made to be. Romans 12:5 (Msg) What you are is God's gift to you; what you do with yourself is yourgifit to God. Danish proverb God deserves your best. He shaped you for a purpose, and he expects you to make the most of what you have been given. He doesn't want you to worry about or covet abilities you don't have. Instead he wants you to focus on talents he has given you to use. When you attempt to serve God in ways you're not shaped to serve, it feels like forcing a square peg into a round hole. It's frustrating and produces limited results. It also wastes your time, your talent, and your energy. The best use of your life is to serve God out of your shape. To do this you must discover your shape, learn to accept and enjoy it, and then develop it to its fullest potential. DISCOVER YOUR SHAPE The Bible says, "Don't act thoughtlessly, but try to find out and do whatever the Lord wants you to. "' Don't let another day go by. Start finding out and clarifying what God intends for you to be and do. Begin by assessing your gifts and abilities. Take a long, honest look at what you are good at and what you're not good at. Paul advised, "Try to have a sane estimate of your capabilities." Make a list. Ask other people for their candid opinion. Tell them you're searching for the truth, not fishing for a compliment. Spiritual gifts and natural abilities are always confirmed by others. If you think you are gifted to be a teacher or a singer and no one else agrees, guess what? If you want to know if you have the gift of leadership, just look over your shoulder! If no one is following you, you're not a leader. Ask questions like these: Where have I seen fruit in my life that other people confirmed? Where have I already been successful? Spiritual gift tests and ability inventories can have some value, but they are limited in their usefulness. In the first place, they are standardized, so they don't take into account your uniqueness. Second, there are no definitions of the spiritual gifts given in the Bible, so any definitions are arbitrary and usually represent a denominational bias. Another problem is that the more mature you become, the more likely you are to manifest the characteristics of a number of the gifts. You may be serving or teaching or giving generously out of maturity rather than because it is your spiritual gift. The best way to discover your gifts and abilities is to experiment with different areas of service. I could have taken a hundred gift and ability tests as a young man and would have never discovered that I was gifted at teaching because I had never done it! It was only after I began accepting opportunities to speak that I saw the results, received confirmation from others, and realized, "God has gifted me to do this!" Many books get the discovery process backwards. They say, "Discover your spiritual gift and then you'll know what ministry you're supposed to have." It actually works the exact opposite way. Just start serving, experimenting with different ministries, and then you'll discover your gifts. Until you're actually involved in serving, you're not going to know what you're good at. You have dozens of hidden abilities and gifts you don't know you've got because you've never tried them out. So I encourage you to try doing some things you've never done before. No matter how old you are, I urge you to never stop experimenting. I have met many people who discovered hidden talents in their seventies and eighties. I know a woman in her nineties who runs and wins 10K races and didn't discover that she enjoyed running until she was seventy-eight! Don't try to figure out your gifts before volunteering to serve somewhere. Just start serving. You discover your gifts by getting involved in ministry. Try teaching or leading or organizing or playing an instrument or working with teenagers. You will never know what you're good at until you try. When it doesn't work out, call it an "experiment," not a failure. You will eventually learn what you're good at. Consider your heart and your personality. Paul advised, "Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. "3 Again, it helps to get feedback from those who know you best. Ask yourself questions: What do I really enjoy doing most? When do I feel the most fully alive? What am I doing when I lose track of time? Do I like routine or variety? Do I prefer serving with a team or by myself? Am I more introverted or extroverted? Am I more a thinker or a feeler? Which do I enjoy more-competing or cooperating? Examine your experiences and extract the lessons you have learned. Review your life and think about how it has shaped you. Moses told the Israelites, "Remember today what you have learned about the LORD through your experiences with him." Forgotten experiences are worthless; that's a good reason to keep a spiritual journal. Paul worried that the believers in Galatia would waste the pain they had been through. He said, "Were all your experiences wasted? I hope not!" We rarely see God's good purpose in pain or failure or embarrassment while it is happening. When Jesus washed Peter's feet, he said, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Only in hindsight do we understand how God intended a problem for good. Extracting the lessons from your experiences takes time. I recommend that you take an entire weekend for a life review retreat, where you pause to see how God has worked in the various defining moments of your life and consider how he wants to use those lessons to help others. There are resources that can help you do this. ACCEPT AND ENJOY YOUR SHAPE Since God knows what's best for you, you should gratefully accept the way he has fashioned you. The Bible says, "What right have you, a human being, to cross-examine God? The pot has no right to say to the potter: `Why did you make me this shape?' Surely a potter can do what he likes with the clay!" Your shape was sovereignly determined by God for his purpose, so you shouldn't resent it or reject it. Instead of trying to reshape yourself to be like someone else, you should celebrate the shape God has given only to you. "Christ has given each of us special abilities-whatever he wants us to have out of his rich storehouse of gifts." Part of accepting your shape is recognizing your limitations. Nobody is good at everything, and no one is called to be everything. We all have defined roles. Paul understood that his calling was not to accomplish everything or please everyone but to focus only on the particular ministry God had shaped him for. He said, "Our goal is to stay within the boundaries of God's plan for us." The word boundaries refers to the fact that God assigns each of us a field or sphere of service. Your shape determines your specialty. When we try to overextend our ministry reach beyond what God shaped us for, we experience stress. Just as each runner in a race is given a different lane to run in, we must individually "run with patience the particular race that God has set before us." Don't be envious of the runner in the lane next to you; just focus on finishing your race. God wants you to enjoy using the shape he has given you. The Bible says, `Be sure to do what you should, for then you will enjoy the personal satisfaction of having done your work well, and you won't need to compare yourself to anyone else." Satan will try to steal the joy of service from you in a couple of ways: by tempting you to compare your ministry with others, and by tempting you to conform your ministry to the expectations of others. Both are deadly traps that will distract you from serving in the ways God intended. Whenever you lose your joy in ministry, start by considering if either one of these temptations is the cause. The Bible warns us never to compare ourselves with others: "Do your own work well, and then you the shape he has given you. will have something to be proud of. But don't compare yourself with others." There are two reasons why you should never compare your shape, ministry, or the results of your ministry with anyone else. First, you will always be able to find someone who seems to be doing a better job than you and you will become discouraged. Or you will always be able to find someone who doesn't seem as effective as you and you will get full of pride. Either attitude will take you out of service and rob you of your joy. Paul said it is foolish to compare ourselves with others. He said, "We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise." The Message paraphrase says, "In all this comparing and grading and competing, they quite miss the point." You will find that people who do not understand your shape for ministry will criticize you and try to get you to conform to what they think you should be doing. Ignore them. Paul often had to deal with critics who misunderstood and maligned his service. His response was always the same: Avoid comparisons, resist exaggerations, and seek only God's commendation.'' One of the reasons Paul was used so greatly by God was that he refused to be distracted by criticism or by comparing his ministry with others or by being drawn into fruitless debates about his ministry. As John Bunyan said, "If my life is fruitless, it doesn't matter who praises me, and if my life is fruitful, it doesn't matter who criticizes me." KEEP DEVELOPING YOUR SHAPE Jesus' parable of the talents illustrates that God expects us to make the most of what he gives us. We are to cultivate our gifts and abilities, keep our hearts aflame, grow our character and personality, and broaden our experiences so we will be increasingly more effective in our service. Paul told the Philippians to "keep on growing in your knowledge and understanding," and he reminded Timothy, "Kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you." If you don't exercise your muscles, they weaken and atrophy. In the same way, if you don't utilize the abilities and skills God has given you, you will lose them. Jesus taught the parable of the talents to emphasize this truth. Referring to the servant who failed to use his one talent, the master said, "Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents." Fail to use what you've been given and you'll lose it. Use the ability you've got and God will increase it. Paul told Timothy, `Be sure to use the abilities God has given you.... Put these abilities to work." Whatever gifts you have been given can be enlarged and developed through practice. For instance, no one gets the gift of teaching fully developed. But with study, feedback, and practice, a "good" teacher can become a better teacher, and with time, grow to be a master teacher. Don't settle for a half-developed gift. Stretch yourself and learn all you can. "Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won't be ashamed of." Take advantage of every training opportunity to develop your shape and sharpen your serving skills. In heaven we are going to serve God forever. Right now, we can prepare for that eternal service by practicing on earth. Like athletes preparing for the Olympics, we keep training for that big day: "They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You're after one that's gold eternally." We're getting ready for eternal responsibilities and rewards. DAY THIRTY-TWO THINKING ABOUT MY PURPOSE Point to Ponder: God deserves my best. Verse to Remember: "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15 (NN) Question to Consider: How can I make the best use of what God has given me?