Week of Prayer for Monday
One of the first questions many of us ask, when meeting someone new, is, “What do you do?” The response often details the job where the person is working or a career path he or she is pursuing. As small talk, this is simply a time filler, yet the question begs a more comprehensive, in-depth answer. The larger answer includes what we do and who we are before God, ourselves, and others. These are listed in order of priority and importance. When they are shifted out of order, they tend to cause confusion and problems in the life. For a term to describe this, we will use the word lifework. This word quite readily brings to mind a great work, accomplishment, fame, or fortune that many may not ever experience in their lifetimes. However, let us look at what it is from God’s perspective and what we are called to as a lifework.
“Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called [thee] by thy name; thou [art] mine.” “[Even] every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.” Isaiah 43:1, 7. These verses remind us that we are precious; we are called by God. He knows our names and uses them, and He has a purpose for each one of us for His glory.
God’s call on the life includes the entrusting of abilities, aptitudes, capabilities, gifts, and talents. “The specific place appointed us in life is determined by our capabilities. Not all reach the same development or do with equal efficiency the same work. God does not expect the hyssop to attain the proportions of the cedar, or the olive the height of the stately palm. But each should aim just as high as the union of human with divine power makes it possible for him to reach.” Education, 267.
God gives as He requires. He does not ask us to do something for which He has not fitted us or given us the opportunity to learn or to become. However, to follow Him requires the sacrifice of our wills, our plans, and our desires for His glory and, ultimately, for our good. “Many do not become what they might, because they do not put forth the power that is in them. They do not, as they might, lay hold on divine strength. Many are diverted from the line in which they might reach the truest success. Seeking greater honor or a more pleasing task, they attempt something for which they are not fitted. Many a man whose talents are adapted for some other calling, is ambitious to enter a profession; and he who might have been successful as a farmer, an artisan, or a nurse, fills inadequately the position of a minister, a lawyer, or a physician. There are others, again, who might have filled a responsible calling, but who, for want of energy, application, or perseverance, content themselves with an easier place.” Ibid.
Deciding on a lifework may be easy for some and more challenging for others. I have met many people who will quickly say, “I do not have any talents, not like someone else has.” The greatest obstacle in putting to use the special gifts God has given is not accepting them as the blessings they are and not using them as He has planned for our lives. Each and every one of us has received at least one gift, as shown in the parable of the talents. The one who had the least of all still had a talent that he was expected to use. (Matthew 25:14–29.)
The Bible says that each man is given a measure of faith and grace. “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think [of himself] more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” Romans 12:3. “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” Ephesians 4:7. These two gifts will help you on your way to accepting the fact that God has given you talents and has a plan for how you may use them. So recognize, be grateful, and give thanks to the Giver of the finest gifts. Above all, use them for His glory.
When choosing a career or direction for lifework, Ellen White gives four simple directions to follow: “We need to follow more closely God’s plan of life. To do our best in the work that lies nearest, to commit our ways to God, and to watch for the indications of His providence—these are rules that ensure safe guidance in the choice of an occupation.” Ibid. [Emphasis supplied.] As we follow, God, who has led His people in the past, will continue to lead His people today.
The second part of our original answer pertains to what we do and who we are before ourselves. The qualifier here is that “in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” 11 Corinthians 5:17. The old man wants to use the abilities, aptitudes, capabilities, gifts, and talents for his own use, honor, and glory. Truly this means the old man must die and the new man, under the authority and leadership of God, uses each of these things for God’s glory. When this occurs, the life is radically refocused, but the abilities, aptitudes, capabilities, gifts, and talents do not change.
Before his conversion, Paul, as Saul of Tarsus, was zealous for God’s glory in his preaching and teaching. He was very persuasive, as he was able to obtain letters to search out and destroy the sect called the Way. (See Acts 9.) After meeting Christ on the road to Damascus, he was still zealous for God’s glory, teaching and preaching—although the heresy he began to try to destroy was pulling down the strongholds so men and women could be free to follow the Christ that he knew. He refocused his abilities and God-given talents.
Paul was an example of being true to self both before and after his conversion by following his convictions. We must do the same before God and ourselves, to know and to follow our own personal convictions. If we do not, confusion will darken our paths and our ways will be difficult. Being true to one’s self in Christ helps us to remain focused and able to perform that to which He calls us.
Today, we serve not as slaves but as hired servants. We study and learn in a variety of settings—at home, school, college, and university—and then enter the world of work. As hired servants, we serve for financial remuneration and gain. “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” 11 Thessalonians 3:10. Paul encouraged people to be financially responsible for themselves and then to set aside extra to help those who could not do for themselves: “Upon the first [day] of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as [God] hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by [your] letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem.” 1 Corinthians 16:2, 3. He also spoke to employees about how to serve: “Servants, obey in all things [your] masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do [it] heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:22–24.
Another place we are to serve is in the area of ministry, using our special gifts. Sometimes God has a wonderful sense of humor, as He places us in connection with those who may give us of their gifts and bring out our unique gifts.
Several years ago, I was involved in a health class ministry with three women who had very different gifts and abilities. One had taught home economics, enjoyed quilting, and was a secretary. Another, also a secretary, was very skilled in organization. The third woman had worked with her husband as a fence builder but was retired and liked to quilt. I also had studied home economics but had finished my degree in nursing and was working as a surgical nurse. Each of us had a common desire to share information about the gift of health with others, yet, as you may imagine, we approached our mutual goal in a variety of ways.
My organized friend regularly requested that the recipes to be presented be tried and tested before each class. She also wanted the written recipes in plenty of time to have them typed and neatly arranged. This was a challenge for me, because I would get too busy and then forget what I had promised to have ready for her. The other two ladies always took care of things on time. Who needed to change? When I realized that my organized friend was only trying to make this experience easier on all of us by being prepared and having handouts and talks ready for our programs, I became a better part of the team. It worked like a charm! It required discipline to do it, but I was able to grow and then work on my organizational skills in other areas, because of her example and friendship.
We all enjoyed many years of friendship and growing in grace as we ministered together. Each of us remained true to our own purposes and passions, yet we had the opportunity to try out and practice new skills. Both my organized friend and fence builder friend learned to present information and give talks before the class attendees, instead of staying behind the scenes. My other friend encouraged us to upgrade our presentations with the purchase of a demonstration mirror, which the fence builder friend mounted to a cabinet on wheels. The two friends who quilted also encouraged me to try my hand at quilting. God certainly blessed our friendships and expanded our talents in ways I had not expected.
The third part of the question about what we do and who we are is addressed by our relationships to others. We enter this world as a son or a daughter, as a brother or a sister, grow, have friends, attend school, get a job, and perhaps marry. Each of our lives continually interacts with others. Some interactions may be positive and encouraging; others may be negative and discouraging, but when we keep in mind our call to God and stay true to self, we can seek help and healing when we need it.
Gifts and talents given by God are often recognized early in life and hopefully encouraged. If encouraged, the child and the gift will grow strong and courageous, exercising and stretching so the gift becomes a blessing to the child and to others. When discouragement is given, the gift may be hidden behind a curtain of pain, and it may take years, if ever, to resurface. Sadly, when the call of God or lifework is put on hold, the individual is not the only one who loses out on God’s blessing. Jesus was ever the encourager of children, saying, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14. The gifts He gives to His children, both young and old, He desires to see grow and flourish.
Our first home is the earliest place in which we have opportunity to grow in grace and advance our gifts. God thought of this when He gave us His Law. The first commandment with promise is the fifth commandment: “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” Exodus 20:12. In our first home, we learn responsibility and service under the teaching and watchful eyes of our parents.
“Honor, the foundation from which all other elements of Christian character arise, refers primarily to a condition of the heart and mind, an inner attitude that inevitably manifests itself in outer words, action and demeanor. Honor expresses the genuine and deep veneration within the child’s heart (or anyone’s heart) toward those to whom honor is due. It recognizes our indebtedness, our obligation, to those whom we honor. It expresses the value we place upon them, since if we value them, we will pay attention to them and spend time for them.” Blair Adams, Building Christian Character, Truth Forum, Austin, Texas, 1988, 13. Parents who train children to be upright are blessed and bless others.
Variety of Gifts
As we grow up and mature, we should recognize more ways to serve others as we see a wider variety of gifts. Many and varied are the gifts that He gives. We are to recognize each one and be thankful for it. These include the gifts of the Holy Spirit: “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, [let us prophesy] according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, [let us wait] on [our] ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, [let him do it] with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness.” Romans 12:6–8. “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another [divers] kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” 1 Corinthians 12:8–11. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11, 12.
In her book, Christ’s Object Lessons, 325–365, Ellen White lists these gifts and more, which include mental faculties, speech, influence, time, health, strength, money, kindly impulses, and affections. Have we not all been given some portion of each of these gifts? We are responsible before God as to how we use, share, increase, or abuse these talents that He has given.
“The special gifts of the Spirit are not the only talents represented in the parable [of the talents]. It includes all gifts and endowments, whether original or acquired, natural or spiritual. All are to be employed in Christ’s service. In becoming His disciples, we surrender ourselves to Him with all that we are and have. These gifts He returns to us purified and ennobled, to be used for His glory in blessing our fellow men.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 328.
Paul, writing to a young man named Timothy, said, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” [1 Timothy 4:14.] In other words, “I remind you to stir up—rekindle, as a fire—the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands.” In the home, a most wonderful opportunity is available to parents in the practice of praying for, laying hands on, and blessing the children. (See Genesis 49.)
Recognize the Giver
Service to our fellowman by using our abilities, aptitudes, capabilities, gifts, and talents is harmonized with a desire to share with others the recognition of the Giver of the gifts. “Love and loyalty to Christ are the spring of all true service. In the heart touched by His love, there is begotten a desire to work for Him. Let this desire be encouraged and rightly guided. Whether in the home, the neighborhood, or the school, the presence of the poor, the afflicted, the ignorant, or the unfortunate should be regarded, not as a misfortune, but as affording precious opportunity for service.
“In this work, as in every other, skill is gained in the work itself. It is by training in the common duties of life and in ministry to the needy and suffering, that efficiency is assured.” Education, 268.
“In this closing work of the gospel there is a vast field to be occupied; and, more than ever before, the work is to enlist helpers from the common people. Both the youth and those older in years will be called from the field, from the vineyard, and from the workshop, and sent forth by the Master to give His message. Many of these have had little opportunity for education; but Christ sees in them qualifications that will enable them to fulfill His purpose. If they put their hearts into the work, and continue to be learners, He will fit them to labor for Him.” Ibid., 269, 270.
As men and women labor for the Master, they will seek souls for the kingdom of God. “By living to minister for others, man is brought into connection with Christ. The law of service becomes the connecting link which binds us to God and to our fellow men.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 326.
This brings us full circle. The lifework for which we are responsible is to live for God, to be true to ourselves, and to live in service for others, pointing the way to salvation and heaven. Lifework is more than what we do; it is truly who we are and the legacy we leave behind for Christ. It includes our careers, abilities, aptitudes, capabilities, gifts, and talents, and how we use each of these in developing a Christlike character.
Listen for the voice that calls your name and bids, “Come up higher, and follow Me.” Follow on to the place of peace with Him, and you will find quietness in being true to yourself and the most exciting adventure in serving others and seeking to bring them to the kingdom.
Paula Currey is a surgical nurse, working in a Wichita, Kansas, hospital.