Thought for the Day 7: Where are your special gifts taking you next?
Because of what’s going on at the moment, Match of the Day on a Saturday night has been showing a series of “Best of”. The best world cup matches, the best goals, the best Premier League games. I even saw something of George Best on one occasion, which is going back a while!
Similarly, live theatre and dance has been replaced with free television access to filmed versions of Shakespeare, ballet, opera and so on.
A veritable feast of excellence.
You don’t have to be a fan of the particular activity to appreciate craftsmanship at its highest. The way people use the gifts with which they’ve been endowed.
Last Sunday was, in the church calendar, Vocation Sunday, a day when we think, as a church, of the gifts that God has given us and what he might be calling us to do. Traditionally, it’s a Sunday when we are asked to consider how our gifts might be used for the benefit of the church. But I think it is wrong to limit it to that. I think that, today, every one of us needs, more than ever, to wonder about all our gifts, or what they might be and what use we should make of them.
What do we mean when we talk about “gifts”?
There are gifts that we are born with that give us a particular skill or ability. It isn’t something we learn, though obviously it can be improved through practice. As is obvious from the training and years of work undertaken by everyone at the top of their particular field.
Maybe they’re artistic talents, physical strength or athleticism perhaps; maybe it’s painting or singing, or gardening, cooking or carpentry, or listening or counselling others, or perhaps it’s a love and an aptitude for understanding and working on cars or machines, and so on. Sometimes we realise early on what we are good at, and sometimes, our gift remains unrecognised and unused until something happens to bring it into the open, and we discover that we have this hidden ability or talent that we knew nothing about.
Then there are what I read are called learned abilities. They are abilities which we learn during our lives. Sometimes learning a skill can cause a natural talent to come to light. You might have a natural talent to programme computers but not realise it until you start learning about it in school.
Then there are what you might call spiritual gifts. The first half of the bible chapter I referred to last week (1 Corinthians 12: 4-11) listed what St Paul thought of as spiritual gifts, but that isn’t exclusive by any means. Any God-empowered use of a God-given ability is a spiritual gift.
We are each of us gifted specifically and individually. Vocation is the way we live our lives, the path we follow, that is our response to the gift given to each of us. Each of us is blessed with whatever is our special gift and that gift should be a blessing to others.
I don’t think it matters if we happen, simultaneously, to make a living from our gift. If you are gifted as a teacher, it can only help your pupils if you teach for a living. Surely vocation relates to how we treat our gift, what use we make of it and where we acknowledge our gift comes from. That’s when we realise we do nothing without God’s help.
Think of the pleasure the person who developed the Zoom platform has given to everyone who has taken advantage of it in recent months. The gratitude when the teacher finally helps the child to understand how to read. The delight others receive from listening to someone sing, or from studying and enjoying a painting. The admiration and pleasure of watching sportsmen and women at the peak of their game. How it can uplift us.
Vocation is when we use our gifts so that others can benefit from them. Not for self-glory or self-promotion. Following a calling can make us feel good too – and so it should. Doing something that we know is right for us and can help others can make us feel more complete, more at one with God.
How relevant today when so many people have sacrificed so much to care for those in need. We speak of doctors, nurses, carers, and emergency services and it has been abundantly clear that each of them is a living example of what it is to have a vocation, to put others’ needs above their own. We need to remember too, Funeral Directors whose vocation is to care for people at a very sad time in their lives and whose natural wish to comfort has been frustrated at this time. Volunteers who have worked diligently to ensure that we are able to receive food and drink and medication. Bus and train drivers, rubbish collectors, delivery drivers, supermarket workers and more – all risking themselves for others.
Some people think – an attitude which has existed ever since the caveman who brought home a sabre-toothed tiger felt himself superior to the man who brought home a sloth (you can tell my children loved Ice Age!) – that some jobs are more important, of a higher profile, more valuable to the common good, than others. Though what “for the common good” means, has always been a point open to debate!
It’s been fascinating to see how the value that we, as a society, place on particular jobs has changed dramatically in recent weeks. Long may it continue! It’s about time we valued people for the right reasons!
At the end of the day, we should love God and one another and in loving and serving one another, we love and serve God.
Think of an orchestra – each instrument is equally important when we listen to a piece being played. If any instrument is out of tune or missing, the overall sound would simply be deficient. We need, as a society, to understand that we all need one another’s gifts for us to work well together.
We’ve had a lot of time to think over recent weeks and that is likely to continue for a while yet. And a lot of time to do and learn some things none of us expected to be doing or learning.
Have you found your calling? Realised something you are learning is something that you could be good at? Have you noticed someone else developing?
For the most part, anything we have learned in recent weeks is likely to be connected to helping others. Can we continue with that in the new normal, whenever it happens?
- Have you volunteered and found that you’ve enjoyed it? How could you continue volunteering afterwards?
- Have you discovered a latent talent for IT that you could put to good use helping others in the community learn how to become and stay “connected”?
- Have you discovered a talent for building and DIY, that you could offer to help others in the months ahead? Or indeed, find a new career?
- Have you realised how much you enjoy caring for the plants and flowers in the garden? Are you resolved to carry on with that? Caring for your small part of creation.
- Have you had time to recycle properly and re-use, not discard? A friend recently decided to make a cold frame out of bits and pieces in his garage – the resultant effect was so much more pleasurable – and much better for the environment – than ordering one on line!
- Have you made new friends – on Zoom, or the telephone – is your gift one of listening to others’ problems? One of the greatest gifts of all. Will you resolve to carry on being there for others?
- Have you taken time to read about the plight of those so much worse off than we are here? Resolved to take a greater interest in charitable work and in righting the wrongs in our society?
We live in unusual and uncertain times. Why not spend some time over the coming weeks thinking about what you might do or where you might go now. Age is irrelevant. We should never put up our feet and assume there is nothing new. Whether it’s playing the triangle or leading the orchestra playing the violin, each of our roles, each of our gifts, is vital and valuable and we owe it to ourselves, our friends and our Maker to use them to the best of our ability.