Wednesday, 9 November 2016

The tragedy of the coasters

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit... Now to each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 1 Corinthians 12:4,7

...I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you... 2 Timothy 1:6

I remember a classical music concert I saw on television. In the first part a young woman came on stage to join the orchestra and played a long and difficult piece for violin. Everyone applauded enthusiastically; she was obviously a wonderfully gifted musician. Then after the interval she reappeared (in a new frock: a new frock, yes, but definitely the same woman) and played a long and difficult piece... on the piano. It was, as they like to say in America, a “Wow!” situation. What talent!

The whole business of gifts and talents can seem grossly unfair - some people seem to have so many, while others (me, for example, and perhaps you) are so limited.

You think of Lionel Messi ghosting his way through a packed defence, leaving everybody in his wake, before sliding the ball inside the post. You think of Stephen Hawking, the scientist with the cruelly broken body, sitting trapped in his wheelchair - while exploring the secrets of the universe. You think of an Einstein (not that I personally have a clue what he was all about) or a Shakespeare: people talented to the point of awesome genius. And you think, as you look at yourself: It’s not fair!

But that’s the way it is.

It can seem like that in the church. Paul, the man who wrote the words above, was obviously massively talented: theologian, teacher, pastor, letter-writer, church planter, fund-raiser, trouble-shooter, missionary... And if you delve into church history you discover that it’s been the same for two thousand years; it’s the story of untold millions of very ordinary people loving and serving God as best they know how, plus a few “stars” who stand out head and shoulders above everyone else. Again, that’s just the way it.

But what we all need to grasp is that every Christian person is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and has received some gift or gifts from God: “Now to each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good...” That means you, and it means me.

So the question that matters is not, “Why has so-and-so got so many more gifts than me?” - that’s irrelevant. But “What is my particular area of gifting?” And this should be closely followed by “What am I actually doing with my particular gifts? Sitting on them? Letting them go to waste? Denying their usefulness to the church of which I am part?”

Perhaps this is a suitable moment to stop reading and to put these questions honestly to ourselves. After all, God doesn’t give us gifts for us to shove them on some dusty shelf at the back of our minds, does he? He gives them so that we might use them to glorify him, to build up his church, and to encourage others. 

If we come to God and say, “Lord, I don’t feel I’ve got much - but what I do have I gladly offer to you” then, make no mistake, God will accept our offering and make full use of it. (Remember the boy with the five loaves and two fish: John 6:1-15.) One of the tragedies of church life is the “coasters” - people who are true Christians, but who choose to simply coast along while others do all the work.

So... that question again. Not: How many gifts do I have? But: What am I doing with the gifts I have? 

Writing to his protégé Timothy, Paul urges him to “fan into a flame” the gift he has received. An intriguingremark. What lies behind it? Is Timothy guilty of becoming spiritually lazy? Has he allowed discouragement or compromise or carelessness to blunt his effectiveness?

We don’t know. But what we do know is that, apparently, it’s possible for the flame of the Spirit to burn low. In which case, we need to do something about it

This is one of those areas where I would love to be able to sit down with Paul and say, “Look, Paul, you tell Timothy to rekindle his gifting, and that’s fine. But what do you actually expect him to do? What does “fanning your gift into a flame” look like in practice?

Well, we can’t get hold of Paul in that way, so it must be up to each one of us to work out for ourselves what we need to do. 

So... what about it? Remember, a gift offered to God is pleasing to him, helpful to the church - oh, and fulfilling to you.

Father, thank you that by your Spirit you have gifted me for the building up of the church. Please help me to find my gifts, having found them to use them, and then to take care to keep them well aflame. Amen.

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