Mrs. Miersma is the wife of Rev. Thomas Miersma, missionary in Spokane, Washington.
You are so talented!” “I just don’t have a talent for that.” You have probably said or heard these words many times.
What are talents? Are some people just born talented while others are not? Are gifts and talents to be defined strictly in terms of intelligence and of artistic or athletic abilities? As royal children of our heavenly Father, given the privilege to labor in His kingdom, to represent His cause in this world, and to serve Him in heartfelt gratitude, we have seen that He entrusts many aspects of His creation to our care as stewards, that they all may be brought in praise and glory to Him. Further, as parents, pastors, and Christian school teachers, we have the calling to train the royal children entrusted to our care in the ways of this stewardship.
Having examined our calling as stewards of material things and of time, we will attempt in this and coming articles to examine stewardship of God-given abilities, often called talents, and our calling to help our children to develop their abilities in the service of their heavenly Father and King. As a background, we will look at the fact that these abilities are indeed God-given, that we may also develop in our children this consciousness. Then we will look at the purpose for which God gives us abilities, and finally, at ways in which they may be faithfully developed. In a future article we will look at the kinds of abilities that will equip our children to serve the kingdom of their Father.
That not all children are the same is self-evident. Some of us are blonde, others brunette, others redheads. Some are heavily built and muscular, others petite and fine. Some have facial features that are regular and pleasing, others less so. These differences not only enable us to recognize one another, have fellowship and communication with each other, and be attractive to one another, but they are also a reminder to us of the greatness of God’s handiwork in the seemingly infinite variety of the one human being that He has made. All are of Adam, yet each is an individual, particular expression of the human. Now this is just on the outside. Intelligence, sensitivity, perception, particular strengths and expressive abilities, to name just a few aspects of our humanity, vary tremendously from one individual to another. Again, all are of Adam, yet each an individual, particular expression.
How does this come about? While I am certainly no expert in the area of human psychology, it seems to me there are a number of aspects to our individuality. First, there is the unique “I,” or person, that God implants in each individual. Then, there is the genetic makeup, the particular combination of genes that God ordains for each one. You cannot change the color of your hair and eyes or the shape of your nose and ears, other than by artificial means like dyes or plastic surgery. Further, God ordains for you the home in which you will be raised, including your particular parents and siblings and all the experiences of your life. It is often said, for example, that married couples grow to look more like each other as they live together for many years. This is something that occurs whether we are conscious of it or not, but there are also those things that occur because of conscious choices we make. You can care for the body that God gives you, or you can allow it to grow weak and flabby.
There is an analogy here to other aspects of our humanity, such as intelligence, abilities of perception, and others mentioned above. Although you cannot alter those aspects that are genetically determined, the environment in which you live will have a tremendous influence on how that genetically-determined aspect develops. Recognizing that also our environment is a matter of God’s sovereign appointment, and knowing that God uses means to accomplish His purpose, we want to look somewhat at the means of our conscious choices and those of our parents and teachers. What part each of these elements play has been the subject of much study and debate, the “nature vs. nurture” controversy, but we believe, ultimately, that all our abilities are God-given, whether because of the particular genes we are given, or because of the environment in which He places us, or because of the conscious choices we make. We confess with the psalmist in Psalm 139:13-14, “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.”
Scripture testifies to the variety of abilities that God gives. We read in Exodus 28:3, “And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him….” The opening verses of Exodus 30recount God’s appointment of Bezaleel, Aholiab, and others, as those whom He had filled “…with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship…” for the purpose of building the tabernacle. Reading through the latter chapters of I Chronicles and the first chapters of II Chronicles, we find references to able men, strong men, cunning men, skillful men, men endued with understanding. God gave Daniel and his three friends tremendous gifts of “…knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom…” (Dan. 1:17). Scripture does not tell us what means God used to bestow these gifts, but simply that He did. While there are fewer passages speaking directly of specific gifts in the New Testament, we do read, in a parable of Jesus, of talents (money) being distributed to each according to his “several (his own unique) ability.” In Romans 12:6ff., we read of receiving gifts, differing according to the grace given us. And in I Peter 4:10, we read, “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
Not only do the examples given above show us that our abilities are given by God, they also point us in the direction of the purpose for which God gives abilities: to clothe the priests; to build the tabernacle; to serve King David; to build the temple; to stand, antithetically, as God’s men, in the court of the typical antichrist, Nebuchadnezzar; to serve our Lord by faithful labor in our appointed calling; to minister to one another. God also gives abilities to the children of this world, and while they too ought to use their abilities in the service of God, they refuse to. Just as they abuse the material gifts of God, the things of His creation, and time itself, so they only develop their natural gifts more and more in the service of sin, either to make a lot of money by them, to achieve personal pleasure and gratification by them, or simply to glory in the gifts themselves, worshiping and serving the creature more than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). These kinds of goals and abuse of God’s gifts are rooted also in our sinful nature. May we ever recognize and flee from such thinking.
How do we build the tabernacle, serve the King, stand antithetically in the court of antichrist? As men, we use our abilities to labor faithfully in our calling, that we may establish and care for covenant homes. We go out to labor in various callings in the midst of a wicked world, where we too are called to stand for God’s cause and kingdom in the midst of an antichristian world. As women, we labor with our gifts in the home, caring for the physical needs of our husbands and children, making our homes places of spiritual refuge in the midst of a wicked world. As men and women, we employ our gifts in the rearing of the royal children, the covenant seed, entrusted to us by the Lord. As men, women, and children, we use our gifts to read, study, and attend to the Word of God. If given the calling as men, we labor faithfully and cheerfully in the special offices of the church as elders and deacons. We use our gifts to build one another up in the faith by lending a listening ear to the sorrowful and lonely, speaking a word of encouragement or spiritual comfort in due season, giving our strength to help a busy mother or elderly person, using our abilities of sewing, cooking, or baking, or our artistic or musical abilities to serve our fellow saints.
John Calvin says, in commenting on I Peter 4:10, “If we excel others in any gift, let us remember that we are the stewards of God, to the extent that we may kindly share it in friendship with our neighbors as their necessity or benefit may require.” This stewardship extends to our covenant children, who also have a calling to use their abilities in the service of God’s kingdom.
When we try to determine what particular gifts we or our children have been given by God, we ought first of all to beware of the idea that talents or abilities are limited to intellectual, artistic, musical, or athletic abilities. Busy looking for signs of budding musical or artistic genius, we miss the gift of a winsome personality, or a sympathetic nature. Discouraged by our young son’s seeming inability to memorize times tables, we miss his mechanical ability or his ability to stick to a job and finish it. Secondly, using our gifts and talents to serve the Lord doesn’t require “superstar” status. Most of us whom God has formed to be His church, His body, are pretty ordinary people. We appreciate the gifts of the musical, artistic, or athletic geniuses of this world, recognizing that these abilities are given by God, the amazing capacity He has created in man to develop his God-given human potential, and that they serve His sovereign purpose in the development of this world, but the words of God to His prophet Samuel may be applied here, “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” In God’s eyes, it is the voice raised, the instrument played, the story written, the portrait painted, the ball well thrown, the garden grown, the machine well-maintained by a humble child of God, offering the development or fruit of his or her ability as a sacrifice of thankfulness to Him, that is well-pleasing.
Does that mean sloppy playing or shoddy workmanship is alright as long as we love the Lord? Never should the child of God take that attitude. Love of God will impel him to bring the best that he can. Nor will he despair because he cannot achieve the perfection he desires, for he knows that he and his work are received for the sake of Christ’s perfect obedience and sacrifice. Additionally, while there are certainly things about ourselves and our children that we will not ever be able to change, simply to sit back and expect our abilities to develop on their own is analogous to expecting our children to grow without food.
What are some ways in which we can help our children discover and develop their abilities? As with so many other aspects of their training, for our very young children this begins with learning love for God and the neighbor in the way of our example and instruction in obedience. But to develop the abilities themselves, we must learn what they are. Recognizing a young child’s particular gifts will probably come in the way of playful learning, accommodated to the level of his maturity. In a sense, in the times in which we live, much of a child’s work is play. Now this may seem pretty obvious, but in the technologically “advanced” times in which we live, many children don’t really play much. They watch videos, television, play electronic games, and run computer programs by mouse manipulation, but they don’t really play. Children must, in a sense, be taught to play actively, both alone and with others. While we often tend to focus on teaching children to interact rightly with each other, to develop their social abilities, there is also a need for children to be able to be alone, to develop their particular gifts in solitude.
While we ought never to live, in the church, as those who are independent, acting as though we do not need the other members of the body, we need to guard our children against a fleshly peer-dependence that is not rooted in the interdependence of fellow members of the body of Christ, but rather in a need for approval or “belonging.” God has placed our children in families, ordinarily with siblings, as the place where their abilities will grow and develop and where they will learn to use their abilities in His service. Thus, children should also learn to help in the home with simple tasks fitted to their ability. They will learn to serve their fellow-saints with their abilities by serving brother or sister. In this way too, not only will their particular gifts begin to become evident, but they will begin their lifelong service of God by serving others. Next time, we hope to look further at the development of gifts in the school years, as well as the abilities and gifts that every child of God should strive to develop.