Finding Your Sweet Spot: Abilities

Tom Paterson (a seasoned life coach) said this:

“Show me a person who doesn’t know his talents or developed them for service to others, and I’ll show you a person with little sense of purpose, meaning, motivation and value.”

It’s true that when it comes to our lives, there is much God wants to change.

At the same time, there are some things God has infused in us that He wants to use just like we are.

He has given us natural abilities that are meant to be employed for His purposes.

I once read this quote: “God doesn’t waste abilities; He matches our calling with our capacities.”

In some instances, our natural abilities are obvious to us and others. But some of our abilities must be discovered. They are latent within us, waiting to escape! The only way to discover our “hidden” abilities is to go out and do something! How often, though, does the fear of failing keep us from daring to try and discover? (Especially when we get older.) And sometimes we need the help of others to see things we can’t see.

So, do you have an idea of were you naturally excel? Here are a few questions to get you thinking:

Do you motivate and inspire others?

Are you creative?

Are you good with numbers?

Do you like to work with your hands?

Are you athletic?

Do you have musical ability?

Do you think big?

Can you help people work together better?

Are you goal oriented or people oriented?

Are you mechanical or technological?

Do you have a flair for working with food?

Do people come to you for advice? Do you like giving it?

Do you like to solve problems?

Do you like statistics and graphs?

Do you like to write?

Do you like to be on stage? Or behind the scenes?

When it comes to our natural abilities, when we are functioning in line with how God made us, we often do so with a lot of ease along with a lot of joy. Often, our work doesn’t feel like work.

To close this post, I’d like us to consider the thoughts from two greats from history. It seems they felt that when it comes to learning more about mining our natural abilities, we can sometimes be fearful or lazy.

First off, 16th century sculptor, painter and architect Michelangelo said:

“The greater danger for most is not that our aim is to high and we miss it, but that it is too slow and we reach it.” 

Adding to this reflection, Christian author and apologist C.S. Lewis wrote:

It should seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.

So, what are your natural, God-given abilities? Are you employing them for His kingdom? If not, why not?

Finding Your Sweet Spot

(I just wrapped up my Sunday morning group called Finding Your Sweet Spot: How God Formed you for Life, Ministry and Service. For the next several blog posts, I’ll be sharing my notes for this 9-week class.)

I taught Finding Your Sweet Spot class for two primary reasons:

  1. To help people think more deeply about how God has uniquely made each one of us
  2. To challenge people to discover the ways we can best serve God and His purposes

I always like to frame my classes in scripture, and one passage that I believe offers a solid foundation for Finding Your Sweet Spot is this:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)

I like this passage because it includes both the fact that we are specially formed by God (His workmanship) as well as God’s purpose for making us so uniquely and specifically (to do good works).

The idea of a sweet spot can be employed in a lot of ways. I’ve often heard it connected with the face of a golf club or the strings on a tennis racket. When you hit the sweet spot, the ball flies!

Could it be that in each of us there is a “sweet spot” where we find more impact and effectiveness with how we live our lives? I think so.

Each one of is a melting pot of personality, temperament, abilities and passions. This is a lot of what makes us…us!

By God’s design, we each have a sweet spot whereby we can serve Him and his people with relative ease and remarkable effectiveness.

Look at our kids. Don’t we see their leanings? Don’t we notice their abilities? Aren’t we aware of what excites them? (and of course what bores them!)

We are strong in some areas, weaker in others. It might be said that just like we have a sweet spot, we may have “sour” spots as well. Areas where we fell highly ineffective.

To be clear, when pursuing a better understanding of our sweet spot, we aren’t given permission to avoid doing anything that isn’t within our highest levels of passion or competency. Life isn’t that well-defined.

But my sense is that too many people don’t have much of a clue of how God purposely designed them.

One section of scripture that brings to mind God’s mindful forming of each human being is found in Psalm 139:

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:13-16 ESV)

The reason God makes us with so care, precision and purpose is that He would be glorified and made known.

In other words, our sweet spot isn’t really about us…it’s about Him!

Max Lucado, in his book Cure for the Common Life writes:

“Live so that God will get all the credit as the One mighty in everything. Exhibit God with your uniqueness. When you magnify your Maker with your abilities, and when your contribution enriches God’s reputation, your days grow suddenly sweet.”

Out of this a couple questions arise for pondering:

  1. What does it mean if I fail to live life out of my sweet spot?
  2. What does it mean if I live within my sweet spot, but fail or refuse to give God the credit

Last thought: the primary reason we are left here on earth is to make an eternal difference. Above our vocation or recreation is the call to love God and serve others. And, by God’s design, each of us has a unique way to accomplish God’s plan for our life.

Next post: understanding how our God-given abilities enhance our sweet spot.

Happy are those who Pursue Peace

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. – Matthew 5:9

Please notice Jesus doesn’t say, “Blessed are the peaceful.” Jesus isn’t commending people who have mellow, chilled-out, non-confrontational personality.

No, who Jesus is speaking about are people who are actively involved in helping bring peace to fragile, shattered or broken relationships.

See, peacemakers love to see people find peace with both God and their fellow man.

We live in a world full of strife and strain, don’t we?

At any given time, all around our globe, conflict is taking place, whether it is nation against nation, or individual against individual.

But it hasn’t always been like this.

Prior to the fall in the garden, the relationship between God and man was marked by beautiful peace.

And we know that when all things come to fulfillment according to the Scriptures, peace will reign supreme in God’s kingdom throughout eternity.

But for now, peace can seem to be extremely elusive.

  • Since World War 2 there have been over 70 wars, over 200 significant international outbreaks of violence.
  • As much as some people think we are getting better as the human race, one only need to watch or read the news to realize that peace is really hard to come by.
  • We find ourselves living in a world filled with conflict, aggression and violence.
  • And for some of us, pursuing peace seems to be a fool’s errand, because, in their eyes, those who actually strive to facilitate peace end up at the crushed at bottom of the dogfight.

All of this might make us feel less than hopeful.

But, guess what…to a degree, peace is obtainable here in our strife-filled world.

Jesus says as much, because He speaks about a group of people known as peacemakers…and they are the type of people who understand and represent His kingdom really well.

Here’s my definition of a peacemaker:

The peacemaker is someone who has discovered peace with God; knows God is a champion for peace; and therefore seeks to facilitate reconciliation in all relationships, whether with God or other human beings.

For some of those who were listening to Jesus when He originally preached this message about peacemakers being blessed, this teaching might have come as a bit of surprise. At the time of Jesus’ ministry, there was a full-blown, influential movement being instigated by a group of Jews known as the Zealots.

The Zealots were a sort of resistance group that was much more known for their efforts in retaliation, rather than reconciliation.

See, the more Rome encroached upon Israel, the more the Zealots felt that the time had come to take matters into their own hands. Perhaps the Zealots would be known for saying something like “We’re done with talking and ready for some fighting.”

Yet, here’s Jesus in Matthew 5:9 extolling the virtues and blessings of those who don’t seek after revenge or retaliation, but rather after the reconciliation and restoration of all relationships.

Perhaps even as Americans, we struggle with this as we are sometimes more inclined to solve problems with our might as opposed to coming up with resolutions found in discussion and diplomacy.

Now, I think it’s important to point out that the pursuit of peace doesn’t always equal always trying to be super nice or practicing never-ending tolerance.

Peace at any price isn’t really peace, is it? Peace can’t be attained at the expense of righteousness.

We can’t really call it peace if both parties don’t view the resolution to a conflict as a win-win.

That’s what makes being a true peacemaker so challenging!

In fact, I might say this to anyone seeking to be a true, biblical peacemaker: peacemaking isn’t for the faint of heart or the thin skinned!

It’s willing to go where people are struggling and attempt to bring about better understanding and the healing restoration of relationships.

See, the true peacemaker doesn’t pretend like there aren’t tough issues to deal with.

They realize they have an enormous task to help sinful people with differences see things from fresh perspectives, and hopefully to be able to reconnect in spite of the differences.

The peacemaker realizes that “conflict happens,” sometimes even between two really good people! (Think Paul and Barnabas)

It’s important to note that in God’s economy, the goal isn’t just the cessation of conflict, but if at all possible, the restoration of relationships.

It’s helping people not just settle for a truce, but helping them gain a real sense of trust.

Finally, if we are a person who doesn’t really have an inclination toward peace, but are much more drawn to agitation and conflict and disagreement, then the Kingdom of God is really going to be tough for us…because in God’s eternal kingdom, peace is all we will know!

But I am confident of this: God’s spirit and God’s Word have the ability to take the most contentious of us all, and transform us into a person who loves peace just like our heavenly Father does.

 

 

Happy are the Pure

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8)

Sunday morning can be one of the most deceiving times of the entire week.

Why?

Because on Sunday morning, people put a lot of effort in presenting themselves in a positive light.

  • Maybe we dress up a bit
  • We make sure we are presentable
  • We even put a little extra effort into our behavior

But the truth is no one, except for God, can know what’s going on in our heart!

Truth be told, we can look like we have it all together on the outside, but on the inside things aren’t so neat and tidy.

  • We have our secret thoughts.
  • We have our hidden motives.
  • We have our private agendas.

On the inside, we are much more complex, aren’t we! And yet, Jesus makes this proclamation that is designed to get our minds processing:

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8)

Once again, Jesus shows me just how much growing I need to do as one of His followers!

I mean, when it comes to certain practices of being a Christian, the evidence is there for all to see.

If I’m unmerciful…people will know it.

If I’m not generous…people will figure it out.

But my heart?

That’s the place where I can hide a lot of stuff that no one sees!

And yet, Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart.”

So what does it mean to be pure in heart?

I think I would define it like this:

A pure-hearted person is one whose motives are unmixed, whose thoughts are holy, and whose conscience is clean.

I think a good verse to come alongside the message of Matthew 5:8 is found in Psalm 24:1-6:

Psalm 24:1-6 ESV

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?

He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.

He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.

What a great message for the people of Israel!

And yet, by the time Jesus arrived on the earth, the religious systems of Israel had become extremely convoluted and disingenuous!

Rather than simply observe God’s plain and clear teachings, over time the religious leaders of Israel had created a twisted labyrinth of legalistic teachings and ritualistic practices that no human being could ever actually keep up with.

On top of this, through the years, the rabbis would seek to interpret and reinterpret God’s commandments and statutes in a way that showed their interest wasn’t really in honoring God, but facilitating the sinfulness of humanity. (Not that we are immune from such practices!)

In other words, they had created an absolute mess that didn’t lead people to into a relationship with God, but rather buried them under a pile of rules, regulations and rituals.

The busier they got running around trying to keep up with all the “gunked up” religion, the farther and farther away they got from actually connecting with God.

But Jesus words here in Matthew 5:8 were to serve as a reminder that a relationship with God is not attained and enjoyed because of a lot of doing…but rather through the transformation of a human being at the core!

Do you ever fudge a little on certain chores around the house? You know, cut corners and skip steps? We say the job is complete, but the truth is we have left a lot of things unclean.

Well…spiritually speaking, this is what Jesus is getting at.

He’s trying to make the point that unless we are completely cleaned by Him from the inside out, all our “religious” activities really don’t mean anything!

Here’s what the Bible has to say about the condition of the unspiritual heart…the heart that hasn’t been transformed by God:

Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV)

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Now, this doesn’t mean that every thought or every motive we have is evil.

It just means that our untransformed hearts are very far from pure!

Yet, how often do we get busy acting religious and pious in hopes that this will balance out our sorry heart condition?

On our own, we will never, ever be able to purify our own heart.

We need God to intervene on our behalf.

One of the most amazing promises found the Old Testament went like this:

Ezekiel 36:25 (ESV)

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.

This is the same promise found in Jeremiah 31 when Jeremiah proclaimed what is known as the new covenant:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Through Jesus Christ, and ONLY through Jesus Christ, is God able to take our heart, filled with all sorts of selfishness, and mixed-motives, and personal agendas and make it clean before his eyes.

That’s because Jesus took our sin and allowed it to be placed upon Him.

 

Happy are the Hungry

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

In talking about this vital passion for righteousness, Jesus invoked two of the most basic human physical needs: hunger and thirst. We can all relate to these two concepts, can’t we.

There are times when our stomach sends a message to our brain that we have been remiss in sending down food and/or water. And the longer we fail to follow through, what happens?  The signal gets louder and louder, to the point that it’s the only things we can think about!

We move from being hungry to becoming, as some people call it, hangry!

So when Jesus speaks about being hungry or thirsty, we can all relate to what He’s talking about.

The question that I believe Jesus wants us to start thinking about is this:

What in life are you really passionate about?

The answer to that question is usually answered in what we:

  • Think most about
  • Dream most about
  • Plan for most about
  • Talk most about
  • Invest most about

In other words, what’s going on most in our mind and heart usually finds its way out in our words and actions. Here in Matthew 5, Jesus says that according to the culture of His kingdom, the person who makes it their passion to pursue righteousness will find deep blessing and rich satisfaction.

I wonder: how many people really discover the blessing God has to offer to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness?

And here’s another thought: Could it be that people aren’t filled up with the blessings of knowing God because they have not yet been emptied?

Have you ever eaten too many snacks before dinner? When we do its harder to ingest and enjoy the home-cooked, well-balanced, nutritious meal, isn’t it? Are stomach is full of junk and therefore there is little room for the type of food we need.

We may wonder, “Where is my spiritual hunger?”

I might respond back, “What are you snacking on?”

Such pondering makes me think of a well-known quote from GK Chesterton:

 “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

Some of the items that fill our hearts so that we struggle hungering for God might include:

  • Pride
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Amusement
  • Selfishness
  • Busyness
  • Greed
  • Sensuality

All these things are driven by the flesh, and not by the spirit. And it’s hard to get excited about God when our heart and mind are filled up with all these types of things.

So many people in this world are chasing and striving after something, anything that will satisfy their deepest senses of purpose and meaning.

They’ll work. They’ll play. They’ll build. They’ll climb. They’ll strive

Sometimes when they’ve encountered too many hurts, they’ll use things like drugs, alcohol or people.

One such Biblical character named Solomon pretty much tried it all, but he still came away feeling empty. Check out what he wrote:

Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 (ESV)

I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless.  “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?”  I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.  I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards.  I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.  I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.  I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart.  I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. 10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

Solomon tried to scoop up life, but he found that it ran through his fingers like the sand found on a beach.

He couldn’t get full.

He lacked contentment.

He didn’t know satisfaction.

That’s because he tried to pursue fulfillment apart from God. His passion wasn’t for the Lord, but was instead focused on satisfying his flesh.

May we look at the example of Solomon and say to ourselves, “Hey, maybe pursuing satisfaction like that doesn’t really work.”

Instead, may we find ourselves having more in common with the Psalm writer who made this declaration:

Psalm 107:9 (ESV)

Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, And for His wonders to the sons of men! For He has satisfied the thirsty soul, And the hungry soul He has filled with what is good.