It's one thing to have Jesus call Peter out of the boat onto the water in faith to follow him. There's a lot about that that's hard. Peter's swimming ability is unknown, but what is known is that the guy could not walk on water. It seemed a hard call on remarkably soft ground.
On the other hand, one thing about it was easy. Jesus himself stood a few feet off and called him 'Come'. Peter did not have to decide which direction to go to follow Jesus. Jesus was well within his vision. He did not have to get out his diary and attempt rescheduling for the sake of serving Christ. Only the next minutes mattered in that moment. He did not have to weigh up how serving would fit with his career. He had already made that decision and burned his boats. There was a singular focus to the moment. In this sense it was easy what Jesus was asking.
When people ask 'what should I do for Jesus?' or 'what vision does my ministry for him need?', I have noticed that they are often overwhelmed by confusion. Questions pop up faster than they can be answered. What are my gifts? Should I worry about my gifts? What are the needs? Should I fill a need if I don't seem to suit it very well? What commitment am I making? Can I fulfil it? What about my upcoming trip to (insert island nation with favourable exchange rate)? What about my great insecurities? My lack of courage?
I want to attempt two blogs on ministry vision. That is, personal visions for serving Jesus. The first concerns the old issue of how we think about the relationship between spiritual gifts and particular serving needs. I'll give you my take from the scriptures, and hopefully it will clarify some of the confusion. The second blog will reflect on a great insight from some recent preaching I enjoyed - that our vision also comes from God's discipline. I've been getting plenty of that lately, and that blog particularly will be washed in blood, sweat and tears.
But first, the age-old gifts vs. needs confusion. Should I do what God seems to have made me for, or just do what is missing most in my church family?
IN DEFENSE OF GIFTS
It makes a lot of sense to pay serious attention to how Jesus has made you. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 makes it clear that
'There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them...Now to each one the manifestation is given for the common good.' (1 Corinthians 12:4, 7)
The Spirit of Christ distributes gifts, he doesn't just dump them in a central pile and ask you to sort through them. God really has made you a certain way, Jesus has remade you in even more refined way. Working out what your gifts from Him may be is important. Here are three ways in:
- by reading about the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 & Romans 12 & Ephesians 4
- by trial and error in actual serving
- by asking for the observation of others about you
This is a whole lot of fun. Humbling, but ultimately fun. It is well worth taking the time to ask the question of what God has already done in you, before you do anything for him. The gifts the Spirit gives should not be taken for granted or left under the tree as if they had someone else's name on them.
IN DEFENSE OF NEED
Having said that...let's note that the gifts given are for 'the common good' (1 Corinthians 12:7). The common good, according to Ephesians, is that the whole body:
'will be built up until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the full measure of Christ.' (Ephesians 4:12-13)
So, because the focus is not on myself, but on others and their progress in Jesus, I can put myself aside. Even the precious profiling I have done on the gifts Jesus has given me can be held lightly in light of this.
I might not lock myself in to teach 3 year old kids for years if I am clearly encouraged by my gifting and others to preach to teenagers, but I ain't going to rule it out. The question at that time is not about myself, but the common good. What does the body of Christ need from me now?
Stephen is an interesting case in point. Stephen was specifically set aside to distribute food to widows. (Acts 6:1-7) Whatever his gifts, they seemed to make him pretty good at that. And this freed the apostles up to preach and pray. Yet by Acts 6:8 (yes, that's one verse later!), he is preaching to the Sanhedrin in the synagogue. He never actually gets back to his gifting, because he dies for Jesus virtually before his first sermon is over. Jesus, who gifted him for welfare and care, called him in that moment out on the preaching waters, and he went.
THE SWEET SPOT?
Some have proposed a sweet spot - where need and gifts combine. Now we are hitting sixes! Or are we?
It's a nice idea. In fact, it is a nice reality when it happens, but it is very sweet to Jesus when we meet needs in love, whatever our gifts. The real sweet spot is love. Remember that the same apostle who teaches us about gifts and their use shows us 'the most excellent way': love. Love is the always the sweet spot in God's plans.
I think this does push us more towards needs than gifts in our final thinking. We are made for Jesus and others. The question of how to love Jesus and others must be the ultimate question. Clearly, if I am so unsuited to serving a certain need, then it ain't loving to anyone to keep pressing on. But Jesus has made us more flexible than we think. Love demands flexibility.
Most of all it demands mucking in for others to grow in Jesus. Washing feet. Wiping kids' faces. Giving the unlovely a hug. Do the hard prep on the painful passage. Praying when no-one is watching. One thing I know - standing on the sidelines when others are mucking in ain't sweet.
Want Jesus to be your vision and give you a vision for serving him? Here is his word as best as I can sum it up....Check your gifts, check the needs, hit a six from the sweet spot if it's there, but most of all - just make sure you muck in somewhere with some sweet, sweet love.
We can refine that as we go. Refining things from the sidelines is just commentating.