Actress Whoopi Goldberg co-hosts a comedy show every year called Comic Relief. Her purpose is to help the nation’s homeless. According to a recent Readers’ Digest column, it is only one of the many charitable projects in which Whoopi Goldberg is involved. When asked why she donates her talent for such causes, she said, “I fear waking up in the morning and finding out my life was all for nothing. We are here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark.”
Whoopi Goldberg is far from being a theologian, but her comment illustrates that every human being is driven by this search for significance. We all want our lives to count for something. She has discovered all the attention, all the wealth, all the notoriety the world has to offer really don’t satisfy that need. Solomon said, “God has set eternity in the heart.” So ultimate significance is found only in giving one’s self to Jesus Christ because only Jesus Christ can grant eternal life.
Only Jesus Christ can satisfy that spiritual hunger of the soul and only Jesus Christ is really the torch to lead people out of darkness into the light. He said, “Whoever will seek to save his life will lose it but whoever will lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s will find it.”
With that in mind, let’s look at Romans 12:1-8. This passage talks about a proper evaluation of our strengths, our talents, which are to be used for God’s glory. If we understand and apply four principles from this section, it will really help us to find eternal significance.
The first principle is: remember your priorities.
Verse 1: “Therefore I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship.”
In view of God’s mercy. God could have disowned us but instead He chose us, He adopted us, He redeemed us, He sealed us as His very own. Since God has been so merciful to us, our priority ought to be to please Him, not to impress people. He says, “Don’t conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” Paraphrase that: “don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its mold but be transformed by the renewing of your mind and then you will prove what God’s will is, his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
You see, the world around us is obsessed with image. What will people say? What will people think? But the Christian renews the mind. We change our thinking. What becomes important is what God thinks. Is this activity on my calendar pleasing to Him? Is this check I am writing good stewardship of his money? Is this conversation accomplishing His will? Is this thought pattern honoring Him? When we seek the praise of God more than the praise of man, some people in the world will not understand and they will try to squeeze us back into their mold.
Jerome Hines was an extremely gifted singer and as a young man his goal was to sing in the opera. He made all the necessary sacrifices. He took lessons. He learned several different languages until he realized his boyhood dream and sang with the Metropolitan Opera. But one day, Jerome Hines heard George Beverly Shea sing in that mellow voice, “I’d rather have Jesus than anything the world affords today.” That song really got to Hines and led him to give his life to Jesus Christ. From that time on, he continued to sing in the opera but he no longer sang for the advancement of Jerome Hines or to please people. He looked for an opportunity to give glory to God.
Several years later, Jerome Hines was offered a role he had always wanted. He signed the contract. He practiced for months. But when he went to the opera house for the first rehearsal, he was surprised to witness a lewd dance in the performance. When he inquired about it, he was informed that they had modernized the opera and that dance was a part of the new choreography. Hines said, “I won’t sing if they have that dance.”
The general manager of the Metropolitan Opera informed him if he did not participate he was breaking his contract and he would be ostracized by management and blackballed from the opera but Hines stood his ground and he withdrew. He said, “I won’t use my talent to draw people in to see something like that.” That cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars and a role that he had wanted to play all of his life. He had decided that he really would rather have Jesus than anything the world affords today.
If you put God first in the use of your talent, you will attest and approve what God’s will is but the world may not understand. So when it comes to the use of your talent, remember your priorities. You use your gift to please God, not to impress people.
The second principle: realistically evaluate your gifts.
Verse 3 says: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought. But rather think of yourself with sober judgment in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”
Some people think more highly of themselves than they ought. A few years ago, boxer Mike Tyson boasted, “I am in trouble because I am slightly arrogant. A lot of people don’t like themselves and I happen to be totally in love with myself.” Rush Limbaugh boasts of being the most listened-to talk show host in the world. Recently athlete Deion Sanders said he was glad he signed a multimillion-dollar contract to play football for the Dallas Cowboys because the Cowboys have a star on their helmet and he said, “I have always been a star.”
Now some of that self promotion is a part of the hype to sell tickets or to get attention, but there are a lot of people who genuinely think too highly of themselves. We have so emphasized a positive self-image that there are some people today who can strut sitting down.
Time magazine recently reported on a math test given to 13-year-olds from six different countries. The South Koreans received the best scores and the Americans received the worst. Those taking the tests were also asked to respond to the statement, “I am good at mathematics.” Only 23% of the Korean responded affirmatively to that statement, the lowest percentage of the yes responses. But the American students came in number one with the most yes answers. One commentator observed, “American students may not know math but they have evidently observed the lessons of the newly fashionable self esteem curriculum where kids are taught to feel good about themselves.”
If you think too highly of your talent, it can actually be detrimental because you are not teachable or you are not ambitious or in some cases you don’t repent. Proverbs 16:18 warns pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.
Haven’t you known some young single men who had too high an opinion of their marriage market-ability and they think they are God’s gift to women? They ought to marry Miss Kentucky and no girl that they date really measures up to their list, and they sit home alone a lot because they think too highly of themselves. Or pity their wives if they get married, because she never quite measures up to what he thinks he deserves.
A young seminary graduate about 26 years of age asked me several years ago to help him find a church. I said, “What kind of church are you looking for.” He said, “Well I have my Ph.D. so I should not have to start out in a country church with 150 people. I think I ought to begin with a church in the suburbs of about 400.” About six months later he began to get a little hungry and he decided that he would take an inner city church that had about 150 people, but he had such a condescending spirit toward those people it was never a great relationship and it was not a successful ministry.
Have you ever channel surfed and stopped to watch some of the people who think too highly of their ability to sing Christian music on some of the public access television programs? They have this scratchy background tape and a poorly lit set in their home, an inadequate camera and they sing to their heart’s delight but to nobody else’s delight. Now I think people ought to sing to the glory of God regardless of their talent but it is another matter to get on television and embarrass the Kingdom of God and give an occasion for the enemies of Christ to ridicule simply because they don’t realistically evaluate their strength. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought.
But some people go to the other extreme and they think more lowly of themselves than they should. I have known some pretty fine women who lack confidence in themselves and they accepted dates from young men who did not deserve them at all. Some of them have stayed in an abusive relationship and they have kept coming back for more simply because of insecurity, not thinking of themselves to the degree that they ought. I have seen people stay in dead-end jobs, unhappy with work every day but they just don’t have enough confidence to look for something better.
Do you remember when God challenged Moses to go before Pharaoh and demand the release of the Israelite slaves, Moses felt inadequate and he said, “Oh no, God, they won’t believe me. I am not a very good speaker. Would you send somebody else.” The Bible does not say that God was pleased with Moses because of his humility. It says the wrath of God was kindled against Moses because of his lack of faith. An inferiority complex is not humility. Humility is finding out what God has gifted you to do and doing it with abandonment for His glory and not your own.
David Stephens of the Dallas Morning News tells a story about Frank Samansky, a Notre Dame center back in the 40s. Samansky had been called in as a witness in a civil suit at South Bend. The judge asked him, “Are you on the Notre Dame football team?” And Samansky said, “Yes, your Honor, I am.” The judge said, “What position do you play.” He said, “I am a center.” The judge asked, “Are you any good?” And Samansky squirmed and finally he said, “Your Honor, I am the best center Notre Dame has ever had.”
Coach Frank Leahey was really surprised. He said Samansky had always been modest and unassuming. So when the proceedings were over, Leahey took Samansky aside and said “Why would you say you are the best center that Notre Dame ever had?” Samansky, blushing, said, “I hated to do it, coach, but after all I was under oath.”
In order to perform well there has to be some degree of confidence and belief in one’s self. Sir Lawrence Olivier, the actor, was asked what it took to be a good actor and he said, “Humility enough to prepare and confidence enough to pull it off.” So we have a responsibility as God’s people not to think too highly of ourselves or too lowly of ourselves but we are to think of ourselves objectively. Think of yourself with sober judgment in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
Now how are you going to do that? Let me suggest three things. First, take a test. There are all kinds of aptitude tests available today, Myers-Briggs Personality Assessment, the DISC Personality Profile in the corporate world. Here at church there is a GIFT seminar offered quarterly. You take these tests and they tell you where your strengths and where your passions are if you don’t know them. Gary Smalley and John Trent have written a book for children called The Treasure Tree. The children read the book with their parents and at the end there is a series of questions to help the child discover his or her gifts. It is helpful to take these tests and know where our strengths are.
The second thing we can do is try it out. One of the best ways to discover your giftedness is to experiment and see how it goes. Jesus criticized the one talent man because he buried his gift in the ground and never used it. He commended the two and five talent people because they experimented. They took the risk and they doubled their investment. I did not know in high school that I had any leadership gifts until my high school football coach asked me to play quarterback and appointed me the captain of the team. I discovered that some people would follow. If I had not been forced to try, I would not have discovered that gift.
How are you going to know whether or not you can teach, if you don’t try? How are you going to know whether you can help heal emotional wounds of people, if you never in compassion counsel somebody? How are you going to know whether you can work with teenagers or not if you don’t try? How are you going to know whether you can make money and give generously if you don’t try to invest? So experiment. If you take a class and it goes from 15 to 30 in a few months time that should be an affirmation. If it goes from 20 down to 10 in a few weeks then try singing or something!
The third thing you can do to know your strengths is to ask a friend. Honest Christian friends can help evaluate your strengths. Now don’t ask them, “Do you think I teach well?” That kind of puts people on the spot and most of us have a hard time being honest and say, “Well, not very well.” Give them an option and say, “You have heard me teach and you have seen me work out in the yard; which do you think I do better?” Give them a chance to tell you.
Some guy sang in church. The young man did not do very well and he went to an older Christian and he said, “How do you think I sang?” The old man wanted to be honest and he said, “Well, I think you did the best you could. It was not your fault but whoever asked you to sing ought to be shot.” If you have friends who are truthful with you, don’t get bent out of shape and angry with them, because nobody is gifted in every area. Listen to their counsel, focus on another area. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought. Think of yourself with sober judgment in accordance with the measure of faith God has given.
The third principle: refuse to compare yourself with other people.
Just as each of us has one body with many members and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts according to the grace given us. One of the primary reasons we feel insignificant is we are always comparing ourselves to others in our field of interest.
I get a magazine called Preaching. In the middle of one magazine there is a full-page ad for a leadership seminar that is conducted annually at the Crystal Cathedral in California. There was a picture of Robert Schuller and a picture of about a dozen preachers who are going to lead that seminar: John Maxwell, Bill Hybels, and other preachers from across the nation. But you know what: my picture is not on that page. Do you know why? Because I have never been asked to speak at that conference!
Now if I compare myself to other preachers I can get down on myself. “Oh,” you say, “not you, Bob. You have spoken at a number of conferences. You have a large church.” But we all have a tendency to compare ourselves with those in our field who have more influence or more popularity or a bigger title or somebody who is making more money. As a result, we are never satisfied. We are jealous. Never quite feeling as significant as we would like. But this passage urges us not to fall into that trap of comparing and competing with one another because just as a body has different members with different functions, so we have different gifts but one body.
When God created this physical body He knew exactly what He was doing. He gave us two eyes so we would have peripheral vision. He gave us two ears so we would hear in stereo. He gave us two nostrils so that if we lived in the Ohio Valley we would have a 50/50 chance of breathing out of one of them. He knows what he is doing when he creates this physical body and He knows what He is doing when He creates His church. Like members of the body we all have different gifts.
Yesterday morning I attended our prayer seminar meeting in the fellowship hall. There are about 200 people trying to deepen their ability to pray. I stood up to stretch and looked out the window and about 200 people just walked out of the driveway and were beginning to march down Hikes Lane in a March for Life. A few minutes later when I walked to the car there were about 15 people working among the shrubs and on the grounds trying to beautify the landscape. On the way home I remembered that the day before a handful of our people had gone to the Ukraine on a short-term mission trip. Not all of these things were happening simultaneously.
Not everybody can pray like this but there are some people who are especially gifted to be prayer warriors. Everybody ought to be interested in missions but God has called some and has gifted some to be able to adapt to a foreign environment and take the gospel to other countries. I think we ought to all be for life. But I think the Lord has called some people to take a public stand and a public testimony. Everybody ought to be concerned about the condition of the buildings and grounds but God has gifted some with a green thumb. If we don’t understand that, not only will we compare and feel badly about ourselves but we will become critical of other people because they are not involved in the same area as we are.
So some are gifted to preach he said, some to serve, some to teach, some to encourage, some to make money and give, some to lead, some to show mercy. Once you understand that, you are more likely to quit competing with others.
But we not only have different gifts — we have different measures of the same gift. He says in verse 6, if a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. Some have the gift of preaching with five talents and some the gift of preaching with one talent. Some people are so gifted in singing they ought to sing on national television and some people are gifted enough to sing in the choir. They have the same gift but different measures of the same gift. Some are gifted to lead enough to be the CEO of a company and others ought to be a foreman. Some are gifted to make money and multiply it and ought to be giving millions and others just make enough to tithe and be generous each week.
We need to evaluate not only where our strengths are but to have a realistic assessment of the degree of our gift. The one talent person should not be comparing himself with a five talent person or else he is always going to feel jealous. The five talent person should not be comparing herself with the one talent person or she is going to get lazy or have a condescending spirit. We have different measures of the same gift.
I spoke to a senior citizens’ conference in Phoenix, Arizona a while back. I did the best I could. I spoke several times. After the second session, a man came up to me in the lobby and he said, “Do you know Wayne Smith.” He knew I was from Kentucky and I said, “Why, yes I do. Wayne preaches just 90 miles down the road in Lexington.”
He said, “Well, Wayne Smith spoke for this convention last year and he was fantastic. He was the funniest person I think I have ever heard. He had us in stitches.” I said, “Yeah, he is a real scream.”
He said, “You know he not only was funny, he was inspirational. His message was so great, after he was finished we took up a special offering for an orphanage and we collected $4,000.”
He said, “Would you do me a favor.” I said, “What’s that?” He said, “When you see Wayne Smith would you tell him I said hello.” I said, “I will do that.”
He turned to walk away and then stopped and turned around and said, “Hey. Good talk.”
When I saw Wayne Smith I told him about it and he just guffawed. I said, “Wayne what are you laughing about.” He said, “Do you know what I used out there? I used your sermon series on Joseph.” Wayne used my stuff and he went over better than I did! If I compare myself to Wayne, it could destroy my self confidence. But to be honest with you, I recognize that Wayne has a special gift of humor and he has a special gift to go into an audience he has never met before and have an instant rapport that I don’t have. I also know that I have a gift to write sermons that he does not have. I have a gift to teach the Bible that he does not have.
When somebody compliments Wayne, you know I can really rejoice over that because nobody loves Wayne Smith more than I. I don’t compare us because I recognize we have different gifts. Different measures of the same gift. That same principle applies to your field, whatever it is — whether you are an accountant, a coach, a teacher, in medicine, whether you are an airplane pilot, receptionist. All comparisons are silly because we are created so differently.
Kathy Rigby had a dream to win a gold medal in the Olympics in Munich in the 70s, so she trained as a gymnast. It came time for her to perform. She was nervous yet she did well, but she was devastated that she did not win a gold medal. She did not even win a silver or a bronze medal.
Fighting back the tears, she went up and sat with her parents and then she sobbed to her mother, “Mom, I did the best I could.” Her mother said, “Kathy, I know that and your dad knows that and God knows that.” Then Kathy Rigby said that her mother spoke ten words that she has never forgotten and it boosted her spirits. Her mother said, “Doing your best is more important than being the best.”
God is not comparing you with anybody. He is evaluating us according to our potential and according to our opportunities. It is silly to try to get our sense of significance out of beating somebody else because we all have different gifts and different measures of the same gift.
The last principle: remain focused in the area of your strength.
Romans 12:6 and following: “If a man’s gift is prophesying then let him learn to serve. If a man’s gift is teaching let him go on to encouraging. If a woman is a good encourager then let her learn to contribute to the needs of others.” That is not what it says, is it? It says if your gift is prophesying, that is what you are supposed to do. Prophesy. If your gift is teaching, you stay with teaching.
It goes on to say you do it generously. You do it diligently. You do it cheerfully. That sounds so basic but it is amazing how many people get off focus. When you have discovered your primary area of giftedness, stay focused in your area of strength and your area of passion and you will be fulfilled.
I talk to a lot of young men who say they are burned out in the ministry. They felt a call to preach and they love to preach but they get in church and they suddenly get bogged down in administration, organizing programs, going to the nursing home, raising funds. Their call to preach, which is their primary gift, gets shoved to the side and Sunday morning comes along and they get by on talent. But they know they are not doing it to the fullest extent of their ability and they feel empty about it.
I see school teachers who are excellent in the classroom so they get bumped up to counseling and then to administration. They don’t feel quite as comfortable in that role but they get paid more money so they stay with it. But they don’t feel nearly as fulfilled as they did when they were teaching. Sales people who get promoted to sales manager or vice president and they are not with people the way they once were. They cannot understand why they are not as energized or gratified by what they are doing.
Whatever God has gifted you to do and whatever is your passion in life, you focus on that and develop that to the best of your ability. Jim Fox said, “My father always told me, find the job you love and then you will never have to work the rest of your life.” That is probably a bit of an oversimplification but the point is well taken. Find your gift and your passion in life and give yourself diligently and cheerfully to it. It may not be what others want for you. It may not be what you dreamed about when you were a child but if it is what God ordained and gifted you to do you will find significance and be energized by it. Someone observed, “We can’t be anything we want to be. But we must be what God ordained us to be.”
I think we do our children a real disservice when we tell them “you can be anything you want to be and you can do anything you want to do” because that is not true. They may not be intellectually gifted enough to be a doctor. They may not be talented enough to be the artist that they dream of being. They may not be big enough or agile enough physically to be the professional athlete that they would like to be. We can’t be just anything we want to be. We must be what God has gifted us and ordained us to be.
Success and significance in life is finding what your strengths are — the gifts God has given — and then giving ourselves fully in that area for the glory of God and not self.
I want to close with a thought from Rick Warren. God gave me the gift to preach not for my benefit but for yours. If I don’t use my gift, I cheat you. God gave you a gift, not for your benefit but for other people. If you don’t use your gift, you cheat others.
God has given different gifts to the body for the building up of the body. When you use your gift fully for the glory of God, you begin to light little torches along the way to show people through the darkness to the light of Jesus Christ.

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