Learning to Walk Like a Disciple
I want us to be disciple-makers, a better reflection of what Jesus called his church to be. It is a process for sure, but one that will be worth it when we consider that eternity is at stake. Recently I read an article about being generous with our talents, and I wanted to share it, in hope it might encourage your walk.
A disciple of Jesus is generous with their talents.
When did you most experience being generous with a specific talent, skill set, or gifting God gave you? Go ahead, take a minute to reflect. I’ll wait…
If you’re reading this, it means that you are likely passionate about disciple-making. Chances are, then, that your thoughts went to a time where either:
You really gave it your all, poured yourself out until your cup was empty, or
Your service to another with this talent truly and deeply benefitted them, or
You were so excited to learn that you didn’t do the exercise, kept reading, but now feel kind of bad about it.
In any case, let’s explore this concept together. How does a disciple of Jesus show their generosity—to others, to the world, to God—with their talents? Now, to be clear, we’re defining talents as any set of giftings, charisms, skill sets, or capacities we carry as members of the body of Christ.
Let’s first go to Peter on this topic to hear what he has to say.
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:10-11, NIV
After defining the new family identity of those who are in Christ, Peter explains how suffering at the hands of others is actually a witness to the way of Jesus. In light of these dynamics of persecution, of living as the faithful family of God in Christ, Peter lays out these powerful words…That with whatever we’ve been given, we should serve, we should steward, and we should sacrifice. Let’s break these down.
A DISCIPLE SERVES WITH THEIR TALENTS.
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others…”
This may seem like an obvious one for us disciple-making types, but we must not take it for granted. While the world suggests that our talents are inherently internal, to be used to the benefit of ourselves and our own dreams/wishes, we must follow the way of Jesus. As Bonhoeffer pointed out, Jesus is “the man for others”, living the entirety of his life for others. And we must do the same. Doubling down, Bonhoeffer famously says “the church is only the church when it exists for others…” In other words, if we do not use for others what God gave us, then our use of said talents is entrenched in selfish ambition.
We need to be reminded of this because the gravitational pull is real. The greater the potency of the talent, the greater the temptation to make it about ourselves. We have all too often seen a beautiful gift given by God to a young up-and-coming leader result in the destructive “incurvatus in se” (curving into oneself) that Augustine cautions. We are no different.
Our generosity with our talents must not simply be in volume, but in purpose. Yes, if you have a gift in preaching/teaching, you should do so often and generously, like a farmer scattering a seed. But generosity means for others. Are you truly preparing, practicing, and using your talent with the defined purpose of serving another (and to be clear, not some broad and decontextualized “other”, but people whose names you actually know)?
What is your purpose in using your talents? May I suggest, this would be a good question to take to a Prayer of Examen today, or to pray Psalm 139:23-24 over.
“…use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards…”
We don’t use the word “steward” much anymore. According to the Oxford Dictionary, “to steward something means to “manage and look after another’s property.”
Peter hits it on the nose here: we are called to be faithful stewards with our talents. We are called to manage and look after these gifts given to us (we didn’t create them, of course, which is why it is called a ‘gift’), remembering that these gifts are—by their essence—not under our ownership, but stewardship. They are not the essence of our identity. They are out on loan. We are entrusted with them.
So, how do we do this? How do we act as good, faithful stewards of our talents?
First off, of course, is to be certain we are using these talents towards God’s intended ends (see above point).
But second, it means taking good care of these talents. If you think of your talents like an ax, this example will make more sense. We are not meant to leave our ax in an old toolshed, unused, rusty, dirty, and dull. No, to be a good steward means to:
Be honest about what you’ve got in the toolshed. Don’t hide it in the corner somewhere out of false humility or fear about people judging you for being an ax-owner. Nowhere does Jesus say that humility means NOT naming your talents. They’re gifts from Him, by not accepting you’re good at something, you belittle what He’s given you. Your humility will show in who you use the talents for, yourself or others.
Keep that ax sharp and useful. This is the ongoing work of developing, honing, sharpening, and improving that ax. “Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade.”  It is not self-focused or non-Kingdom-minded to read that ‘secular’ leadership book or practice those discernment exercises to hone your skills. Once you name what is in your toolshed, keep it sharp.
Get better at using your ax. Do this by refining your own form as you use the ax, practicing, developing rhythms, working your wood-chopping muscles, learning from other lumberjacks. This is where you and the talent interact. Who are you becoming as you develop and use your teaching gift in greater ways? What ways is your identity being impacted while you practice radical generosity to others? What characteristics in you emerge as you use your gift of hospitality?
Focus your aim. This is the work of sanctifying the ax-chopping (ok, the example kind of breaks down here). But, this is where you do the work of continually refining your motives, bringing them before God as you use this talent. What is driving your efforts to improve your talents? Is it God-oriented effort, or self-oriented earning? Let God continually refine and focus the motives behind the use of your talents.
This is stewardship at its best. If you don’t know where you start, begin by swallowing your prideful humility and list out a handful of God-given gifts, talents, skills that you know you carry. Remember, whatever you write down, you are responsible to steward well.
A DISCIPLE SACRIFICES WITH THEIR TALENTS.
…use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
Sometimes, being a good steward of our talents, and using it for others, means stepping into sacrifice.
Let us look to Jesus, our discipler and king, for this final point. We, no doubt, would have no problem listing the various talents, giftings, skill sets we see in Jesus. He used these talents regularly, he focused them toward others, he honed and sharpened them, and then he did something strange. He showed generosity with his talents by limiting them and making space for others to find theirs.
The most mind-blowing thing I think Jesus ever said was “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
Jesus could have stuck around, he could have stayed on the stage, but he didn’t. It was Peter who stood up at Pentecost to try out his newly acquired gifts. A disciple makes disciples, and the hard truth is that, if you want multiplication it may mean being generous with your talents by rethinking them or even laying them down so another can grow.
“But Brandon,” you may say, “didn’t you just say that being a faithful steward means keeping your gift sharp, not letting it get rusty?” Yes, and for most of us, that is the easy part. When we’re using that talent, even FOR others, there still is plenty of praise. But if my talent is singing, and that means I will always have the mic, that means no one else ever will. If I must always be the cook in the kitchen, that means no one else ever will. That is not multiplicative, not the way of Jesus. Instead, the wisest Jesus disciples I know have realized that one talent or another they’ve been given was for a time, a place, a context, and eventually needed to be left on the altar for the sake of the body of Christ. It’ll be picked up again at the redemption of all things, when we have all eternity to use these for God’s glory. But true generosity comes with deep cost. Being generous with our talents may mean stepping aside, handing off that ax, and helping others sharpen their own.
This is perhaps the hardest step, and thus, one that shows Jesus the most. Where is God’s gifting getting clearer in those to your left and right? Do any of those talents compete with your own? If so, consider asking God if it is time to lay it down in order to lift up your brother or sister.
A Jesus disciple is generous with her talents when she SERVES, STEWARDS, and SACRIFICES. Which one is God calling you to right now? What area needs work? Dive in wholeheartedly, sharpen those skills, use them for others, and sacrifice when God calls you to…” so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”