It is a human tendency to value talent and giftedness.
It is really natural to look at someone and go “Wow, he or she is really impressive!” It is equally tempting, in our human nature, to begin crowning giftedness. We can say things to these people like:
“You should be, like, in charge of things.”
“You should start your own x,y,z and promote yourself.”
“You should be promoted and display your talents!”
On the receiving side, talented people often suffer from thinking they can get ahead of life because of their talents. When humans value giftedness so much, who can blame them?
I have to admit, I think I’m pretty talented. And that’s something that people tell me pretty often–I can do a lot of things well. Surprisingly well (Do I write well? Eh…). And God knows all the things I do well and excel in.
In life, I run into a lot of talented people. Amazingly talented people. In fact, you could be one of those people reading now. And it is my prediction that with the pervasive growth of technology, the proliferation of information at our fingertips (quite literally), we may soon experience one of the most talented generations in human history.
Yet, the shocking thing is that the more I read the Bible the more I am knowing the heart of God. And what I’m realizing is that, despite what we think is really great about being talented or gifted, I don’t think God values giftedness very much at all.
Allow me to explain what I mean.
The one passage that continually informs my understanding of the folly of giftedness is 1 Samuel 16:7. In this passage, Samuel is selecting a new king for Israel and makes the fatal mistake of thinking that God would choose the most physically impressive. God rebukes his prophet Samuel with one of the most amazing passages in the entire Bible. He says to Samuel:
“Do not look at his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him.
For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.“
What we find impressive about ourselves or other people, God is…not even looking at that.
While we as humans are impressed by people’s skills, their intelligence, their creativity, their great works of arts and achievement, their portfolio, their abilities, their athleticism, their innate qualities, etc, God is not impressed by any of those things. God is looking dead straight…at our hearts.
He’s seeing what we’re made of on the inside. The human heart is what is valuable and beautiful to God.
What is valued by the God of the universe is how we are positioned before God. It’s about how we treat other people. It’s about how we deal with conflict. It’s how we parent our kids. It’s how we cherish our spouses. It’s about the moral purity of our ways. It’s about how we treat the poor and oppressed. It’s how we spend our time and our money. It’s how we respond to our enemies, to the people who annoy us, to the ones who don’t like. It’s about what we do with our pride. It’s how we respond to authority. It’s how cynical or offended we are. It’s all about who we are when no one’s looking, when no one’s impressed, when no one cares.
Talent and giftedness are grossly overrated because they have been vastly outweighed by what God values more–our character.
Have you ever noticed that Jesus never talks about talented people or gifted people? When he incarnated on earth, he spent no time with talented or great people. His affections were with lowly, poor, humble, and mistreated people, not promoted talented people.
Think also for a minute–Jesus is definitively the most talented human being in human history. He could have shown up and showed up every human being in history in every single category of human achievement. Hands down he could have. But He, in his humility, and in his conviction about what his Father valued, never flaunted his gifts. He did not flex his muscles of giftedness. He lived an opposite message.
He said that “whoever should be great, must be your servant.” In addition, he said that the great ones are those are exhibit humble child-likeness (Mt 18). The greatest people in Jesus’ eyes are the humble, the meek, and the child-like.
The only time he does talk about talent is when he’s teaching the parable of the talents. In that parable, he makes no distinction between the one he gave five talents or ten talents. They both received the reward of hearing the Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” His message was faithfulness with our talents, no matter how many we’ve been given is what moves God’s heart. Yet again, another challenge to our character.
Yes, it turns out that giftedness isn’t that great after all.
1 Corinthians 12:6 talks about how all gifts, be it natural or spiritual, are given by God. And if they’re given by God, there’s no point in boasting or placing value on ourselves because of them.
Furthermore, gifts, according to the New Testament, are simply used to serve other people. It is to make other people great. In a world of rabid and diseased self-promotion, the Bible powerfully challenges us to use our giftedness, not for the fame for our own names, but to promote and serve other people. Amazing.
If you are indeed one of those very talented people (even if you are aren’t, this still applies to you!), perhaps we should put our talents in perspective with what’s important–our character before a holy God.
What good is it if you can sing brilliantly if you fail to love others? What good is it if you can rap and write poetry if you’re addicted to pornography and lust? What good is it if you’re the top dog at work when you lash out at your wife at home? What good is it if your works of art are publicized widely when you have uncontrollable rage? What good is it if you are super intelligent when you look down on others?
Over and over again, God has humbled me and has tried to make my giftedness second place to the quality of my heart. It is at this point that I humbly plead with you and at the same time joyfully invite all you talented people…
…partner with God to work on your character, and you will find that your talents and giftedness will be seated in the proper context. The proper context is a heart refined and designed for humble service towards others and life lived for a great God.
Talents? Gifts? Lord, instead give me more a heart like yours.