A number of years ago, I was golfing with a friend (whom I’ll call Stan) who had experienced tremendous success in the marketplace. During our time together, Stan told me he’d worked diligently over the last few decades to build his businesses, and as a result, his family was set for life.
Then came his question that he’d been wrestling with: “Now that I’m entering the decade of my fifties, why should I work at the same pace? Why should I struggle to triple the size of my businesses?”
The Holy Spirit instantly gave me the wisdom to reply to his question. I countered, “Let me answer your question by posing a different scenario to you. Suppose I was to say to you, ‘I’ve spent years working hard to write seventeen books that are now in over eighty languages with copies numbering in multiple millions. I’ve flown over ten million miles in the past twenty-five years, fought jet lag, experienced a variety of cultures and strange foods, and stayed in tiny hotel rooms for an average of over two hundred nights per year—all to be able to minister the gospel all over the globe. The ministry is doing well, and finances are stable; Lisa and my children are set for life. Why should I continue to work at this same rate?”
He chuckled, “I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes when you face Jesus at the judgment.” My immediate response was, “This is exactly what you said to me in regard to your businesses.” Although he was shocked, I could tell Stan was beginning to connect the dots.
I’m glad to report that Stan had a paradigm shift and is fervently continuing to build his businesses, multiplying what God has entrusted to him. Sadly, there’s many, like Stan, who have separated the ‘sacred’ from the ‘secular’—elevating those in ‘vocational ministry’ positions while treating their calling as a career. The reason they’ve failed to connect the dots is because of an incorrect view of God’s purpose for their life.
What I’ve frequently observed, which grieves my heart, is when most people hear the statement “called by God” they immediately think of someone called to ‘vocational ministry,’ such as myself, a pastor, or a worship leader. In their minds, any calling within the church is ‘sacred,’ while all else outside the church is ‘secular.’ But nothing could be further from the truth.
According to the apostle Paul, only some are called to serve God within the church (Eph. 4:11). This means that the majority of believers are called to serve God outside of the church, apart from the traditional view we’ve held toward God’s callings. In fact, Paul revealed that the purpose of those called within the church is to equip those called outside the church to “do the work of ministry” (vv. 12). Can you see how many of us see this incorrectly? The truth is the bulk of ministry work is to be done outside of the church!
Here’s another story that illustrates the disconnect. I recently heard a well-known pastor talk about an interesting conversation that transpired just prior to his yearly conference. As the team was setting up the auditorium, the pastor saw a respected medical doctor, who was a member of his church, putting handouts on the seats for the conference delegates.
The pastor immediately rushed over to him, “Doctor, you shouldn’t be doing this. We have interns and other volunteers who can handle this.” The pastor reported that the doctor sternly but politely corrected him, “I take one week off from my medical practice every year for this conference. It’s my most treasured week of the year because I get to do something to build the kingdom of God.”
In listening to my pastor friend tell this story, I grieved for this doctor, in fact, I’ve wept over this. I realized he, too, hadn’t connected the dots on the value of his gift in building God’s kingdom. He views the one week that he serves at the conference as ‘sacred’ but the other fifty-one weeks of the year are viewed as ‘secular.’ How heartbreaking! Again, this is the far too common dilemma: there’s many, like this doctor, like Stan, who have separated the ‘sacred’ from the ‘secular.’ They consider their morning devotional time, their two-hours at church on Sunday, a bible study group or anything else church-related as ‘sacred,’ while everything else is considered ‘secular.’
The apostle Paul aggressively addressed this incorrect mindset by exhorting, “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering” (Romans 12:1 MSG). Did you catch that? Every part of our life is to be considered sacred and can become an act of worship to God. In another letter, Paul wrote, “In all the work you are doing, work the best you can. Work as if you were doing it for the Lord, not for people. Remember that you will receive your reward from the Lord” (Colossians 3:23–24 NCV).
Have you viewed your day-to-day activities such as sleeping, eating, and going to work as sacred acts? Or are you still trying to connect the dots? Perhaps it’s time for a change of perspective!
Returning to our example of the doctor, consider this: What if there were no doctors? What happens when people who are called in other areas to build the kingdom get sick or diseased? Many would be taken out early without medical help.
Let’s conduct a hypothetical scenario illustrating the connection. A doctor uses his gift by assisting in restoring the health of a stay-at-home mom. As a result, since this woman is not helplessly sick in bed and eventually dying prematurely, she is able to flourish in her gift of raising her children in a godly way.
One child is gifted in the area of innovation, and her mother encourages it. After the daughter graduates with a computer software degree, she takes a position working for a company that develops software. This grown daughter, now fully operating in her gift, designs a new way of communicating that is far more effective than anything on the market. However, her innovation will not go far without her coworker in the advertising department. He uses his gift to give an awareness to retailers and consumers of the potential of this new software package.
One of the customers ends up being a ministry that is called to disciple the nations of the world. This ministry has a gifted IT person who recognizes the potential of this software and recommends purchasing it. He integrates the software into their existing system. As a result, this ministry now has the capability to more effectively impact pastors and leaders globally. The results: Exponentially more men and women come to salvation and are discipled through the avenue of this software communication package.
At the judgment seat, Jesus will show the doctor, who originally treated the stay-at-home mother, the multitudes of peoples he reached in the nations of the world. Imagine the doctor’s reaction when Jesus reveals to him the influence he had on others by simply stewarding his gift! Jesus will most likely say to this doctor, “You worked willingly in your medical practice as unto Me rather than for personal benefit, and your fruit is evident. Many were impacted due to your obedience. Well done, good and faithful servant!”
I hope you’re beginning to see how your obedience to steward the gift God has given you produces ripple effects that journey far beyond your final breath. Because this doctor was faithful to the gift on his life, it resulted in the chain reaction that eventually led to numerous salvations and the strengthening of believers that occurred globally.
Here is the raw truth: Your gift, whether it operates best in healthcare, education, government, athletics, the marketplace, the arts, the media, the home, or any other arena, has a connection to building the kingdom. The Master Planner designed it this way. That’s why it’s important that you view your gifts as sacred, valuable, and important to building God’s kingdom.
Don’t Neglect Your Gift
Paul wrote two letters to his “spiritual son,” Timothy. In both, he addressed the fact that Timothy’s gift was being neglected and therefore, was inoperative. Let’s establish this important point up front: Timothy was a godly man. Paul bragged on his proven character and genuine faith throughout his epistles (see Phil 2:19-22). In thinking this through, we come across an important truth: to simply live a godly life doesn’t automatically activate the gift of God in you. For the remainder of our discussion, I want to examine how to not neglect, but rather engage our gifts.
Paul’s first letter to Timothy states, “Do not neglect the gift that is in you” (1 Timothy 4:14 NKJV). The word neglect in the Greek means, “to overlook or regard lightly.” Another source defines this word as “to not think about, and thus not respond appropriately to—to pay no attention to.”
Why would Timothy—or any of us—overlook and not pay attention to a God-given gift, and in an extreme case, not even think about it? One reason is found in what we’ve already discussed: we view our gift as insignificant and unimportant to building God’s kingdom. This attitude leads to apathy and laziness.
For more clarity, lets recall the parable of the talents (see Matthew 25). The master entrusts three different servants with unique gifts, each according to their ability. Two of them went out and multiplied what was given to them, and, as a result, they’re called faithful. This is a very important point we must not miss: The master says, “You have been faithful.” You can look at it whichever way you like, but no other virtue, action or result of their stewardship are mentioned in Jesus’ parable other than the fact that they multiplied. Therefore, Jesus directly links being ‘faithful’ to a person’s obedience to ‘multiply.’
Now, the third servant was afraid and maintained his gift. His master called him “Wicked and lazy!” This is definitely an attention-grabber. Let’s remember that Jesus is not talking about salvation, but rather the judgment of how we handle our gifts—either being rewarded or suffering loss for our labor.
Let’s look at the word “lazy” for a moment. The Greek word for lazy is defined as, “to delay, slow, tardy, slothful, lazy.” Another lexicon defines it as, “pertaining to shrinking from or hesitating to engage in something worthwhile, possibly implying lack of ambition.” If you’re fearful, hesitant, or lack ambition, you’ll refrain from engaging in an activity that should or could be done.
Have you ever felt the urge to do something—you just couldn’t shake it, especially when in prayer—but you faltered too long because it seemed too difficult or you feared failing? Then you watched someone else do it? Afterward you thought to yourself, I had that idea and should’ve acted on it.
This is Jesus’s point regarding this servant. He hesitated, not just once or twice, but he hesitated the entire period of his stewardship. Listen, it’s acceptable a time or two, since we usually grow from these situations. But if we flirt with hesitation long enough, then we’ll frustrate what God wants to accomplish through us.
When the Lord first asked me to write, I hesitated for ten months. I was afraid of writing. If I’m honest, my hesitation stemmed from a history of past failures—I had failed time and time again in school. I had terrible SAT and ACT scores in English, numerous teachers’ negative critiques, poor grades, and even critical classmates. As you can see, history wasn’t on my side! On top of all that, Lisa and I had just birthed our ministry, and to write a book would require a lot more of my time and energy, which already seemed maxed out.
But fast-forward a couple decades, and now the books are national and international best-sellers, in over one hundred languages, and number in the tens of millions. As I look back, I often wonder: What if I had hesitated too long and didn’t obey? Where would I be today? Would I have ended up being called “lazy” before the judgment seat? I shudder to think of the extent of my lost opportunity and the lives I would’ve failed to impact!
At the time, I didn’t realize my destiny was wrapped up in writing! If you had said to me during my twenties, “John, God will send you to the nations of the world through your books,” I would have laughed at you and said, “You’ve lost your mind! I can’t even write a three-page paper!”
With all that said, you’re probably feeling a little uncomfortable. I don’t blame you! No true follower of Jesus wants to be identified as lazy. I certainly don’t, and I’m sure you don’t either! Now let’s take a look at how to avoid this path.
Grace that Empowers
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he wrote, “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you” (2 Timothy 1:6 NKJV). Each of us have a responsibility to steward the gift or gifts God has given us. They do not operate automatically; we’ll need to engage them.
Twenty-one years ago, my family and I moved to Colorado. Shortly after our arrival, Lisa and I bought bikes. We thought it would be a great way to stay in shape and to enjoy the beautiful landscapes. Sadly, however, for eighteen years, we didn’t ride those bikes. They sat in our garage collecting dust. You want to know why? In Colorado, we have a lot of steep hills and mountains that were too difficult for us to navigate in our own strength.
When I turned sixty, one of our board members bought me an e-bike, which has an integrated electric motor which is used to assist propulsion. The interesting facet about this bike is that it won’t work unless I pedal. When I pedal, I get assistance. That’s when the electric motor begins to work and to assist my pedal-power. Now I can tackle those steep hills and mountains almost effortlessly!
So here’s my point: many believers have gifts from God but they aren’t operating in them effectively. They are either neglecting their gifts, or they’re trying to multiply in their own strength. But God’s grace, just like my e-bike, will empower you to go beyond your natural ability and limitations. You see, your inadequacy is an opportunity to depend on God’s grace. When you do this, you will enter into true rest—ceasing in your own efforts, no longer striving to produce results. What is this rest? It is to cooperate with God’s ability to accomplish your mission. When you enter rest, God will lead you to multiply!
Another feature of my e-bike is that the motor will only work once I turn it on. If I don’t, it will operate like an ordinary bike. In a similar manner, God’s grace must be turned on, and it’s only powered-up by faith, otherwise you’ll operate in your own strength. Here is an important truth: The grace we need to multiply can only be accessed by believing! Paul writes, “We have access by faith into this grace” (Romans 5:2 NKJV).
Imagine it this way: Faith is the pipeline that delivers to our heart the needed grace to multiply. When we hear this message, our faith or pipeline should enlarge, not diminish. But that’s your choice. We are told, “The word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. For we who have believed do enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:2–3 NKJV). Don’t view what you’re reading in an unprofitable way; instead, mix it with faith.
Leaders, in all my years of travelling, I’ve often asked my audience’s what their definition of ‘faithfulness’ is. The common responses I’ve received have been loyal, committed, consistent, reliable, and steadfast. All these are accurate definitions. But there’s a word Jesus associates with ‘faithfulness’ that I rarely hear. That’s ‘multiplication.’
We have one shot at this life to give it everything we have. That’s the reason I continue to travel, to write, and to provide resources to leaders all over the world. I want to enter eternity knowing I held nothing back. In over forty years of ministry, I’ve realized that you'll never be truly satisfied in life until you take your unique God-given gifts and multiply them for the benefit of others. That’s why I’ve written X—I want to see your faith strengthened to further multiply your God-given potential!
This article was extracted from Issue 4 (Winter 2021) of the AVAIL Journal. Claim your free annual subscription here.
John is an international speaker and best-selling author who's known for his bold and uncompromising approach to God’s Word. John and his wife, Lisa, are the founders of Messenger International, a ministry dedicated to providing believers worldwide with access to life-transforming messages (MessengerInternational.org).
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