I really, really like to cook. I think anyone who comes into our home, walks into our kitchen and sees our large Viking range would know that I like to cook. I like to cook for my family, for members of the Lord’s church, for just about anyone. When I learn that someone is ill, my first thought is: time to cook! It is, for me, my gift to them so they know we care and make sure they have the nourishment they need. Now, for those who do not know my background, they might think that I grew up with Betty Crocker as my mom (I know my mother is chuckling about now). But, that was not my experience. Although my mother was a good cook, there were other, more pressing concerns for her (like keeping a roof over our heads while my father was ill) when I was a young girl. I learned a few cooking tips, but it would be stretching it to say that cooking was my “natural talent,” or something that just came easy for me. In fact, I once had to cook a meal for a Home Economics class assignment when I was a pre-teen and my mother and father, bless their hearts, ate it. I couldn’t. So, you get the picture….I was not a naturally talented cook, it was burried pretty deep.
For many of us, when we think about our “talents,” we consider what we are “good” at, and have always been “good” at. That is, we think about what is easy for us, what we do well already, and what comes naturally. I can’t argue with that reasoning, and admit that those are our “natural” talents. But I ask us to consider that perhaps a biblical talent is a bit more… well, complicated and quite a lot more sacrificial than “natural talent.” Let’s consider the Lord’s view of what a “talent” is. A quick turn to Matthew 25 or Luke 19 gives the all-familiar story that most of us have heard: the parable of the talent (or money) and the servants. We have probably heard countless sermons about why we should use our “talent” that Lord has given to us, or we will be in danger of losing our souls (“For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matt. 25: 29-30). The Lord commands us to use our talent; it is serious stuff. However, I believe there is more to this parable, something deeper and much more difficult than just using what we do best….or what comes easily…our obvious “natural talent.”
First, consider that in the parable each man was given something according to his ability/talent, or what he did naturally/easily and well already (Mt 25:14). The master assessed their abilities, and gave each of them what he believed they could use well. Second, the key, I believe that we often overlook is that two men gained more talent, or money. They knew that sitting on what they had was not an option, even the one that did just that knew he was in trouble. Yes, they knew the stakes were high. They even acknowledge that their master was tough and expected them to produce more talent (Mt. 20:24; Lk. 19:21). They knew their master’s work ethic and expectations. They knew they would have to work hard to grow more “talent.” I have no doubt that they were tired and they were uncomfortable in gaining more talent. I’m sure they had to do things they weren’t used to, or really even wanted to do to gain more talents. However, knowing the expectations of their master, they did it anyway.
Have we considered that the greatest “talented” individuals of all, the Lord’s chosen few? Do we realize that the Lord called the apostles to become His mouthpiece after He left this earth, and not a one of them had a known natural “talent” as a gospel preacher? Have we considered that not a one of them had a known natural “talent” as a professional public speaker? Have we considered that not one….no not one of them was asked to use their “natural talent”: catching fish, collecting taxes or tent making as their talent in their work for the Lord? Nope…not one. Not one of them were chosen by the Lord for what they were doing easily, “naturally,” or comfortably as a profession In fact, they didn’t even know they had “talent” for the Lord, according to John 21 when they decided to go back to fishing. Now, I understand they had the Holy Spirit, or divine intervention when they spoke…I get it. But, still, it must have been very hard to walk through all of those towns and speak to all of the people in synagogues, in marketplaces, and among so many who hated them and to stand before government officials as a humble fisherman (Mtt 4:18), a tax collector (Mtt 10:3), and tent maker (Acts 18; 2-3) and speak when they didn’t even know they had the “natural talent.” But, as they develop in their walk with our Lord, their talents grew and became new talents. We see the “sons of thunder” cultivate an “unnatural talent” for understanding and kindness, we see Peter, who naturally struggled with forgiveness bring our Lord’s message to the lost people, the Gentiles. Yes, it must have been hard. Was it their natural talent? Well, perhaps…but not one they knew they had, until they tried and followed the Lord’s will above their own.
I often think of the parable mentioned above, or the Lord’s apostles when someone who claim to be strong and faithful members of the Lord’s body neglects, or even refuses, or just won’t even try to help in the Lord work because it isn’t comfortable for them, or they say something like: “I just don’t have the talent to say hello, or greet people when they come in the church building ,” or “it is just easy for [fill in name] to teach or help with a Bible classes. I can’t it is just not my talent.”I think of these excuses and then consider that no man was “born” an elder, a preacher, a song leader, or no woman was born a Bible class teacher, eloquent with words for comfort, or….yep even a cook. I believe that each person has to work hard, even sometimes make herself uncomfortable, uneasy, even perhaps emotionally vulnerable to grow what we think, or see as a “natural talent.” I bet those “natural talents” didn’t just appear. I am sure it wasn’t easy, comfortable, or even what they wanted to do to cultivate the talents they appear to have today.
I don’t believe I have much “natural talent.” Everything seems to be hard for me, and a lot of what I do I honestly don’t really enjoy. I am convinced that we often excuse ourselves from doing what is right and good by saying we don’t have a “natural talent,” because it makes us uncomfortable, uneasy, is perhaps very difficult for us, or we just plain don’t like it. Nope…I don’t think I am very talented, but I do take my Lord seriously. I also know that He knows me better than I know myself. You see, I was not born with a pot and spoon in each hand. It took me years of hard work, and many burned “offerings” to dig up my meager talent for cooking; to cultivate it, to nourish it. You see, I wanted to be a good cook; it was important to me. Yes, it took a lot of burned dishes and a few near gastrointestinal disasters before I, or others would label me a “good” cook. So, what does that mean? One talent down…..many more to go. I guess it is time to get out that shovel, ask ourselves: "What does the Lord need?" and start digging!