One of several books that I have been perusing recently is Erwin McManus’ 2014 The Artisan Soul, wherein Erwin beautifully describes the interplay between hard work and talent. He writes:
“Eventually art becomes craft. The combination of talent and passion funneled through the crucible of discipline and determination resulted in an expression of skill and execution that was later deemed greatness and genius.” (p.126)
Then later, “If we work hard enough, hard work will eventually be mistaken for talent. And if we refuse to give up, perseverance will eventually be mistaken for greatness.” (p.133)
Let’s keep working hard. Let’s keep marrying our talent with effort and discipline, so we can offer greater, more excellent service to God and humanity. Our talents and aptitudes were God’s gift to us; our dutiful honing of them can become worship that we offer back to Him.
God certainly deserves our best, and the world around us needs our best. Let’s give it. Let’s labor to do and be the best we can be for the glory of God and the blessing of our world.
Michelangelo once laughed when people praised his brilliance. He said, “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.” If we too work hard enough and long enough our work will be mistaken for talent and our determination will be deemed greatness.
This is what my daily sermon looks like.
Every morning after I drop Maddie off at school, I watch this crossing guard work the intersection of Benson and Arrow Highway and I am inspired.
I don’t know this guy’s name, occupation, or station in life, but for a few seconds before my light turns green he preaches to me, showing me what excellence really looks like. He is friendly, enthusiastic, decisive, and strong. He tells cars when to back off and when they can proceed. He takes extra time with the children and the elderly, and he gives wide berth to the skateboarders who nearly run him over, often throwing him a high five as they cruise by.
His outfit is crisp, his demeanor is clear, and perhaps even more importantly he seems to be having fun. I watch him monitor his intersection and I vow to be a better pastor. I watch him perform his crossing guard duties and I vow to be a better dad.
There’s something about excellence–about a job well done and well expressed–that challenges our passivity and inspires us to greater heights.
He’s only a crossing guard but he’s teaching me about worship. He’s teaching me about life, and I’ve actually come to look forward to seeing his work each morning. I hope the hosts of heaven can watch you and me at our worship and work and feel the same inspiration and awe that this crossing guard evokes in me.
Did you get your Olympics fix this summer? Did you carve out enough time to vicariously swim, jump, lift, dive, tumble, and throw alongside the greatest athletes in the world?
Fortunately, for Jessica and me, this summer’s Olympic Games occurred in the middle of our ministry sabbatical so if you missed any of it let me know—we watched it all!
We have always been Olympics fans, and every two years we clear our schedule so we can cheer and cry and pretend that we too are being crowned champions in our chosen disciplines. When we lived in Colorado Springs we routinely visited the Olympic Training Center there so we could touch the spirit of the Olympics even in the off seasons. There really is something about the Olympic Games that strikes a profoundly deep chord in the human soul.
It might be the beauty of the different people groups of the world…it might be the brilliance of watching someone set records that no other human can attain…it might be the human interest stories that augment the tumbling of Simone Biles or the pole vaulting of Ashton Eaton…or it might be something else.
It might be that the Olympics are a metaphor for our lives. WE are athletes in training, contending for victory and mastery in life. The Apostle Paul realized this, and he sprinkled his letters with powerful Olympic imagery. He spoke of competing for a crown “that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:25), winning “the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14), and he compared Timothy’s calling to an athlete who longs to “receive the victor’s crown” (2 Timothy 2:5).
WE are Olympians. As the Rio Games fade into history, OUR Games are just beginning. What prize so consumes you that you are willing to sacrifice to attain it? What victory is so essential in your life that you will rival the work ethic of Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt in your whole-life pursuit of it? Let’s go for it! Let’s pay the price.
When the 2018 Winter Games commence in South Korea, let’s be transformed. When the 2020 Summer Games are inaugurated in Tokyo let’s be brandishing medals and crowns that will never fade away.
It’s easy to feel inspired when you’re inspired (and, yes, I do realize how silly and obvious that sounds), but what do we do when we’re not inspired and yet we’re still expected to perform?
How do we get inspired when nothing moves us or awakens our creativity?
The Apostle Paul expected Timothy to find a way. In 2 Timothy 4:2 Paul told his young disciple to, “Be prepared in season and out of season.” Paul knew there would be times when Timothy was in the off-season of his life—he wouldn’t feel especially motivated or prepared—and yet he still believed that Timothy could find a way to produce.
It’s great when we’re hit by moments of inspiration. It’s wonderful when ideas are flowing, interest is high, and we feel motivated to tackle the task at hand. However, we cannot become dependent on those times because the real treasure of life occurs in the uninspired, daily-ness of living.
We can’t wait to get externally inspired; we have to learn to summon it from within. Here are a few ways that we can do this.
- We can speak to our soul. In some of King David’s worship psalms he begins by speaking to his own soul, and then he ends by speaking to God. He begins with, “Praise the Lord, oh my soul” and He ends with simply, “Praise the Lord.” He speaks to—he engages—his own soul, and then once his soul is engaged the inspired emotion takes over.
- We can get to work, trusting that inspiration will follow. Creativity is like a muscle; the more we engage it the stronger it gets. As Thomas Edison famously said, “Genius is one percent inspiration ninety-nine percent perspiration.” We can wait around forever to feel inspired or we can get to work, knowing that inspiration will soon follow.
- We can remember that motion creates emotion. At least that’s what motivational speaker, Tony Robbins, tells his listeners. He says that if we will get moving—if we will rouse ourselves and move ourselves to physical action—the internal feelings of inspiration will begin to chase us down.
Whether it is natural coaching like Robbins’ or more spiritual counsel like David’s, the bottom line is the same. We can’t sit around until we get inspired. We have to get busy, faithfully doing what we know we are called to do, trusting that the inspiration will eventually find us.
Three words can sure say a lot. Especially if they are clarifying words that follow a comma. Examples:
“She is my mother, an amazing lady.”
“It’s my hometown, glad I left.”
“They’re serving Thai food, my favorite kind.”
A simple post-comma, three-word supplement can change the entire emphasis of a sentence. Consider the list of Jesus’ original twelve apostles as found in the third chapter of the Gospel of Mark. The final name on the list belongs to Judas, and in verse 19 it reads this way: “Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.”
It’s not just Judas. Nor is it just Judas Iscariot. It is Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.
That was his legacy. Those three supplemental words describe how Judas Iscariot will be remembered all throughout human history. He was the one who betrayed Jesus.
While we are still living we have a chance to answer the comma and determine what gets written after it. Someday our parenting will be described after a comma. So will our relationships and our ministries and the way we’ve lived our lives.
Let’s determine in advance what gets written there. It could read like the Apostle Judas’ or it could read like the Apostle John’s. Of John, the Bible says, “One of them, whom Jesus loved, was there…” (John 13:23 ESV)
If there is still breath in our lungs there is time to alter what comes after the comma. If you regret the words that are following you, it’s not too late to become a writer, and craft a different ending with your life.
YOU are the one whom Jesus loved.
I’ve noticed something about my personality lately. I’m getting a little quieter and a little more boring. At other times in my life this realization would have garnered some consternation and some possible insecurity. I might have tried to push back or compensate in some different ways.
But not this time. This time it’s different. It’s by design.
Over the past few months I’ve been trying to do a much better job of guarding my speech. I can relate to the words of Arsenius (Roman educator turned monk) who said, “I have often repented of having spoken, but never of having remained silent.”
In the past my humor or engaging conversations sometimes came with a price. I pushed the lines of sarcasm, or I said things that I regretted afterwards. I hate that feeling. I hate the cringing regret of saying too much, or speaking out of turn, or being mildly critical in my humor.
So I’m working on it. I’m biting my tongue. I’m passing up some really good jokes. Sometimes I feel awkwardly quiet, but I don’t feel regret.
I want my speech to be life giving. I want to heal and empower and speak to the destiny and potential of the people around me.
Some day I’ll be funny again. 🙂 But the jokes will never sting other people or cross lines of dignity or honor.
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6)
Are you a specialist or a jack-of-all-trades? Are you gifted in one or two highly focused skill sets or can you do a little bit of everything? If you were (or are) a doctor, would you be a family doc, skilled at diagnosing and treating a wide range of simple symptoms, or would you be a specialist, directing all of your faculties toward the curing of one specific human ailment?
Today’s entrepreneurial free market has given unprecedented rise to the specialist, the boutique, and the niche. For some, survival in today’s business climate has required them to focus their efforts on mastering a clearly defined niche of the market rather than trying to accommodate the full ranging needs of the average shopper.
Additionally, our star-stricken, celebrity obsessed culture directs nearly all of our attention toward the rare standout performers. We practically worship the top performers in a given sport or field of achievement, while seldom acknowledging the journeymen/women who faithfully show up and adequately perform a wide range of supportive job duties. Sometimes it’s good for us to pause and remember the journeyman (because most of us probably are the journeyman), and to remember that there is still—and always will be—a place for the jack-of-all-trades.
Can you imagine how frustrating it would be for a Swiss Army Knife to be expected to perform like a solitary screwdriver (or like a pair of scissors—have you seen the flimsy scissors on a Swiss Army knife??)? If you need to screw in a bunch of phillips-headed screws by hand you don’t want a Swiss Army knife or a Leatherman—you want a big screwdriver with a comfy handle. However, if you’re camping or doing small, around-the-house maintenance, the Leatherman/Swiss Army knife can’t be beaten.
So again…which are you? Are you a solitary screwdriver or a Swiss Army knife? Are you a specialist or a generalist? Remember, a world-class generalist is just as excellent and necessary as a world-class specialist even if there isn’t as much recognition or fame attached to that role.
My hope is that we generalists can be at peace with our gift-mix and find a place to serve where only jacks-of-all-trades can truly get the job done.