I remember a little chorus we used to sing at church as children: "If you have a talent, use it|
for the Lord; if you have a talent, use it for the Lord. For if you do not use it, you will surely
lose it. If you have a talent, use it for the Lord." Sounds threatening, doesn't it? Your talent
, use it or lose it!
Most of us, I suppose have lost talents long ago that we never knew we had.
Maybe we had the talent to play an instrument, but our families either didn't want to listen to
our practicing or couldn't afford the instrument. Some of us may have been artists, but were
discouraged from using our creativity at an early age. Who knows what talents we've lost
because we never knew we had them-or, more likely-who knows what talents we've lost
because no one ever tried to evoke our gifts. We all need someone to encourage our gifts
to emerge. We all need someone to believe that we are gifted. We need someone patient
enough to guide us through our teetering early steps using the gifts God has given us.
Ever since I've become acquainted with the biblical character, Barnabas, I've
thought that one of the very best gifts God could ever give us is the ability to recognize and
then evoke gifts in others. God endowed Barnabas with that gift. He often endows churches
with at least one wonderful person who has the same. Some people really tune into the
potentials of others. They recognize the diamond in the rough. They sacrifice nursing their
own egos in order to nourish others by helping bring out the very best in them.
Did God give you that gift?
In Acts 11 we read about an extraordinary opportunity God gave His church.
While under fierce persecution after the martyrdom of Stephen, certain Christians fled
Jerusalem as far as North Africa, Cyprus, and Antioch in Syria. When life gave them lemons,
they made lemonade. For while being dispersed among the Gentiles, they overcame their
fear and did something bodacious, as Snuffy Smith would say. They proclaimed the gospel
to Gentiles. I guess the church was too young in those days to utter the seven last words of a
dying church: "We've never done it that way before." Gentiles actually responded to the
gospel! Of course, the irony is that these Christians thought they might be doing wrong by
launching out into a new area of service. It was scary reaching out like that.
But the Spirit of the Lord was with them. So they went forward. That's not to say
that they didn't get a lot of criticism-they did. The rather conservative church in Jerusalem
did not encourage them at first. Rather than get discouraged, however, they trusted God.
And God, as He is always wont to do, came through. He gave Peter a vision that helped
him wake up from narrow prejudices. And He saw to it that the ambassador sent to the
church at Antioch was this man nicknamed Barnabas, meaning "encourager."
For when Barnabas saw that outsiders were being changed by the gospel, he was
glad-overjoyed-and saw God's hand in doing something new-winning people to Christ who
were not Jews.
All of us, no matter what our gift, must recognize what God is doing today. Churches
that succeed don't do their own thing and ask God to bless it, they find out what God is doing
and get with it. And God was doing something new.
What I find so remarkable about Barnabas is that he has just the person in mind
whom he feels has the gifts, or should we say, just the right sails to catch the winds of the
Spirit to move the church forward: a man named Paul. No, this wasn't Paul the great
missionary or Paul the great preacher-but Paul the failure.
Paul's ministry was over almost before it began. After his conversion, you'll remember, he
went to Damascus. But things did not go well for him. Quite the contrary. Things went so
badly that Paul had to be let down over the city wall in a basket-at night. Paul was literally a
basket case. And he went home-to his boyhood home, Tarsus. How he failed!
Yet Barnabas, in Syria, made the long, difficult journey all the way to Tarsus, in modern
Turkey, just to bring Paul to Antioch. That's what we call believing in someone. He saw gifts
in Paul that others didn't see. And he went through all that trouble to get him and bring him
back those many miles.
The Bible says that Barnabas was "a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith."
He possessed the gift of recognizing gifts in others. He possessed the gift of not giving up on
others. He did it for Paul. He did it for John Mark. He saw diamonds in the rough where
others saw only dirty rocks. He was indeed a good man.
He was also a wise man. This whole enterprise of reaching out to non-Jews for
Christ was controversial. Although he was convinced that this was God's doing, and although
he had courage, he wasn't rash. He spent a whole year preaching and teaching Gentile
Christians at home before launching out on this new enterprise called the foreign missionary
He had the gift. We may have it too, if we'd use it-this gift of recognizing gifts in
others and encouraging their use.
How do you learn to use this gift?
Let me make three brief points:
1) People with the gift view people as God views all of us-not for what we are now, but for what
by God's grace we can be. Treat people as God's works in progress. Face it. The church in
Damascus had all but forgotten Paul. Paul himself may have thought himself a dismal
failure. But not Barnabas. God bless those who don't judge people by what they are but
by what God can make of them!
2) Give people a chance to exercise their gifts! We've made a philosophy of : "If you want
something done right, do it yourself." It may be more efficient to do things that way-and it may
get things done right-but it doesn't help people grow. People with the "Barnabas" gift put
their priorities in different places. They'd rather help people learn, even by their mistakes,
then to pride ourselves in doing things all by themselves. Certainly it is slower, but eternity is
on the side of the Barnabases in this life. Give people a chance to discover their own gifts.
3) Finally, the best way to evoke the gifts of others is to allow them to see you exercising your
own gifts for the LORD with joy.
The old chorus spoke of losing our talents through lack of use. The greater danger in not
exercising our gifts for the Lord is that we lose the opportunity for evoking other people's gifts
for Christ. When you see someone giving of their best for the Master-you want to give of your
best too. And when gifts are exercised to the LORD with joy, people can't help wanting to
their best too.
The church that bears the stamp of Barnabas recognizes the potential of others, encourages
other to share their gifts without fear of failure and is so busy exercising gifts with excellence
that others what to pitch in too.
Let's see, we modern Barnabases would say. What ever happened to that Paul who gave
up and went back home in Tarsus? Let's bring him here and see what God can do.