Monday, September 10, 2012

Comparing yourself

Recently I had the opportunity to give a talk on a Scripture passage I was particularly excited about.  I don't consider myself a great speaker, but I was rather happy with how it went.  Afterwards, someone came up to me and said, "Hey, did you know that <famous pastor> gave a talk on that same text last week?"  So I went home, downloaded the talk and listened to it the next day.

That was dumb.

Yeah, I could claim that it was to better understand the passage and grow in wisdom and knowledge and blah blah blah, but the truth was that I wanted to know how I did compared to him.  Unsurprisingly, I didn't measure up.

As I sat around feeling bad for myself later that evening, it occurred to me that I've often felt that way in fundraising too.  I'd be eagerly telling someone about the work God had called me to when suddenly I'd get that question...

"Oh honey, isn't that great?  Tom here is doing the same kinda thing as Samuel, the super-missionary from our church who went to a much more difficult missions field and is winning 1000 souls per day and who wrote several best-selling books in his free time while raising his 15 children.  Tom, how many souls do you average per day?  You can feel free to round to the nearest 100 if it's easier for you..."

Okay, so that's at least how I hear it.  It's remarkable how fast I can go from eagerly telling someone about the work God had called me to... to doubting whether I should even bother with my ministry since ol' Sammy is so much better at it than I am.  Has God really called me to this?  Maybe I'm actually just called to help Samuel by supporting his ministry.

Maybe.  But maybe not.  Jesus once told a story that might help us here...
"For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, 'Master . . . I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours'’ But his master answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant! . . . Take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.' (Matthew 25:14-24, 26, 28-29 ESV, emphasis mine)
While Jesus didn't name names, he did identify three servants.  Let's describe each in modern-day language:
  1. The five-talent servant: this guy has a mega-church and a Masters in talentonomics.  He probably translates Bibles for fun.
  2. The two-talent servant: he's your average guy who's eager to serve Jesus, runs the sound equipment at church and usually gets to work on time.  He prays and reads his Bible but is sometimes scared to admit how often he doesn't get it.  He's good to have on your Pictionary team, but his girlfriend's dad isn't so sure about where this guy is going in life.
  3. The one-talent servant: kinda shady.  Often comes up with excuses for missing Bible study.  Thinks he's smarter than he is.  (I won't be too hard on this guy cause Jesus still gives him a chance, even if he does blow it.)
My point here is this: notice what Jesus says to the five-talent guy.  Compare that to what He says to the two-talent guy.  Isn't that astounding?  Jesus is saying that it doesn't matter if you've been given five "talents" or two "talents" - if you faithfully use what He's given you, no matter how much more you end up with, you receive the same reward.  In fact, it seems that the one-talent guy could have gotten the same deal if only he'd tried something rather than just hiding the talent.

It's hard for us to see this truth.  We see a mega-church and assume that guy is at least 47.5 times godlier than we are.  But Jesus doesn't care.  Both you and that guy will be asked, "How much did I give you? What did you do with it?"

So maybe Famous Pastor did give a better sermon than I did, and to more people.  Maybe Samuel is a better evangelist, author and fundraiser.  That's all okay.  Jesus died on a cross for Famous Pastor, Samuel, me and you all the same.  He gave us each a mission and the talents to accomplish it with - including our needed support team.  Let's choose to be faithful and content with that - so that we might hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Who knows?  Maybe you'll be the first person ever to start with 2 talents and end up with 6.