Another mark of wisdom in the life of a believer is knowing how to use your gifts. I think one of the biggest lies we've bought into as Christians is that God gives you gifts so that you can bless others through them. And while that is true, it is only half-true.
Some gifts from God are just for you.
Over the Christmas holiday, I posted a series of videos on Facebook. Just little short bits of Christmas music I was playing on the piano. I have played the piano for almost 27 years, and it's something I enjoy but something about me that not a lot of people know. And those videos sparked two common questions that I found myself having to answer.
The first was: Is there anything you can't do? The answer is yes. Lord, yes. There are countless things I cannot do. (Many I do not want to do. And many more I should not do.)
But the second question is the one that arises out of this understanding of gifts that we have: Why aren't you in music ministry? Why aren't you on the stage with the praise team on Sunday morning? Why aren't you sharing your gift of music with us on a regular basis? Although to be honest, this question more often came in the form of a statement: you should be on the praise team!
No. No, I should not.
There was a time in my life when I would have agreed, when I would have said that any gift the Lord gives you is meant to be used for His glory. It is meant to be shared. It is meant to be given away. There was a time when I would have said that any gift God gives you is meant not to be poured into you, but to be poured through you and into the world. There's a time when I would have said such things, and wholeheartedly believed them.
At about the same time in my life, you would have found me working the sound booth every Sunday morning because I was gifted with knowing how to use a computer and a sound board. I would have been washing dishes after every church pitch-in because I have a knack for washing dishes (and earned an award for it in 8th-grade home ec). I would have been driving every little old lady to every doctor's appointment because God had gifted me both an able body and a car. I would have had the complete inability to say no to anything that I had the capacity to do.
And I would have had no measure of God inside of me because He was only allowed to pour through me.
The more in my life I draw closer to God's intended purpose for my life, or at least for this season of my life, the more I understand the difference between a gift God gives you and a gift God pours through you. God pours through me in my ministry context. When I'm being a chaplain, when I'm working as His presence in tough situations or moments of grief or times of crisis, when I'm doing the work He has given me to do, He pours straight through me. It's energizing, but also draining. I'm giving away what God has given me, as it should be. Because it is in this area that He has given both a gift and a call.
But when I get in my car at the end of a shift, when I come home after an extended visit, I've almost always got the radio on. I'm almost always drawn to sit at the piano and play a few notes. Because music is the gift God pours into me. It's what He uses to recharge me. It's that thing that connects me back to Him when I am feeling most blessed and most depleted, which often come together. What music gives my spirit is affirmation of God's presence. It is a reminder of the God who loves me, not just the God who uses me. It is that thing that He and I uniquely share in a way that all the words in the world would not capture. It is His gift to me, a complement to His gift in me.
Many, many years ago, I was talking with a worship minister who loved what he did. He was certainly gifted in music, and it was the gift God was doing in him. But he confessed and confided in me that some days, he needed not to be playing. Some days, he needed not to be on stage. Because being on stage every week drew him away from being present every week in a very real, draining, terrible way. He was giving away all of God he was getting and because of his busyness on Sunday mornings, he was unable to simply sit and be filled again with the things that filled him - fellowship, teaching, prayer, communion. In the giving of his gift, he was unable to receive God's gift to him. And it was killing him.
And that's what happens. It happens to all of us when we don't understand the difference in gifts, when we haven't taken the time to discern which God is doing with us and which God is doing for us. Not everything God gives you is to be given away; if it is, how will you ever know Him? How will you ever hold onto Him? You can't.
Certainly, God has given you a gift. He's given you a gift to use for His glory, to extend Him to others in this world. Go out and use that to the best of your ability. But He's also given you another gift, a gift to draw you more into Him. A gift to refill your well when your cup runneth over but feels like it's running dry. What is that gift for you? Give yourself permission to simply enjoy it. Let it fill you, a measure of His grace.
Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Just remember that sometimes, He's working that glory in you. Not just through you.