Here's what we need to be mindful of when it comes to gifts and talents: they're not the same thing. Even when we're talking about one specific idea, that very idea may be a gift for one person and a talent for another.
Think, for example, about your worship team at church. Whatever you call them. A praise band, a worship team, a music ministry, whatever. When we think about music, we often use the words 'gift' and 'talent' interchangeably. "Oh, you're so talented!" or "What a gift you have!" Yes, and yes, but usually together.
There are persons on that worship team for whom music is a gift. It comes naturally to them and just seems to pour out of them. You can give them a piece of music, and their soul just drinks it in until it comes dripping out of them. They practice, but only because they love the music. When they practice, they are receiving the gift so that they can give it away. Every run-through draws the music deeper into their heart where it just becomes a part of them, and then they reach out with open hands and give it away.
There are other persons on that worship team, however, for whom music is a talent. It doesn't come naturally to them; it comes easier to them than to someone not talented in such a way, but their participation in worship is an investment. They take the music home and run through it again and again not so that it sinks into them, but so that they get it right. They write it out. They agonize over it. They try to train their fingers to play, their voices to capture just the right mood of praise. When they practice, they think about the coming time when they will not simply give this gift of music, but they will invest in it. They will give it without knowing the return rates, without understanding whether or how much it will grow.
One of the reasons we must be so mindful of this difference is because it has the tendency to create some powerful insecurities.
The person who is talented in an area in which others are gifted often struggles to understand why it's so hard for them. Why they have to put in so much more work than the others. Maybe she thinks that if she continues to put in the hard work, it will one day flow as naturally out of her as it does from the others, that her talent will one day become her gift. Sadly, it doesn't usually work this way, and this can be very discouraging. Someone who is talented will always have to put in the work. They will always have to make the investment. That's what you do with talents.
On the other side of this coin, the person who is gifted in an area in which others are talented often wonders if it isn't perhaps too easy for them. If they might be missing out on something by not having to put so much work in. If they aren't taking it as seriously as someone else. If it's somehow just a "joke" to them. Maybe he thinks that if he would practice more, the song would go even deeper still, even though he realizes that the song itself comes already from the very depths of who he is. Maybe he thinks that if he really took it seriously, he'd learn something new in the process. Maybe he feels like his gift will never grow if he doesn't invest in it. But you don't invest in gifts; you receive them. So he's not missing anything really at all.
But what happens is that we end up with insecurities on both sides, and then everyone comes to worship unsure. Uncertain of what they have to offer. The talented person wonders whether the investment is enough, whether the work they've put into it has reaped sufficient returns to be valuable, whether all that work has been "worth it" in terms of offering something meaningful. The gifted person wonders if the gift is enough, if enough has been received to give enough in return.
This is exactly why we have to know the difference between gifts and talents. Because it is in understanding what each person brings that we are able to comfort and strengthen one another.
You can't tell a talented person that it's okay, that they're really good at this, that this is their thing and it will be beautiful because they know how hard it is for them. They know what it takes to get to this point. They've counted the hours and done the math. You can't fool them because they know their own secrets. So you have to acknowledge their investment. You have to offer them returns. You have to come back to them with numbers. That's the language of a talent.
Nor can you tell a gifted person that it's okay, they've done the work, they've put in the time, and it will be beautiful because they know how easy it's been for them. They know what comes naturally to them. They know that even if they wanted to work at doing it better, they probably don't even know how. They literally don't know what to do except let this holy thing flow through them with open hands. You can't fool them because they know how inexplicable a gift is. So you have to take their open hands and hold them. You have to embrace the gift and take. That's the language of a gift.
When we take the time to recognize the difference between gifts and talents, we encourage each other. We love each other well. And something beautiful happens.
Something like worship.