The late Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, known for his best-selling book The Power of Positive Thinking, once related this humorous incident.
Following one of his speeches he was shaking hands and greeting people when he noticed a woman looking at him with a steady gaze. Finally, he went over to her and asked, “Madam, did you want to speak to me?”
“Hello, Norman,” she said. “Don’t you remember me?”
“Well, you have a familiar look,” Peale replied. “But I can’t place you.”
“I went to high school with you,” the woman responded.
Then she added, “You know you’ve done very well with what little you had to start with.”
In recalling that exchange, Dr. Peale said, “I thought that was a put down. But then I got to thinking about it. You know, that’s really what I’ve been speaking about and writing about all my life. Do the best you can with what little talent you’ve got and you’ll go far.”
Our word of the week is ability. It’s a Bible concept and a word used several times in Scripture.
In describing the Old Testament gatekeepers of Israel were listed the sons of Shemaiah “who governed their fathers’ houses, because they were men of great ability” (1 Chr. 26:6).
When Judah was taken captive by Babylon, Daniel and his 3 friends were placed in positions of authority because of their ability. The Bible says they were “gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king’s palace…” (Dan. 1:4).
In regard to benevolent work, the Christians in Antioch responded to the famine and financial needs of their Judean brethren. Luke wrote, “Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea” (Acts 11:29).
In these three cases it was ability that determined their work, role, and responsibilities. Without ability one is not able to govern. To lead. To learn. Or even to give. It is ability that dictates where and how we can best serve the Lord and our fellow-man.
In Jesus’ famous parable of the Talents (Matt 25:14-30), a wealthy owner entrusted 3 of his servants with amounts of money, called Talents, “each according to his own ability.” A talent was equal to about 20 years of wages at that time.
The first man possessed exceptional financial acumen and was given 5 talents. The second man with less ability was given 2 talents. And the third with minimal ability was only given 1 talent.
After a long time the Master returned from his trip to settle accounts with the servants. Both the 5 talent and the 2 talent man had double their money. The Ruler was pleased and called them “good and faithful servants.” Their reward was greater opportunity.
However, the 1 talent man was paralyzed by fear. He had buried the money in the ground. So could only return what the master had given him with no increase. The Lord called him a “wicked and lazy servant.” At the very least he could have earned interest on his Master’s money. Instead, he did nothing. And was condemned.
Jesus’ parable is not so much about money per sae, but about using our ability to do the best we’re able to do.
The Kingdom of God is blessed with 5 talent men and women, as well as 2 talent people. These faithful servants have blessed so many of us with their knowledge, insight and wisdom. They’ve equipped others to make a difference. They’ve inspired, encouraged and motivated many to greater service.
But 1 talent people are important too. We’re responsible to do the best we can do with what we have. It may be sharing. Serving. Contributing. Sometimes, just showing up to be an encouragement to others.
Whatever ability you have can be used for the benefit of others and to the glory of God. Identify your ability. Then put it to use.
As the famed UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, reminds us “Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman