A few weeks ago my son and I joined our church family on the annual weekend spring retreat. It was held at the Laurelville Mennonite Church Center near Mt. Pleasant, Pa.
One of the activities available at Laurelville is a prayer labyrinth. It is situated at the top of a long, gradually winding, hilly path. From this labyrinth, which is a large circle and consists of winding stone and pebble paths, you can look out across a breathtaking view of a valley.
As I set out for an afternoon walk to the prayer labyrinth, I found sunshine, deep vividly blue sky, brisk winds and a quiet meditative time of reflection and prayer. My thoughts began to reflect on the powerful messages our resource person for the weekend had shared with us earlier that morning and the previous night before.
Our resource person was Dr. Don Bartlette. He is a very gifted speaker known for his life story, Macaroni at Midnight. It tells of the struggles he faced as not only a disabled child, but also of discrimination as a Native American child who grew up in poverty. He over came all of the adversities of his childhood and young adult years and would eventually go on to use his story of healing and redemption to help spread God’s message of love.
As I continued to walk with the brisk breezes and sunshine hitting my face my thoughts shifted from Dr. Don to one of the scriptures I have been meditating on over the past month, the Parable of the Talents.
Found in Matthew 25:14-30, this story tells the tale of three servants who are each entrusted with different amounts of talents (money) from their master. Two of them immediately go out and use the talents they have been given to increase the total amount of talents. The last servant, who had only been given one talent, dug a hole and hid the talent given to him there.
When the master returned, he was greatly pleased with the first two servants and rewarded them. The third servant was not so fortunate. He was tossed out for being wicked and lazy. I must admit that I have always felt sorry for this poor guy.
Until recently I must have been taking this story quite literally because I couldn’t understand why the guy who protected the money he was given was considered so lazy. He was entrusted to protect the money given to him, right? That’s exactly what he did! In my mind the first two were the ones who were questionable because they were gambling with the master’s money.
It turns out Jesus wasn’t telling this story to warn us about the dangers of a gambling addiction!
In this parable, the talents are actually representing spiritual gifts and the master is God. So the first and second servants went out immediately and used the talents/gifts God had given them to increase the numbers in God’s flock which in turn brought the gifts of the new members to be used for kingdom work. They were obedient and willing servants.
The third servant, who was called lazy, actually kept his gifts locked inside and was refusing to use his gifts because he was afraid of God. I believe that at the heart of this fear was the fact that he didn’t clearly understand the nature of God. He says to him, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed,” in verse 24.
We have been taught in songs that there are many gifts but the same Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives each of us gifts and talents that are uniquely suited to our purposes and tasks in the kingdom:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. — 1 Cor. 12:4-7 (NRSV)
However, neither God the Father nor the Holy Spirit forces us to use these gifts. We have to willingly make the choice to share our gifts and to be used for good here on earth.
We are also each given a testimony that is unique to us. These testimonies are made of good experience and bad experiences. There is pain in the life. No one can escape from it. However, God is using that pain in the process to help refine us.
God doesn’t choose to let bad things happen to us, but he will always use the experience for good. If we are willing to live lives of obedience and humility in his service, he will help us to not only survive but to heal and to thrive. He will use these experiences as teaching tools once the work of refining and molding are done. The greatest men and women in the Bible had to go through pain and trials as God was cleansing them and preparing them for great tasks.
Who would know this better than Joseph? He chose to trust in the Lord in the midst of his betrayals and sufferings caused by his brothers’ jealousy. Joseph also allowed God to heal his wounded heart. When the time came, he was able to not only forgive those same brothers, but he provided for them and their people during the time of famine:
Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. — Gen. 50:20 (NRSV)
We each have a testimony to go out and share and talents to use to help us share not only our testimony, but also the love of God. Our heavenly Master is weaving together our gifts and experiences into the tapestries of our lives. Will the finished tapestries reflect love and care for gathering in God’s people? Or will they be marred by insecurity or an unwilling, unrepentant spirit?
Will we allow God to heal our wounds and depend on him to use them for good?
Trust in God and he will make all things new and good.
I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. — Philemon 1:6 (NRSV)
Shannon Martin is an active member of Midway Mennonite Church in Columbiana, Ohio, and a Fellow with The C.S. Lewis Institute of Northeast Ohio Fellows Program. She writes at Wisdom Wanderings, where this post first appeared.