Sunday, August 24, 2014

Expect Great Talent. Demand Great Character.

     Sometimes the reactions amaze me. The judges on those talent show TV series always seem surprised when an unknown person from an unknown place shows up and displays jaw-dropping talent. Yet the truth is that there are people with tremendous gifts and talents in every part of the world. Some just happen to get discovered while some don't. 
     But a different reaction usually happens when interacting with people outside our circles of creativity and talent. It's not so much surprise but more of an assured smile with a pat on the back. I'm talking about the people who seek us out to do what it is we do: use our talent in a way that impacts other people, while at the same time making it look easy. To people on the outside, it may make no sense how we do it, but that's not important. The important thing is that our talent can give us the opportunity to be invited into some very special places.
     But here's where it can get tricky. Your talent may get the door of opportunity to open, but it will be your character that keeps you on the scene. There are plenty of people out in the world who have great talent, but who also have little or no personal integrity or standards in their personal lives. Yet we as talented believers are supposed to be different from that and set apart.
     Why aren't gifts and talents enough? Think of someone who has great spiritual maturity and has had a positive, even inspirational influence on other people. Whether this person is famous or not, he or she likely already has your respect, and for good reason. Now imagine how tragic it would be if this person fell into a moral failure. From that perspective, once the mistake had become known, would you still see this person in the same light? Sure, God forgives when we ask, and people should do the same. But would it ever be the same for you when this person's name pops up in the future?
     To clarify this, would it matter that much to you if this person was still a talented vocalist or a gifted poet? At that point being talented can only make up for so much when it comes to how we view others. Secular culture spends so much time lifting up the talents and special qualities of stars that it's easier to overlook personal flaws and failures. But it should be different for those of us who follow Christ and serve Him with our abilities. We should never fall into the trap of thinking that our gifts and talents are a substitute for living a life of integrity and purity.
     Since the secular culture is often going in a different direction than where we're going as believers in Jesus Christ, it helps to be reminded how we're supposed to be different. Here are 4 realities to consider: 

Reality 1. Your gift is special, but it's not enough to save you. Only Jesus can do that. You and I have to make sure that our gifts and talents don't become idols in our own lives, coming between us and God. No matter how special the talent, we must remember that it belongs to God and He has loaned to it to us. 

Reality 2. Your ability impresses others, and will bring good things with it. But lack of character will cause you to burn bridges, damage relationships and miss important opportunities. Think of this season as an audition for the next season. How you handle today will determine which doors open for you tomorrow. Talent is wonderful, but it's not everything. Even the most impressive sports car is worthless without a steering wheel. 

Reality 3. Some are jealous of your gift, and don't enjoy your success as much as you do. Some of those jealous people are watching and waiting for you to slip up, so that you can be dismissed from the scene. This is another good reason why character is so important. It preserves us. 

Reality 4. Some may be so impressed with your gift that they treat you as a special citizen, requiring nothing more from you than showing up and being impressive. This is where character really matters, because it is here where you must find accountability. Otherwise, you can soon find yourself untouchable. You may graduate from school, but you're never supposed to graduate from accountability, since that's a dangerous place for any Christian to be.

     Why is it dangerous? You see, when you're not accountable, no one can confront your flaws. For some this gap could be due to their standing in the community. But for others it could happen because they are close to top leaders, providing built-in protection from criticism or consequences. Regardless of how you arrive in this place, the results are not healthy: how do you ever grow or stay on track if you're never held accountable? Understand that God will never promote you beyond accountability, but imperfect people often do just that. Don't let others' omissions in your life keep you from seeking and keeping the covering, accountability and vital relationships we all need.
     We all need accountability because, without it, we tend to overlook the issues in our own lives that keep us from succeeding with integrity. This is true for all of us, from the new believer to the seasoned person of faith. Further, when we make those inevitable mistakes, it is those who care enough to hold us accountable who help us get back up and keep going. This can make all the difference between occasional stumbles in life versus accepting a lifestyle of constant compromise. 
     If you've never thought much about keeping the personal standards in your life at the same high level as your talent, then it's time to see yourself in a new light. Or, if you're the person who has had to step down because of private or public failure, then be encouraged that God is not through with you or your story in this life.
     It is very possible to have the kind of character that can keep up with your great talent and ability. No one is asking for you to be perfect. We're all human, after all. But imperfect people can still aim higher in life, and there's no better role model for us that Jesus Himself. Purpose today to stay connected and submitted under the leaders in your church or ministry organization. Allow the important others in your life to help you make the most of your talent, and the most of your character.

In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.
–Titus 2:7-8 (NIV)


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