Anybody reading the Bible can tell you that it is full of commands to serve. Few honest, Bible-reading Christians come to a conclusion other than that we are saved to serve. Paul makes the point explicitly in Ephesians 2:10: ‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.’
That’s all well and good. But how do we know which specific good works God has called us to serve in? We could do almost anything under the sun, so what should we gravitate towards doing?
The standard Evangelical answer to that question is to immediately reach for the language of ‘gifts’. The church is a body and we have all been uniquely gifted with ways and means of building it. The Bible is clear that the Lord has blessed the church with different people to do different things so that the body may be built up by working together properly. So, the argument goes, work out what your gifts are and then seek to use them in God’s service. Discover your God-given talent and crack on using it.
There’s a rightness to that sort of argument. Obviously, if your church needs a treasurer and you are some sort of maths genius or have a pretty solid track record as an accountant, it doesn’t seem all that sensible to keep your hands down when looking for volunteers. If you’ve got a brilliant background in building services or something, refusing to be the buildings deacon seems a little churlish. Of course we ought to use our God-given abilities and talents to serve his glory and build his church.
But all too often that’s where our thoughts end. I am gifted in X so I will do X; I don’t feel gifted in Y so I won’t do Y. But the Bible wants to push us further. Paul, when he is being battered by the Corinthians as inferior to a bunch of so-called ‘super-apostles’ says, ‘I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong’ (2Co 12:10) Indeed, he claims that God told him directly, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2Co 12:9a) going on to say, ‘I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me’ (2Co 12:9b).
Let’s just remember, these same Corinthians claimed Paul’s ‘letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account’ (2Co 10:10). This view of his ministry seems to be backed up by the episode in which Luke specifically says Paul went ‘on and on’ and was so dull a geezer called Eutychus fell out of a window and died (Cf. Acts 20:7-12)! In fact, Paul himself admits his preaching wasn’t up to much in 2 Cor 11:6 and 1 Cor 1:17. Yet he is clear that preaching and teaching – despite his evident weaknesses in them – were the ministries God had given him to do (cf. 1 Tim 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11).
What does this have to tell us about our ministry and service? Surely, if it tells us anything, it is that God may call us to ministries for which we feel ill-equipped and largely unable. It tells us that, despite feeling like we are not gifted for the task, sometimes the Lord specifically calls us to serve out of our weakness and to do things that we do not naturally feel able to do.
The Lord may call us to such things first because, as he says in 2 Cor 12:9, his ‘power is made perfect in weakness.’ The Lord may send an amazing preacher or evangelist to do certain works, but he also delights to send those who are seen and known to be weak in order to do his work. The power of the Lord is seen more fully when those who everybody recognises are not naturally gifted in an area are the ones being used powerfully. This testifies all the more the Lord’s work through his people. The Lord displays his glory to the watching world when he uses us in our weaknesses to confound the wisdom of the world.
Second, the Lord may call us to serve in our weakness to do a work, not so much through us, as in us. It is not the Lord’s only purpose to save a people for himself. The Lord intends to glorify his people as they glorify him. The Lord may call us to do things that are entirely outside our comfort zone, things that are not within our natural giftings, so that he may grow us as his people and mould us more fully into the likeness of Christ.
Third, the Lord may call us to serve out of our weaknesses so that we may, more fully, trust and rely upon him. If we only ever serve in areas of comfort, doing things that come naturally to us, it is easy to fall into the trap of presuming that the work is resting upon us and our talents. If not that, it is easy to simply go through the motions and do the stuff that comes so naturally and think little of it. But when we serve out of our weaknesses, the Lord may be encouraging us to do what is harder and more difficult – perhaps even to suffer through those difficulties – so that we more fully trust and rely upon him as we do his work.
It seems clear that God sometimes calls us to minister out of our weaknesses, doing things that make us uncomfortable and do not come naturally. If we only ever serve based on our abilities and natural talents, we will only ever serve in areas where we already feel relatively competent and confident. If we do that, we might end up eliminating ourselves from significant areas of service in which the Lord might use us for his glory and we may just miss out on a means of growth.
- Recognising the truth that even our natural gifts and talents are ultimately of the Lord. Humanly speaking, particularly from the point of view of an unbeliever, it is easier to write something off as not the Lord’s doing when it centres on natural ability.