Let Your Spiritual Gifts S–T–R–E–T–C–H You

“Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

Frederick Buechner

Discovering your spiritual gifts will help you find your vocation.  If you are asking yourself, what is a vocation, here’s the definition:

A vocation is an occupation to which a person is specially drawn or for which they are suited, trained, or qualified. Though now often used in non-religious contexts, the meanings of the term originated in Christianity.

At one point in the world’s history, vocation was an idea reserved for priests, nuns and monks who devoted themselves to God.  Martin Luther changed that kind of thinking when he said:

A cobbler, a smith, a farmer, each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops, and every one by means of his own work or office must benefit and serve every other, that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, even as all the members of the body serve one another…”

All of us have a vocation, or calling in the plan of God.  We don’t have to be pastors or missionaries;  we can use our gifts in our church, our community and our careers.  The challenge is to be aware of this and make a conscious effort to serve others.  When you do this, you will find yourself growing in God’s grace and doing things you probably never imagined.

For example, before I retired, our personnel officer made a visit to me and I shared my feeling that our hospital no longer cared about our lowest level employees;  small benefits were being cut that meant little to most of us, but quite a bit to these people — for example, no discount at the hospital cafeteria.  Because I spoke out, he created an “Angel Fund”– money designated to help employees who were struggling with a particular situation — serious illness, for example.  I served on that committee and it is still going on years later.  It’s something I would never have imagined doing.

I am an introvert, but because I am passionate about spiritual growth, I became the leader of a Via de Cristo retreat.  I love to write and encourage people, and so I wrote a Bible Study for the women of our denomination — this required me to go to a conference and stand up in front of 200 women to give a devotional reading!  If anyone had told me when I was twenty that I would do such things, I would have laughed (hmmm– maybe like Sarah when God told her she would have a child at 95!).

Anyway, my point is this — follow your gifts, follow God’s leading, and you will find yourself in the most unexpected places.  You’ll be amazed at what you and Christ can do together.

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Fanning the Flame #12

As I reviewed my Via de Cristo talk on Environment, I began to see what our Fanning the Flame project is really all about.  Our team has been called together to change our environment, and just as we are told in the talk, that change must start with us.

First and foremost, we are learning to be more prayerful people; to rely upon God and look for His leading.  We are discovering our spiritual gifts and how we can use them to help others, in our church and in our community.  We are being taught how to become better planners and to work with a goal in mind – the goal of bringing Christ into the lives of those around us.

None of this is easy.  It means changing old habits and stepping out of our comfort zones.  There are not many of us; most of us are not young; all of us have other responsibilities.  It is a daunting responsibility.  However, we have one big thing going for us, and that is the most important thing of all.  As long as we are seeking to God’s will, He is on our side.

As the apostle Paul says in Romans 8:31b-32:

“If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

And as the angel told Mary,

“For nothing will be impossible with God.”  Luke 1:37

I ask our readers to continue in prayer for us, and our church.  May we follow God’s leading and be molded in accordance with His will for us.

Peace Is Flowing Like a River

On a Via de Cristo weekend, the speaker chooses a hymn or Christian song which everyone sings right before their talk.  This was the song I chose for my Environment talk, and I think it expresses the idea that when God’s peace, love and joy is inside of us, it will overflow and affect everyone we’re around.  Enjoy listening!

Changing Your Environment–Joan’s Story, part 2

Amy was replaced by a woman I’ll call “Sandy” who was raised as (surprise, surprise!) a Missouri Synod Lutheran.  We had a lot in common right away.  She was a leader and an “office mother” type.  Soon we were sharing her home-baked cookies, and she enjoyed planning lunches and other activities for us.  I suggested we do something for others.  Sandy jumped in, calling local agencies to see what was needed.  Eventually the office began selecting a charitable activity to support around the holidays.  When my daughter met a needy family and I mentioned them at work, my coworkers decided to adopt them, and over the course of a year sent groceries, household items and gift certificates.  We collected food for the food bank, personal items for the homeless shelter, and baby items for the crisis pregnancy center.  These collections were not limited to our small office, as we included coworkers in the supply warehouse, and the hospital couriers took time to deliver what we collected.

Over the years, I lived through many happy and painful life experiences with these people.  We celebrated significant birthdays, graduations, weddings, births and anniversaries.  One of us got divorced and another lost her young adult daughter in a car accident.  We moved to an offsite location and had to put in tons of overtime and work hard together as a team.  When my church held a walkathon for a young member with muscular dystrophy, my work friends did not just sponsor me — a couple of them participated and brought other family members along, too.  Somewhere along the line, they started asking me to pray for them, or add them to our church prayer chain.  Then I found I could ask them to pray for me, too.  Who would have imagined that in twenty years an environment could change so much?  I actually grew to enjoy going to work.  Many of the salespeople who called on us told me that we were the nicest people they got to visit–which gave me another opportunity to share my faith.  They didn’t know why we were different, but I did.  We were all on the same train, moving closer to realizing the Christian ideal.

Changing Your Environment — Joan’s Story, Part 1

When I went to work at Frederick Memorial Hospital in 1990, I wasn’t especially happy to be there, but our family needed the income and benefits the job would provide.  There were five of us in the Purchasing office — two buyers, two clerical people and our director.  One of the clerks was angry that she wasn’t promoted into the buying position I got, and the other buyer was threatened by the fact that I had a college degree and she didn’t.  The atmosphere was, to say the least, not very warm.  In addition, there was a lot of bad language, off color jokes and sexual innuendoes.  I was miserable and wondered how I would ever stand to work there.  However, as a stubborn German type, I figured I could tough it out and would last longer than those who didn’t like me, especially the young woman who wanted my job.  I’ll call her “Amy.”  As a Christian, I prayed, but my prayers were more along the lines of “deliver me from evil” than “make me your instrument.”  I was working with some difficult people, but my attitude wasn’t all it should have been either.

Several months into the job I attended a Lutheran Via de Cristo weekend and that helped me change my focus.  Every morning I sat in my car for a while before work, reading my Bible and praying.  I even prayed for Amy.  My heart softened towards her as I realized her life wasn’t very happy.  Her life was filled with possessions that were important to her, but lacking in love and stability.  She was angry and took her anger out on others around her — she wasn’t singling me out.  I stopped taking her behavior personally, and found it didn’t bother me as much.  I tried to be friendly and invited Amy and her little daughter to some church events.  She didn’t come, but shared that another coworker she seemed to like and admire, had also invited her to church.  I encouraged her to give it a try, and I wish that I could say that Amy became a Christian, but I don’t know.  She left our office soon afterwards.  Our conversations may have had an influence on her life, and I continued to pray that God would send someone into Amy’s life who would show her where true happiness lies.

In the meantime, there were other changes.  I’m not a gifted evangelist, but I had ways to let others know I was Christian.  I talked about church, had a Christian calendar on my bulletin board, and often wore a cross.  These things were noticed.  People began to ask me questions–everything from “what is Shrove Tuesday?” to “what does your church believe about life after death?”  Most of my coworkers had some sort of church background or attachment, and as I talked about my faith, they began to share, too.  Then one day our director told me he was going to bring up the language being used in the office at a staff meeting, and would I support him in asking that we clean up our act.  Although I hadn’t complained, I guess just not joining in made an impact.

To be continued…..

Environment #6 Final Steps

The final step in the environment’s transformation is to give yourself in friendship to the people there.  Win their hearts by showing a genuine care and concern for them.  A true friend does not force her views on others, but works patiently with them, helping them to question the values of the world, maybe even the values for which they have been living.  Years ago I was in a neighborhood Bible Study.  The leader told me that one of the members had originally joined only because she was suffering from depression and was looking for any activity that would get her our of the house.  One day she was feeling so sad she called to say she just couldn’t make herself get out of bed to come.  The other women decided it wasn’t enough to pray for her–they went over to her house, cleaned it and cooked dinner.  Their love and compassion had a lasting impact.  She saw something in their lives that she wanted.  She became a Christian because, as she put it, “Who wouldn’t want to be part of this?”

As we become more Christlike ourselves, and as we influence our friends and others around us toward the Christian ideal, our environments will change.  If you open a Via de Cristo Pilgrim’s Guide, the first thing you see, even before the table of contents are these words:

“To be on a pilgrimage is to go through Christ to the Father, under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, bringing others along with you.”

Each one of us is on just such a pilgrimage every day of our lives.

Environments are not changed suddenly or by magic.  You cannot change the world, but you can change yourself;  and as Paul says in the book of Galatians, “a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.”  Allow God to use you and you will be the leaven that raises the bread.

Environment #5 –Christian Transformation of Environments

As you look at the environments around you with an analytical eye, you will find that in many something is missing –relationships in which people give of themselves.  Remember the train trip I mentioned in my first Environment post?  Most people will not get on the train until they have developed a relationship with somebody else on it.  If you want to be God’s instrument in one of your environments, you must commit yourself to self-giving relationships with at least some of the people there.  As the environment becomes more caring, the tone will change.  It will become more Christlike.

The first step in any plan to change our environment involves ourselves.  God must be at work in our own lives if we expect to be used as a tool to touch others.  One Christian author writes:

“Once it was you and not Christ.  Then it was you and Christ.  Perhaps not it is Christ and you.  But can it come to be Christ only and not you at all?”

We are all at different places on our train trip and most of us have a lot of traveling left to do.  Like the apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, we must constantly remind ourselves, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

In the process of change we will use our will, our knees, our intellect and our heart.  It is important to realize that we can only transform our environment to the degree that we ourselves are growing closer to Christ.  Ask yourselves these questions:

  • Do I have the will to change myself and those around me, not waiting for a bolt of lightening or some apostolic accident to get me started?
  • How much time am I willing to devote to prayer and study?  Think of your knees as the levers of the apostle.
  • Is my intellect dedicated to “putting on the mind of Christ” or do I have some higher priority?
  • To what degree is my heart filled with hope and love?  Am I enthusiastic in spite of my difficulties I will succeed because God will it?  Do I earnestly desire to share the life of Christ with others?

If you can honestly answer yes to these questions, then with God’s help you can change your environment.