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Discipleship: “It’s Not About Your Talent!”
by Pastor Douglas Shearer
What’s the difference between being a believer and being a disciple? It’s really quite simple…
Let me say that again:
Think of a football coach – which is entirely apropos given the fact that today is Super Bowl Sunday. If you’re born into a football coach’s family, you’re a football coach’s son; but the mere fact that you’re the coach’s son doesn’t guarantee you a spot on his football team when you grow up.
That’s exactly what Christ means when he tells us in Matthew 10:38
…he who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.
Clearly, Jesus isn’t talking here about justification – meaning the forgiveness of sins and being made a child of God. Why? Because forgiveness is a gift. It’s free. You don’t earn it by suffering for Christ – which is what the phrase “picking up your cross” means. That’s a truth that’s pounded out again and again throughout the pages of the New Testament; for example…
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
not of works, lest anyone should boast.
No, what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 10:38 is the privilege of being drawn into his intimate fellowship; of becoming his partner in building the kingdom of God, and of reigning with him in his coming kingdom. And that’s earned.
Do you want to be drawn into Christ’s intimate fellowship? Do you want to reign with Christ in his coming kingdom? That’s a privilege you’ve got to earn. And to earn it, you’ve got to go into training. And that’s what discipleship is all about. Discipleship is God’s training program to make you worthy of the privilege of enjoying Christ’s intimate fellowship and of ruling alongside him in his coming kingdom.
The other day someone told me, “I want to become a disciple of Jesus Christ – not just a believer, but a disciple; but I’m troubled by one nagging doubt: while it’s true I’d like to be a disciple, I’m not really convinced Christ wants me to be his disciple. I don’t have that much to offer by way of skills and talent. Why would Christ want me to be his disciple?”
I’m reminded of grade school children choosing up sides for a game. You start with the captains of the two teams – usually the two most popular and most talented kids; and then they choose the two sides.
Two parameters determine whether or not you’ll be chosen:
Choosing up sides for teams – whether it’s a baseball team or a cheer-leading squad – can be a terrifying, heart-stopping experience for a lot of kids. Were you ever among the last to be chosen? Or passed over altogether? After a while, you stop wanting to play, don’t you? It’s just too humiliating! Nobody really wants you. You’re not and never will be a first round draft pick.
And the shame of it is that very mind-set has quite likely been carried over to your Christian walk. Why even turn out for discipleship? God’s not looking for the likes of you to play on his team. Hey, it’s good enough you’re a son or a daughter. Why break your heart trying now to get on the team – God’s kingdom building/kingdom ruling team? Why even bother with discipleship?
But that kind of thinking isn’t scriptural at all. God isn’t like that! Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ bears no resemblance at all to choosing up sides for a game of sand-lot baseball or a cheer-leading squad –
Turn with me to 2 Chronicles 16:9.
For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in behalf of those whose heart is right toward him.
2 Chron. 16:9
Take a good look at the phrase “whose heart is right toward him.” What that means is very simple: the guiding criterion underlying selection to God’s team has nothing whatsoever to do with either
Neither plays any role in determining your worthiness to play on God’s team. All that matters is your heart. Is your heart right with God? If it is, God will put you on his team – he’s scouring the whole earth looking for people whose hearts are right toward him. Look at the phrase “For his eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth...” And that’s what discipleship is all about; it’s not about honing your skills or enhancing your talents – not really! It’s about getting your heart right with God.
What, then, about talent? Doesn’t talent matter at all? Let’s look again at 2 Chronicles 16:9 – the phrase, “to show himself strong…” Do you see it there?
For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong...
2 Chron. 16:9
That phrase tells us that your talent or, for that matter, your lack of talent, has nothing to do with being selected to God’s team. Why? Because God is looking for persons through whom he can display himself – or, put in New Testament terms, through whom he can display Jesus Christ.
Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 4:7.
…we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.
2 Cor. 4:7
That’s the New Testament’s version of 2 Chronicles 16:9.
Here in 2 Corinthians 4:7, you’re likened to a vase – just a plain, ordinary vase – which in and of itself isn’t of much value. It’s what’s put into that vase that gives it value.
I have a vase here in my hand this morning – just a common, ordinary vase – and if I offered it to you for sale, perhaps the most I could expect you to offer me would be five or six dollars. But what if I put a solid gold bracelet in it? What, then, would you offer me for the vase?
It’s not the vase itself that’s valuable; it’s what’s in the vase that makes it valuable – that makes it worth displaying.
Again, it’s what God has put into your heart that gives you value. And that’s Jesus Christ. Imagine that? You contain Christ – and God wants to display Christ in you and through you.
Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
1 Cor. 3:16
And what about power? You say you don’t have enough power in your life to be of any use to God. I have an electric cord in my hand. There’s not a lot of power in it, is there? But what if I plugged it into a socket? Now does it have power? Of course it does – all the power required to do whatever needs to get done – power to light a house; power to turn a motor; power to warm a room; power to cook a meal. It’s not the cord itself that’s powerful, it’s the electricity flowing through it.
And what about you? Don’t you realize there’s enough power flowing through you to be a kingdom builder. There’s enough power in you to build a ministry; to lead your next-door neighbor to salvation; to lead a Bible study; to lead a prayer group; to heal the sick; to pull down demonic strongholds.
Turn with me to Acts 3:12.
…ye men of Israel, why marvel at this? or why look so earnestly at us, as though by our own power or holiness we made this man to walk?
Here in Acts 3, Peter and John have just healed a man born lame – and those who witnessed the miracle are astounded – gasping at the power Peter and John have just displayed. But Peter replies, “The power you’ve witnessed is not ours, but God’s flowing through us.”
Do you understand now that…
It’s wholly a matter of your heart. It’s a matter of making your heart right with God. What is it, then, that makes your heart right toward God?
I think the life of David gives us the answer. Why David? Because scripture tells us that David’s heart was right toward God. But what exactly is it that David did to make his heart right toward God? A study of his life shows that he cultivated five qualities:
Let’s take each of these five qualities one at a time.
David cultivated a heart that was fixed on God – a heart that was forever seeking God’s presence.
O God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.
When David faced off with Goliath, he wasn’t measuring Goliath’s strength against his own, he was measuring Goliath’s strength against God’s. That’s why he wasn’t frightened to confront Goliath.
Listen to me now: if you want to be used by God, you’ll find yourself forever facing odds that are stacked against you. And if you haven’t cultivated a heart that’s fixed on God, you’ll shrink back in fear. Fix your heart on God – seek his presence – that will keep you unafraid of whatever Goliath you face – because you’ll be measuring Goliath’s strength not against your own, but against God’s.
David cultivated a heart quick to repent. David never excused his sins.
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your loving-kindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Take a good look at verse 3: “I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” David was a sinner; but David was also a “repenter.” Here in Psalm 51 David is confessing his adultery with Bathsheba. And notice that David doesn’t blame Bathsheba or anyone else. He says, “It’s my transgression. It’s my sin.”
In verse four, which I haven't listed, David indicates he’s willing to undergo whatever discipline God imposes. Why? Because he wants to be purged from the bondage of his sins – and he’s willing to undergo whatever’s required to make that possible. He makes only one plea – and that’s found in verse 11. “Don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Do what you must to purge me, but don’t withdraw your presence.”
God isn't asking you to live in sinless perfection; he's asking only that you cultivate a repentant heart - a willingness to assume responsibility for your sins and to stop casting the blame on others - regardless of how much you might have been provoked or tempted.
It’s not your sins that keep God from putting you on his team; it’s your failure to confess and repent of your sins. It’s your unwillingness to submit to God’s discipline to free you from your sins.
And that’s good news, isn’t it? You can’t do anything about your past. You can’t go back and change it. But what you can do is change your heart – what you can do is cultivate a repentant heart – and that’s all God is asking you to do. If you do that, God will put you on his team. You’ll qualify to become his disciple.
David cultivated a trusting heart; consequently, David could handle stress and, occasionally, depression.
Asking God to put you on his team is tantamount to inviting stress into your life. If you want God to use you, know this: stress will be your constant companion. That’s because serving God always puts you beyond your own resources – it projects you beyond your “comfort zone.” You’ll always feel a little like you’re living out on a limb that’s being sawn off.
And that’s why it’s so critical to cultivate a trusting heart.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.
David spent a lot of time battling depression. Did you know that? You have only to read the Book of Psalms to reach that conclusion.
Listen to me: depression itself isn’t a sin. Depression is a normal part of life. We’re apt to get depressed whenever we face what appears to be a hopeless undertaking. But know this: hopelessness is the necessary backdrop against which God displays his love and mercy – his power and might.
How many of you have ever worked in the theater – either on stage as an actor or off stage working the props? You know that just before a new act is about to begin a red warning light starts blinking. It blinks in the actors’ dressing rooms and behind the stage where the props are being readied. That blinking light tells you the curtain is about to be raised. Listen to me now: depression is like that blinking light. It’s telling you that God is about to raise the curtain on a new act – a new display of his goodness, his love, his mercy, and his power to save and deliver.
David didn’t run from depression; he learned its true meaning – that it’s God’s way of telling us that the curtain is about to be raised on a new and awesome display of his love, his mercy, and his power to save. Some of David’s most precious psalms – the ones we treasure the most – were written during times when he was terribly depressed.
Can you handle stress? Can you handle depression? If you can, that’s a sure indication that you’re cultivating a heart that’s right with God.
David cultivated a servant’s heart. David was willing to do whatever God asked of him.
I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he does everything I ask him to do.
Too many of us – though we don’t intend to – turn God into our servant. Get me this! Get me that! We reverse roles. Get me a husband. Get me a wife. Get me a job. Get me a house. Get me a car.
How can we become a disciple of Jesus Christ’s – meaning serve him – if, as a matter of fact, we’ve never really cultivated the mindset of a servant? And what’s the mindset of a servant? “It’s not about me, it’s about you!” That’s the mindset of a servant!
Let's face it! Even when we do serve, most of the time it's where we want to serve, not necessarily where Godwants us to serve. It's all aboutmypersonaldevelopment. It's all about my gifts and ministry. It's all about feeling personally fulfilled.
Let’s face it! Even when we do serve, most of the time it’s where we want to serve, not necessarily where God wants us to serve. It’s all about my personal development. It’s all about my gifts and my ministry. It’s all about feeling personally fulfilled.
But a real servant of God isn’t concerned about his own personal development or about feeling personally fulfilled. What concerns him is God’s will. “It’s not about me, God; it’s about you – it’s all about building your kingdom.”
How many of us ask, “Where, God, can you best use me to build your kingdom? What needs here at the church are going unmet? Put me there, God. That’s where I’ll serve you.” Instead, we’re apt to say,
But David did whatever God asked him to do. It never occurred to him to refuse a task because it didn’t “suit” him. Whether tending sheep or ruling Israel, it was never a matter of what would best suit his needs or cater to his personal ambitions; it was always about God – it was always about building God’s kingdom. And through it all, God did watch over David’s personal development; but never on David’s terms, always on his own.
That’s what it means to have a heart that’s right with God.
Finally, David cultivated a humble heart.
Turn with me to 1 Samuel 18:14…
In everything that David did, he had great success because the Lord was with him.
1 Sam. 18:14
Here’s a problem that perhaps you’ve never considered: not many men or women can handle God’s blessing. Let me tell you a secret: there are more men and women who can handle adversity with grace and dignity than can handle success with grace and dignity. Did you know that?
Can you handle success? Not unless you’ve cultivated a humble heart. David was always quick to give God all the glory for whatever success he achieved. Again and again, David would utter: “Not unto me, O Lord, but unto your great name belongs all the praise and glory.”
It’s a rare man or woman who…
…can remember that he’s merely a vessel.
It’s a rare man or woman who…
…can remember that he’s no more than a bit of copper wire – that the power flowing through him is not his own, it’s God’s.
It’s easy to imagine that praise won’t go to your head; that you’ll never forget who you are and the pit God rescued you from; but when you’re actually being praised, it’s not as easy as you might imagine. What’s the answer? Practice humility. Practice it every day. How?
Start practicing for the success God wants to give you. Remember: success has ruined more of God’s servants than outright failure.
There you have it: how to cultivate a heart that’s right with God – how to become a successful disciple of Jesus Christ.
Listen to me: discipleship puts you on the threshold of a life filled with meaning, purpose, and challenge – a life so glorious that each morning you wake up, you’ll thank God you’re alive – you’ll thank God for another opportunity to work in partnership with him in building the Kingdom. Cross that over! Become a disciple.