If Not Now

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

I could sum up the gospel for this Sunday in one sentence. Here it is:

We are each given gifts from God, and we are expected to do something with those gifts in order to grow them, however we can – not for the benefit of only ourselves, but for the benefit of our community and world.

Boom.

But I ought to break it down a little more than that – so here we go:

First – we are each given gifts from God:

We might notice or feel occasionally that someone else’s gifts seem to be bigger or more interesting than ours, but spending too much time thinking about someone else’s gifts rather than our own is never very helpful.

This counts for both material gifts and the gifts of talents.  A professor of mine told a story of going to see a talented pianist play. He was blown away by her performance, so much so that he and his wife decided to go again the next night. But he said he noticed that something began to change in him – while at first he was just appreciating the music and enjoying being in awe of her talent, in time something shifted and during the second performance he began to feel bad. He used to play piano. What if he had kept up with it? Here was this lady with so much talent and a concert hall of people wanting to see her play. He couldn’t do anything like that. He began to feel worse and worse about himself and more and more jealous of her.

He was surprised at himself that he felt such strong negative feelings, but he summed it up in saying that all of us can be guilty of coveting in our own way if we begin to focus too much on what someone else has rather than on what we have.

Do you ever do that?  You are perfectly satisfied with your car, it runs well, it has heat, it goes forward and backward – it’s a fine car. But then your friend gets a new car that is shinier, has heated seats, a sunroof, maybe video screens in the seats for the kids – and suddenly your car seems a bit shabby.

Or maybe you are proud of the work you are doing in your career, you work hard and you give your best to it, you feel a real sense of satisfaction and meaning in it. But then you notice someone, maybe someone you know well, getting a promotion just like the kind you have dreamed of, or maybe he’s getting interviewed on the news as an expert in your field – and suddenly you feel small and wonder why your work isn’t being noticed in the same way.

It’s hard in moments like that to know exactly what to do. Sure, there is room for being inspired by the success of others and letting it inspire us to work harder, but we have to be careful to monitor exactly what we are working for.  I’ll come back to that….

When we feel the gremlin of comparison starting to bug us, I am convinced the best antidote is thankfulness. Start listing to yourself all the blessings you do have. Get your focus off the object of your jealousy and back onto all that God has given you. Concern yourself with those things, because those are your talents.

Now, what are you doing with them?

That’s the next part. We are given gifts in order to do something with them, to grow them, to experiment with them, to change our community and world with them in ways only we can.

This takes some bravery – because if we worry that our gifts aren’t all that spectacular to start with, there is the temptation to hide them, bury them, keep them a bit secret so that others won’t see we only have what we have.

A friend of mine who loved to write put all her spare time into writing – it was a book about her experiences as a music teacher. I can’t tell you how her face used to light up when she would talk about the latest story she was relaying, how her piece of work was taking shape. The only thing was that she kept revising it, would never let anyone see it because it “wasn’t ready yet.” Years and years went by and when I talked to her I would always ask her how her book was coming and she would say, “still working on it.” But she talked about it less and less. It’s like the fire in her eyes went out about the project. I always wondered if it was because she lingered with it too long and never let it out into the world. This friend of mine died from cancer about seven years ago and I often thought about that manuscript she was working on. What happened to it? And who might have been touched, moved, or inspired by that book if she had stopped revising it, stopped stalling, and just put it out into the world?

The time is now to share what God has given you. Who you are, your story, your abilities, your unique, quirky ideas, they matter. How can you work a bit harder this week to take exactly what God has given you and grow something new, bigger, different, interesting out of it?

And do that not just for yourself, but for your community and world. That’s the third part. And it is so important – because our efforts grow empty pretty quickly if we are only seeking recognition or gain for ourselves.

So as we work hard to develop what God has given us, it’s good to pause now and then and monitor, observe, and reflect upon why we are doing what we are doing. Are we working so that others will notice us and compliment us, reward us with money or prestige? Or are we working so that we can make the world better, help our neighbors, be followers of Jesus?

I was remembering a story I heard about nine women who live in Tennessee and call themselves the 9 Nanas – they gather at 4 am to begin their daily routine. It’s a mission that all begins with baked goods.

Over the next three hours, the 9 Nanas whip up hundreds of pound cakes. And then, before anyone gets as much as a glimpse of them, they’ll disappear back into their daily lives. Even the UPS driver, who picks up hundreds of packages at a time, has no clue what these women are doing. They are working on a plan that began 35 years ago.

Back then they had decided to find ways to set aside a bit of money each month, pool it together, and then find ways to help others. They soon had about $400 each month they were setting aside without their husbands knowing – and then when they heard about a widow or a single mom who needed a little help, they’d step in and anonymously pay a utility bill or buy some new clothes for the children. They bought supplies for the local women’s shelter, a new refrigerator or stove for the family that just had a house fire – they did everything anonymously and always were keeping their ears to the ground to find the next people they could help.

When their husbands found out what they were doing, they offered to help. Eventually they told their grown children and the children encouraged their mothers to start selling their pound cakes online, so they could raise money to help even more people. It wasn’t long before they were receiving more than 100 orders in a day.

These days, the 9 Nanas are able to take on even bigger projects, given their online success. In the last 35 years, the 9 Nanas have contributed nearly $900,000 to their local community…and it all began with just the desire to help, and the money and energy they had.

We are each given gifts from God, and we are expected to do something with those gifts in order to grow them, however we can – not for the benefit of only ourselves, but for the benefit of our community and world.

What will you do?

This week?

Today?

What will you do in Jesus’ name?  

 

If Not Now

By Carrie Newcomer

If not now, tell me when
If not now, tell me when.
We may never see this moment
Or place in time again
If not now, if not now, tell me when.

I see sorrow and trouble in this land
I see sorrow and trouble in this land
Although there will be struggle we’ll make the change we can.
If not now, tell me when.

I may never see the promised land.
I may never see the promised land.
And yet we’ll take the journey
And walk it hand in hand
If not now, tell me when.

If not now, tell me when
If not now, tell me when.
We may never see this moment
Or place in time again
If not now, if not now, tell me when.

So we’ll work it ’til it’s done
Every daughter every son,
Every soul that ever longed for something better,
Something brighter.

It will take a change of heart for this to mend.
It will take a change of heart for this to mend.
But miracles do happen every shining now and then
If not now, tell me when?

If not now,
Tell me when.
But miracles do happen every shining now and then.
If not now tell me when.
If not now tell me when.
If not now tell me when.

 


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