Have you had one of those middle of the night moments when you woke up and asked yourself, am I really being faithful with the life I’ve been given? Have I done my best with the skills, talents and gifts God gave me? If we are going to live a life worthy of the calling we have been given, it’s vital for us to understand the resources we have at our disposal and how to make the most of them. In order to do that, we need to understand the difference between those terms (skills, talents and gifts) and what it really means to steward them well.
A few years ago on my 39th birthday I woke up with the sound of Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman lyrics echoing in my head, “This is your life, are you who you want to be…This is your life, is it everything you dreamed that it would be?” I recognized that moment as one where I couldn’t just roll back over and go to sleep. I needed to spend some time with the Lord and honestly answer those poetic questions. I allowed myself to think back through my life and ministry and realized that over the years my heart had been responsive to say yes to Jesus in many different areas that he had led me to, but in all that responding I had never been the brave initiator of anything. Looking back over my development I recognized that I had never differentiated the difference between skills, talents and gifts I had and as a result I was someone who had said yes to many things and therefore honed skills and developed my talents, but had never been the initiator of allowing God to unleash the gifts He had placed within me.
As a 24 year old, I married a youth pastor and jumped head first into ministry. In addition to my career as a teacher and coach I was learning how to disciple, shepherd, pray, lead, administrate, how to speak, organize, plan and practicing many other skills that were necessary to learn due to my volunteer role as a student leader at the time. During that time, I never had someone overtly explain the difference between skills and talents, but I want to do that for you now. As you think through your life and ministry I want to introduce a tool that I use with my coaching clients. It’s called the Developing Others Tool. Skills are things that we can consciously learn and grow competence in.
When we come to a task that demands a new skill, we have unconscious incompetence. We don’t even realize that we don’t know how to do a particular thing. We start out the process of learning a skill in the top left part of the square. We are unconsciously incompetent. We don’t know what we don’t know. For instance, when I first started to learn how to organize trips for our students, I didn’t realize I had no idea how to plan, communicate and facilitate a successful trip. Over time I developed conscious competence as I let other seasoned Student Leaders mentor me and help me figure out the details going into such an event. Conscious competence is when we have working knowledge of how to do a task, but we aren’t naturally inclined to do it, it’s the kind of work we have to think about and that drains us if we spend too much of our time doing those kinds of tasks. Skills are developed through walking from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence. And if we practice those skills long and hard enough they eventually become unconscious competence. Things that we can do quite easily and multiply to others.
On the other hand, there are certain things in life that we are almost born with unconscious competence for. These are areas of skill that where we have natural talent. Talents are our unconscious competence. They are the actions and activities that you seem to be able to do easily and have an affinity for. I’ve always been able to pick up on people’s emotions and understand the unique perspective they were coming from. This unconscious competence has allowed me empathize well with everyone I come in contact with. No one ever sat me down and taught me how to do that, I’ve had a talent for reading people from the time I was young. One of my best friends has been able to sing like an angel from the moment she could form words. She’s got a voice that naturally makes people stop and take notice and no one had to teach her how to do it, she just was born with that talent. God knows who He has made us to be and has given each of us unique talents that we can use for Him. In Psalm 139:13-14 we read:
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
Talents are the unique skills that we seem to have a natural ability to do. They are our unconscious competence. It’s our responsibility to understand what those talents are and hone them. As we become people who know the talents we have and begin to discipline ourselves to focus and grow that area we will see maturity. It’s important for us to identify those areas of skill and to align our lives to focus on them. We will live in much healthier and secure ways when we utilize the talents we have been given as opposed to wanting the talents someone else has. As we begin to take seriously the talents God has uniquely formed in us and the skills we need to learn in order to live into the calling God has for us, we become more potent and capable.
However, I want to be clear. It’s entirely possible to take the skills we have learned and the talents we have been given and use them for ourselves and ourselves alone. We can work hard, discipline ourselves and even pretend that we are using them for God, but in the end if we rely solely on our skills and talents we miss out on the opportunity to truly see the supernatural work of God in our lives. Our skills and talents keep us in the realm of what is natural, what is controllable, and comfortable. We can work hard to develop skills and stand on our natural talent and accomplish impressive things.
If we truly want to experience the supernatural working of God in our lives, it’s vital to understand the gifts He has given us. Gifts are the workings of God through us as we surrender to the Holy Spirit in our lives. They aren’t removed from our skills and talents, but rather God uses our skills and talents through our gifts. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are the evidence that He is alive and working through us and they go beyond what we can naturally muster up on our own. In my experience, it is the spaces in my life where my own natural skills and talents are not enough for the task at hand, but as I yield to the Spirit of God in me, He shows up and lives through me in a way that goes beyond what I can do on my own. He helps me discern the hearts of people He has called me to, He speaks through me in a way that goes beyond a natural message and accomplishes His work.
I’m thankful that early morning of the start of my 39th year on earth woke me up in more ways than one. As I’ve walked with God and taken a long look at the talents the Lord has given me to steward and the skills I’ve got to lean into and learn, it’s given me the freedom to be myself and let Him use my life in ways that bring both He and I great joy. I’m experiencing the clarity of knowing who I am and the security of walking in the power of whose I am. As you stop and think about your life today, think through these questions:
What are the talents you have been given?
What are skills you need to learn?
What is keeping you from leaning into the Spirit to unleash the gifts He has given you?
This is your life, are you who you want to be? …
GiANT, Senior Leadership Consultant
Songwriters: Brandon Flowers / Dave Brent Keuning / Mark August Stoermer / Ronnie Jr. VannucciThis Is Your Life lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group