Talent is a word that we often associate only with the types of skills and abilities that bring fame and fortune. I rarely, if ever, or never, hear people say things like, “Wow, what a talent she has for forgiveness!” or “Have you ever seen someone with such a talent for admitting fault?” And yet, the talents that most astonish me are those that have zero potential to bring a person fame or fortune.
I have the privilege of being acquainted with many people who have extraordinary talents for compassion, charity, humility, faith, friendship, and the like. Characteristics and talents for which there are no rewards save personal peace, joy in life, and the approbation of the Almighty. These individuals often mourn, saying, “I wish I could sing,” or “play the piano,” or “play sports like others do.” Little do they realize that such talents are as much a trial and a burden as they have the potential to be a blessing.
Talents that have the capacity to bring us fame, recognition, or fortune are as difficult as they are wonderful. Because they have the potential to create financial security they also have a strong potential to be manipulated by the adversary. Someone who has a gift for speaking can be a powerful tool to serve the Lord and uplift their fellow men. But, this person can also be a powerful tool to mislead and corrupt. If they can be “bought” by recognition or a dollar amount, then their talent can be spoiled. Those with gifts for music or athletics are also similarly at risk. And yet, they have such an incredible opportunity to do good with their talents on a vast scale.
The Parable of the Talents
In the New Testament is a beautiful parable: the parable of the talents. Now, this parable is about money. A talent is a measure of money in this parable. But, as God knew that many would read it and assume He was talking about skills, gifts of character, and so forth, it is as much about that type of “wealth” as it is physical money. And, indeed, such skills are a form of currency in our lives. So, let’s take a look at it. Matthew 25:14-29:
For the kingdom of heaven is as a man (God) traveling into a far country, who called his own servants (children), and delivered unto them his goods (gifts of skill and character).
And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one: to every man according to his several ability (or capacity and willingness to receive); and straightway took his journey.
Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.
After a long time the lord of those servants (God) cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou has been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
He also that had two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant; thou has been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou has not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: thou oughtest therefore to have put thy money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury (or interest). Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath…
Parables are unique in that they have unlimited interpretations as the Holy Spirit wishes to use. So, the suggestions that I’m about to offer should not be construed as the best, or the only correct way to interpret this parable. It is, in my opinion, merely one way the Spirit has given me to see this parable.
Returning Talents to God with Usury
If God gives gifts of skill and character to His children, what then is their purpose? How do we create more talent-wealth from the initial gifts that we are given? How do we trade them or put them to exchangers?
If the purpose of our talent is to make money then that puts a limitation on how we apply our talent. We might as well use our talent in any way that allows us to earn money with no thought of ethics or morality. Such a focus does not increase our talent, but rather narrows its application in a way that can neither produce lasting joy nor spiritual progression. As well, its powerful impact on our fellow man will likely neither exalt or save them spiritually. It might end up doing the exact opposite.
But, if the purpose of our talent is to become godly, and godliness (or the work of God) is centered around exalting and saving others (Moses 1:39), then it follows that the purpose of our talents is to exalt and save others. Such a focus creates an unlimited scope for the application of our talent. We may use our talent to teach, uplift, serve, love, share, etc; and in so doing our original talent and its capacity increases exponentially by strengthening not only the original talent, but our ability to teach, uplift, serve, love, share, etc. For example, I can be a singer, a writer, an artist, an athlete, a musician, a great orator, a poet, etc., and if I use my talent to teach, uplift, serve, love, and share truth then suddenly my capacity to do all of those other skills has increased (created spiritual usury); and the use of my talent has amplified the power of my ability to help exalt and save others.
If we plug this into the above parable, those that trade or invest their talents then are those that use them to exalt and save others. And those that hide them in the ground are those that use their talents only for singular, or selfish, reasons; whether to earn money or gain some type of praise, status, or recognition. Now, it is certainly possible to earn money by one’s talent and also use it in godly ways if money (or praise, status, or recognition) doesn’t rule your use and application of your talents. I’ve seen it done, we all have. But, I’ve also seen it corrupt what began as a well-intentioned individual.
For example, if a record label won’t sign you as a singer unless you produce the type of music they want instead of the types of music you want to sing (to exalt and save others), then signing with them simply to get your voice (and name) out there (and to earn some money with which to do things your way in the future) creates an environment of compromise that allows Satan to make use of your talent (or minimally to prevent it from becoming what it should) rather than you. And in such an environment you can neither accomplish your righteous goals nor progress spiritually; also risking a negative impact before you can free yourself from the contract.
This is simply one example, but there are numerous examples.
Another way to hide your talent is to assume that only the types of talents that have the capacity to produce fame or fortune are worth developing. So many of us are given the weightier gifts of character, or the seeds for them, that help us to progress toward godliness and to help others progress as well. But we ignore them, undervalue them, and fail to discover them in our pursuit of more visible talents. We want to do some good in the world…but only in a visible way.
As well, there are many of us who are given talents that are visible. We can draw, sing, speak, or write. We have unique and graceful athletic capacities that seem to make us perfect for a professional sports track in our lives. And yet, despite all of our valiant efforts to “get them out there” we don’t seem to be granted the opportunity to use them on a wide scale, the scale that would make us feel that they were of worth. So, again, we undervalue them and wonder if it’s even worth developing them simply because we want to exalt and save millions and we only seem to be able to reach ourselves, or maybe our immediate family.
In my recent podcast The Stuff You Should Know About Talents, the guest podcaster, (singer, songwriter, and musician) Morgan Cottam talked about how the talents within her family connected them across generations. Her great-grandfather used to sing several songs and they became family tradition. Now, years after he’s gone, Morgan was asked to sing one of those songs for her grandmother (who grew up with that song being sung by her father). It’s a very Coco thing. But, Morgan explains that learning the song and singing it for her grandmother made her feel connected to her great-grandfather and her Nana more. In this case, in a very valuable and important way, Morgan’s talent connected her with her family, especially her ancestors, and created unity. That’s powerful! And yet it brought her no worldly fame or fortune.
Listen to this recent podcast by clicking here!
Even though I feel that I have always known the purpose of the talents God gives us, I admit to falling prey to many of these above ways of hiding one’s talent. It has taken me years (and I sometimes revert) to feeling like my talents are worthless simply because my scope of influence always seems to be so limited. I often lose focus of what’s most important and devalue my talents simply because I haven’t received the validation that comes from public recognition. I often want to cast off my talents, or bury them, or stop working on them because I have wrongly devalued them. And, I admit, it is incredibly difficult to keep creating and sharing and trying to use my talents to exalt and save others when I don’t feel like I’m exalting or saving anyone. And yet, I have seen fruits. I have created connections within my family. I have saved myself (many, many, many times) by the use of my own talents. I have been given peace, comfort, joy, and blessings beyond words by simply trying to develop what God has given me.
So, what talents do you have? What gifts of character have others noticed in you that you have undervalued? Use them and watch them increase your other gifts and reveal talents you hadn’t yet discovered.
What gifts of character do you value in others but they undervalue? Help them to see them and value them!
What talents do you have that you have been tempted to compromise, or have compromised, in order to get noticed? How did it make you feel? What have you done to correct that? If you haven’t made corrections, do it!
Have you devalued your talents simply because your reach is minimal? Who have you reached? Who are they? What do they mean to you? Stop sacrificing your talent to scope. Start using it to exalt and save yourself and those within your limited reach right now.
What talents have you sought? It’s okay to seek for more than what you already have. Have you sought for spiritual gifts and talents in order to exalt and save? If not, consider praying about and feeling which talent you might desire to acquire and multiply in God’s service.
It doesn’t matter if you have the same talents as someone else. You are unique and your application and combination of gifts and personality will always ensure that your talents are different, even from those who seem to be similar. And that means that your talents are purposeful in the world and much needed. That’s why God gave them to you. Don’t hide them. Get out there and trade and multiply them!