Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Managing what we have instead of acquring more

On the way home from work this afternoon, my radio dial drifted to the talk radio station, where the conversation was about how the state of Nebraska does a very poor job (like a most other states and the federal government) of actually inventorying what assets it possesses. It's true. Now, if you were to ask most individuals about what major assets they possess, they'd probably be able to do it, mentioning cars they own, homes, 401Ks, other investments, etc. Knowing what assets you have is the first step towards managing those assets and directing your income to maintain them and grow them effectively. The state of Nebraska has a very poor infrastructure in place to know what its major assets are and thus wastes so much money every year by not knowing where to direct resources to most effectively manage them. The state of Nebraska, though, is very good about acquiring more and more assets, but, since it has no effective infrastructure to inventory those new assets, the problem begins anew and there is less management of that which it already owns.

I got to thinking: What if we apply this principle on a spiritual level? What if we make an effective inventory of what spiritual gifts we have rather than try, sometimes in vain, to acquire more? What if we try to manage those gifts we already have effectively instead? Wouldn't we be able to do more with less?

It seems to me that in the modern spiritual life, there is an overabundance of messages out there saying that "you need to acquire x as a spiritual gift." X can mean anything you want. It can be prophesy, preaching, administration, poverty, compassion, singing, chanting, teaching, wisdom, speaking i[n tongues], writing, etc. We're frequently inundated with messages of gifts we need to acquire if we're to be spiritual people. Pentecostals insist that everyone needs to have the gift of speaking in tongues, for instance, though clearly not everyone has that gift.

St. Paul, in numerous passages, references how it is important that all of us, as members of the Body of Christ, work together as the body. We can't have everyone being an eye, or else how would we hear? If everyone were an ear, how would we see? And so on.

At my church, my priest encourages people to sing because he believes, wrongly I think, that signing=participation in the prayers. I disagree. For you can pray without singing the notes. Not everyone has the gift of singing well. Most people in the congregation are tone deaf and have no training, whether formal or informal, in music. I'm blessed with some musical talent and that is why I am a chanter, though by no means am I a great one or even good one. However, I know that I am not qualified to sit on the parish council. People assume that because I am a chanter I am devout (I'm not, really) and therefore am qualified. I most certainly am not. Unless the parish council becomes a chanting seminar, I'll stay on the solea rather than set foot in the board room.

Frequently, people lament that they don't have a spiritual gift. A friend of mine from church once confided in me that he wished he had the gift of talking to people about the Orthodox Church and faith. I asked him why. He said that he wished he had it to bring his friends and his family to faith in Christ through the Church. I said that, though his intentions were good, that his family's and friends' faith in Christ through Orthodoxy will not happen from a skilled tongue. I told him that I thought his spiritual gifts were generosity and kindness towards others (I am not his priest nor his godfather so I told him that my advice was strictly my own opinion and not to be spiritually binding). I told him that if you use such gifts towards others and treat them as icons of Christ, as I know that you have so often treated the people around here, that will reap more souls for Christ than if you suddenly became Chrysostom! I think he felt a little better after that.

Inventory what gifts you have and manage those. Don't look for what you don't have. Look at and rejoice at what you do possess. God gave it to you. Who are you to cry out to God and suggest He should have given you more or even less?


  1. I wonder if this overlooking of the gifts we have isn't exacerbated in the US because we are so commercialized - even with our religious supplies and stores. If you simply learn to be content with what gifts you have and strengthen them, you don't need to buy my latest book/program about how you can do this other thing with great ease if you only follow my simply steps.

    It is a simple concept - be the person and do the good God has made and given unto you. Simple concept, but terribly hard to master (I'd say it never it - oh wretch that I am, who will save me from this body of death!)

  2. I see how you can make that argument, Rev. Brown about how the milieu of American commercialism can lead us to become "spiritually greedy." But I don't think such "spiritual greed" is limited to Americans. I've known Russians, Germans, Greeks, etc. who are very desirous to have every gift under the sun because they honestly believe they need every spiritual gift to serve God with purity of heart.

  3. Oh, I don't think this is just limited to Americans - in other places you get a lot of what I with my Lutheran background would call "pietism" - a burdensome focus and thrust towards some artificial perfection not of God's design. (It's sad - we are God's workmanship, His creation, His tools -- should a hammer lament that it isn't a screwdriver?). I just think in America it gets pushed even more (because we can make money off of it) and also tied into the American fascination with self-help style books.