In May of 1938, in Tampa, Florida, a 19-year old student found himself walking at night at a local golf course, his mind racked with questions. A few months earlier, he had asked Emily to marry him, but she had turned him down, wanting instead to marry a friend of his. Tonight was one of the many long walks he had taken since that painful rejection. Quite unexpectedly, walking one of the greens, he felt that God spoke directly to him and said, “I want to use you.” The young Billy Graham found himself kneeling and then actually laying down on the grass.
He describes the moment further in his autobiography: ” ‘Oh God,’ I sobbed, ‘if you want me to serve you, I will,’ “… “The moonlight, the moss, the breeze, the green golf course — all the surroundings stayed the same. No sign in the heavens. No voice from above. But in my spirit I knew I had been called to the ministry. And I knew my answer was yes.” [Tampa Bay Times story, quoting his autobiography, Feb. 22, 2018]
What do you think? Do you think Billy Graham might have been called by God? And it got me thinking about a question, but don’t answer it out loud: Does every follower of Jesus get a calling from God into ministry? Does every person in this room have his/her own unique calling from God?
Billy Graham used the term “calling.” He sensed that God had called him into a specific kind of ministry, though on that golf course he did not know precisely what it would be. The word “calling” has different uses in the Bible. Here is one: Every person who has ever trusted Jesus did so in part because they were called by God. We trust God because He calls us. There is a mystery here. We make a choice to choose God, but He also make a choice to choose us. He called us. That is one way the word “called” is used.
The term is also used in the way Billy Graham did. On occasion, you will see that God called someone to a very specific kind of mission. The twelve disciples were called by Jesus. The Bible says the Holy Spirit called Paul and Barnabas to a specific work (Acts 13:2). Paul notes in Romans 1:1 that God called him to be an apostle. But honestly, this kind of calling shows up for only a handful of people in the Bible. This sense of calling seems to be rare. I can’t look across this room and identify which of you have a calling like that. But I can say with certainty that every person in this room has an unmistakable mission from God. I base my confidence on a story that Jesus told. And that story points to exactly what that mission is. Are you ready to hear about your mission? OK, here’s the story:
“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ 21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ 23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ 26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 25:14-30, NIV)
This is a story about us and our mission. The man “on the journey” is God. And what does he do? He entrusts to each of his servants something of his wealth. You and I are the servants. Everyone in this room has been entrusted with wealth from God. Now, the story uses the image of bags of gold, but this wealth is something more than simply money or precious metals. This picture is powerful and important. God has give you one or more bags of gold. So, what is in your bag or bags of gold? Everything you have received as a blessing or gift from God.
I want us to think together about what some of those things are. What are things we have received from God? (Take answers: time, abilities (probe this one a bit—examples of abilities), spiritual gifts, children, parents, a job, health, life, forgiveness, a body, money, a car, comfort, education, eyesight, etc.) Everyone in the world has one or more “bags of gold,” wealth and blessing poured out on them from God. Everyone has their own unique bag.
[Idea: Have people fill out a “bag of gold” card that highlights some of the gifts they have from God.]
So, now we know what is in your bag of gold. Let me ask a real important clarifying question: Everything on that list, everything in your bag—who owns it? To Whom does it belong? Exactly. God owns it. It belongs to Him. You are not the owner; you are a caretaker. A steward. This is really important, and it leads to this question. What does the owner want you to do with it? Let’s go to the story. What does he want? He wants a return on His investment. He wants you to take the gift He has given to you and use it to honor Him and bless others. This is a consistent message all through the Bible.
You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. (2 Corinthians 9:11, NIV)
“…Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13, NIV)
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:12, NIV)
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV)
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:6-9, NIV)
Do you see the pattern? Every gift from God carries with it a responsibility. You are to use it to honor God and bless others. Every gift from God is a stewardship. Every thing God has ever given you is to be invested back into honoring God and blessing others. Everyone in this room has an unmistakable stewardship based on what is in your bag of gold. By the way, God hand-selected what is in your bag. (“To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability.” Vs 15) Each person gets his own unique bag, based on God’s plan and knowledge of you.
In the Bible, only a handful of people received what we might label as a “calling” from God to some ultra-specific mission: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Miriam, Gideon, Esther, David, Isaiah, Jonah, Mary, Peter, Paul. I expect there are only a handful of those today. We might think of names like Mother Theresa or Martin Luther King, Jr. or Billy Graham or T.D. Jakes or Rick Warren or Beth Moore.
In the church I grew up in, we were encouraged to look for this kind of call. A call from God involved something very specific and substantive like writing a book or going to a foreign country or starting a non-profit or creating an album or speaking to hundreds or launching a business. Listen, I am not saying that God issues no such calls today, but history suggests that only a handful of people have a Billy Graham type of calling. And if it is your expectation that God will be giving you one of those kinds of callings, here is what you’ll do. You’ll bury your bag of gold in the ground.
The vast majority of us are simply called to everyday stewardship. In stewardship, God says, “Look at what I have put in your bag of gold and use it to bless others.” The story of how I am changing your life—share it with others. The money I have given to you—share it with others. The forgiveness I have given you—extend it to others. The abilities I have given you—use them to serve others. The knowledge I have given you—pass it on to others. I cannot tell you how freeing this has been for me. Discerning whether I have a call is hard to figure out. Stewardship is not.
Let me tell you just one way in which this has shifted my thinking. For some time, I have been wresting with what to do about writing. Is God calling me to write a book? Again, I grew up in a strong “God calling” culture, so I am conditioned to work out of that grid. Am I supposed to write a book? Am I supposed to blog? Am I supposed to create magazine articles? Should I be podcasting? What is God calling me to do? I don’t know. Calling can be tough to figure. But here is what I do know. I’ve got time, and I’ve got the ability to communicate. I must steward those things; this is clear. Then it hit me. I could be “burying” my time and writing ability while I am waiting for a call. If I focus too much on some specialized mission from God, I can miss out on everyday stewardship. I’ve got to steward today what I know I have.
There is another important element of Jesus’s story. God is unconcerned with the size of your return. He is fundamentally concerned with your action. Did you recognize that all you have comes from Him and did you use it for His purposes? You are not responsible for the size of your return. In our country, we are fascinated with size at an unhealthy level. We have attached significance and usefulness to range of impact. What a tragedy. What a roadblock this has become for so many people. We think real impact is touching hundreds or thousands. We think real impact is Billy Graham or Martin Luther King, Jr. The people making a difference are “five bags of gold” people.
Perhaps it is significant that the “one bag of gold” person buries his gift. “One bag of gold” people may be the most likely to say things like: “I don’t have much to offer. I can’t make a difference. I do more harm than good. I can’t do what she does. Why bother? I’m no MLK Jr.” Don’t buy that lie. The wealth God has entrusted in you is designed by Him to make a difference…if you will use it and not bury it.
God has spoken a word to my brother recently that is very powerful. It has to do with the weight of one. Here is how he said it in a recent FB post: “Finally, in God’s economy, helping, serving, blessing, and encouraging ONE person may be far more important and impactful than inspiring and instructing thousands, or even millions. Never doubt the incredible impact that you have in changing the world for good.”
To summarize: “Let God use your little bag of gold.”
God’s will produce fruit out of whatever you steward. He used the two bag person. He used the five bag person. He would have used the one bag person except…well, except the one bag person never gave Him the chance. God is unconcerned with the “amount” of the return. He is only concerned about the investment. In fact, He decides the return. We decide to invest.
Or we decide not to. This is not a good idea. The ending of this story is weighty and troubling. It is supposed to be. Taking God’s good gifts and using them your way rather than His way is serious business. It is fraud. Treason. Criminal. Evil. This story take a big picture look at stewardship. Our first and core stewardship is to recognize that our life itself belongs to God and is to be given back to Him. There are those who never acknowledge God as the Giver of their lives and every other good thing they have. Those who do not thank him, or acknowledge Him, or trust Him, or obey Him or love Him. This is the ultimate evil which has the ultimate consequence.
What are you going to do today to invest your bag of gold?