EACH OF YOU SHOULD USE WHATEVER GIFT YOU HAVE RECEIVED TO SERVE OTHERS, AS FAITHFUL STEWARDS OF GOD'S GRACE IN ITS VARIOUS FORMS.
—1 PETER 4:10
I think sometimes we get the idea of having “gifts” wrong, especially when it comes to serving in the local church.
Our thinking goes something like this: “I’m good with managing finances, so I can serve as the church treasurer,” or “I’m friendly and good with people, so I can serve as a greeter.” In short, we believe that gifts are all about our strengths—things we do well, things we excel at. Yet, what if that’s not a complete picture? What if there’s more to the Lord’s calling to use our gifts to be stewards of his “grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10)? What if gifts are not only about our strengths but also about our weaknesses?
I have had the privilege of shepherding a good number of believers during the final few years of their lives.
These are men and women who’ve served the church in powerful ways—as elders or Sunday school teachers or missionaries. They’ve used the things they are good at to bless others. Yet, now as they experience the limitations which old age often brings, they feel as if they have nothing to offer or to give.
I recall Pete sitting in the church cafe with a piping-hot cup of coffee. He was always among the first people there on Sunday mornings. He and his wife (who’d recently passed away) had helped plant our growing church as retirees—trading the comfort of a polished and established congregation for the wants and waves of church planting. Pete had always been a doer. He had always been active in his service. He’d served as the head deacon for the entire life of our church, giving a great deal of his time to make sure that volunteers were trained and ready to go. Pete would always greet you with a smile, but this particular morning something was different.
When I asked him if he was okay, he paused before he answered me. Finally, he told me that he just didn’t feel like he was of much use anymore, since he wasn’t able to serve how he used to serve and wasn’t able to do what he used to do.
As I took all this in, it occurred to me that while Pete was right in one way—thinking that he couldn’t serve us like he used to—he was completely wrong in another way—thinking that he, therefore, couldn’t serve us at all. In fact, he was serving me at that very moment. He was ministering to me. He was being “a steward of God’s grace” to me.
You see, Pete was there. First thing Sunday mornings, he was there. Despite his diminished mobility, he was there. Despite dealing with the grief of losing his wife, he was there. Despite the sorrows and struggles of living in a fallen, sin-laden world, Pete was still faithfully seeking to follow Jesus. What a gift his faith was to us all! What a testament to Christ’s unparalleled power shining forth in and through his weaknesses (1 Corinthians 12:9)—not simply in and through his strengths!
There will be times in each of our lives when our ability to serve using our strengths will be diminished.
We may get too old to do what we used to do; we might experience some kind of relational distress that keeps us from serving in strength; or, we could receive a debilitating medical diagnosis that sidelines such service. There are many, many ways our strengths can be taken from us. Yet, when they are, we must not despair since there is true power to serve others in the church—not in spite of our weaknesses, but precisely because of them.
So, in your weaknesses, let your faith shine forth even more brightly. In your weaknesses, let others be blessed by serving the church as well as serving you (Acts 20:35). In your weaknesses, allow Christ’s power to find its perfection in you so that others may sing his praise (2 Corinthians 12:9). As you do so, God can and will work powerfully in and through you.