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Blessed To Be A Blessing

Blessed To Be A Blessing

Accepting Your Assignment

It is God himself who has made us what
we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus
and long ages ago he planned that we should
spend these lives in helping others
Ephesians 2: 10.

I glorified you on earth by completing down
to the last detail what you assigned me to do
John 17: 4.

You were put on earth to make a unique contribution.

You were not created just to consume resources, to eat, breathe, and take up valuable space; you were not created to vegetate and exist. Our God designed you to make a difference with your life. While many best-selling books offer advice on how to "get" the most out of life, that is not the reason God created and made you. He has too much invested in you to simply be present on the planet. You were created to add to life on earth, not to simply take from it. Our heavenly Father wants you to give something back, something different, something personally yours, something uniquely your own. That is God's purpose for your life, that is service not simply for the benefit of your own soul, but for the benefit and well-being of others. And God's revelation to us in Scripture and the actual life of His Body, the Church, gives us details on how to proceed and fulfill ourselves in giving and sharing.

You were created to serve God. "We are truly his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to lead the life of good deeds which God prepared for us in advance" Ephesians 2: 10. These "good deeds" are your thankful and grateful service. Whenever you serve others in any way, you are actually serving God and fulfilling one of your primary purposes. "Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being. Do it for the Lord rather than for men since you know full well you will receive an inheritance from him as your reward. Be slaves of Christ the Lord" Colossians 2: 23, 24; "What I say to you is offer no resistance to injury ... Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him two miles ... Give to the man who begs from you ... Do not turn your back on the borrower ... My command to you is love your enemies, pray for your persecutors. This will prove you are sons and daughters of your heavenly Father ... if you love those who love you, what merit is there in that? In a word, you must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" Matthew 5: 35 - 45; "Offer your service willingly, doing it for the Lord rather than for man. You know that each one, whether slave or free, will be repaid by the Lord for whatever good he does" Ephesians 6: 8. You gradually come to perfectly see how our God has shaped you for this purpose. What the Lord spoke to Jeremiah is also true for you. "Before I made you in your mother's womb, I chose you. Before you were born, I set you apart for a special work" Jeremiah 1: 5. You are not an accident or coincidence. You were placed on this planet for a special assignment for the Most High God.

God has saved you to serve him. You serve him because you recognize the seriousness of his redemption of your soul. "God saved us and has called us to a holy life, not because of any merit of ours but according to his own design, the grace held out to us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our Saviour" 2 Timothy 1: 9, 10. God effected the salvation of your soul so you could do his holy work. You are not saved by service, but you are saved for service. You serve him not because it merits your salvation, or that you ean earn your salvation, because there is nothing good enough that you can ever do to earn the salvation of your soul. You serve because you gratefully recognize God died on the cross, rose from the dead and put into effect the salvation of your body and soul if you eooperate with the grace He has thereby placed at your disposal and use. In God's kingdom, you have a place, a purpose, a role, and a funetion to fulfill. This gives your life profound significance and enduring value.

It cost Jesus Christ, the Son of God his own life to purchase your salvation. "You have been purchased and at a price, so glorify God in your body" 1 Corinthians 6: 20. We do not serve God out of guilt or fear, or even duty, but only out of joy and deep gratitude for what He has done for us. We owe him our lives, not just in creation, but after we sinned, He is eager to forgive us if we are repentant and sorry for our offenses. Through salvation our past is forgiven, our present touched with deep meaning and our future, unquestionably secured. In light of these incredible benefits St. Paul coneludes, "...through the mercy of God offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship" Romans 12: 1.

The apostle John taught that our loving service to others shows we are laboring in cooperation with God's grace. It is a sign of our conformity to God's will. He said, "That we have passed from death to life we know because we love the brothers. The man who does not love is among the living dead" I John 3 : 14. If we have no love for others, no desire to serve their needs, and we are only concerned about our own needs, we must then question if Christ is really in our life. A heart that wants to be saved is one which wants to serve.

The specific term for serving God that is misunderstood by most people is the word ministry. When some people hear this word they think of shepherds, priests, pastors, or sad to say, the professional clergy, but every member of the faith community is a minister, a servant of the needs of others for the sake of Christ our God. In Scripture, the words servant and minister are synonymous. If you are a baptized Christian, you are a servant, you are actually a minister of God's word and when you serve, you are ministering to the needs of those who need and deserve your help.

When St. Peter's sick mother-in-law was healed by Jesus, she instantly "...got up at once and began to wait on him" Matthew 8: 15, using her restored and healed gift of health. This is precisely what we are to do. We are healed to affirm and strengthen others. We are blessed to be a blessing for others. We are saved to serve, not to sit around and wait for heaven while we wateh and witness the service of others.

Have you ever wondered why God does not just immediately take us to heaven the moment we are baptized and chrismated? Why does He leave us in a fallen world? He leaves us here to fulfill his purpose. Once you are made part of His Body, the Church, God intends to use you for his goals, evangelizing, Christianizing and making holy this world. In other words, God has a ministry, or service for you and a mission for you to fulfill in the world.

You are called to serve God. Growing up, you may have thought that being invited, called and commissioned by God in the sacramental Mysteries of initiation was something only missionaries, priests, monastics and other "full time" Church workers experienced, but every believer is called to service.. "There is but one body and one Spirit, just as there is but one hope given all of you by your call.. .that he might fill all men with his gifts" Ephesians 4: 4, 10; "...through him we have been favored with apostleship, that we may spread his name and bring to obedient faith all the gentiles, among whom are you who have been called to belong to Christ" Romans 1: 5; "We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who have been called according to his decree" Romans 8: 28; "...send greetings to the church of God which is in Corinth, to you who have been consecrated in Christ Jesus and called to be a holy people ... and it was he who called you to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord ... and you are among those called..." I Corinthians 1:2, 9, 26; " The general rule is that each one should lead the life the Lord has assigned him, continuing as he was when the Lord called him" I Corinthians 7: 17; "My entire attention is on the finish line as I run toward the prize to which God calls me - life on high in Christ Jesus. All of us who are spiritually mature must have this attitude" Ephesians 3: 14, 15: "You, however, are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for his own to proclaim the glorious works of the one who called you from darkness to his marvelous light" 1 Peter 2: 9; "That divine power of his has freely bestowed on us everything necessary for a life of genuine piety, through knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power" 2 Peter 1: 3.

The invitation to salvation includes a call to service because they are one and the same. Regardless of the responsibilities of your job or career, unquestionably, you are called to full­time Christian service which means daily living under all circumstances and varied experiences, the gospel message and translating it into the actual reality of your life A "non­serving" Christian is a contradiction in terms.

St. Timothy is brought to understand the reality of truth: "God saved us and called us to a holy life, not because of any merit of ours but according to his own design, the graee held out to us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but now made manifest through the appearanee of our Saviour" 2 Timothy 1: 9, 10. And St. Peter adds (2 Peter 2: 9), that you are called, chosen and sent forth to tell about the excellent qualities of God who called you. Any time you use your God-given abilities to help others, you are fulfilling and completing your calling.

Believers who were taught by the apostolic band came quickly to understand "In the same way, my brothers, you died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to that Other who was raised from the dead, so that we might bear fruit for God" Romans 17: 4. How much time are you spending, or better yet, investing to be useful in service to the Lord? That is why we welcome new eommunicants many times by reminding them, "Jesus now has a new pair of eyes with which to see, new ears to listen with, new hands to help with, and a new heart with which to love others."

Another likely reason you need to be connected to a church and parish family is to fulfill your calling to serve other believers in a practical way. "You, then, are the body of Christ. Every one of you is a member of it" 1 Corinthians 12: 27. Your unique serviee is desperately needed in the Body of Christ; just ask any local church communicant. Each of us has a role to play and every role is important. There is no small service; it all vitally matters to make up the entire diorama of faith offered to our heavenly Father.

Likewise there are no insignificant ministries or services in the Body of Christ. Some are visible and some are behind the scenes, but all are valuable. Small or hidden ministries often make the biggest difference. In most homes the most important light is not the large dining room chandelier but the little night light that keeps you from stubbing your toe when you get up at night. There is no correlation between size and significanee. Every ministry matters because we are all dependent on each other to function with Christ.

What- happens when one part of your body fails to function? You get sick. The rest of your body suffers as well. Imagine if your liver decided to start living solely for itself: "I'm tired! I do not want to serve the body anymore! I want a year off just to be fed. I've got to do what's best for me! Let some other part take over!" What would happen? Your body would die in agony.

Today thousands of local parishes are slowly dying because of baptized people who are unwilling to recognize their vocation, pay the price and invest the time to adequately serve. They stand on the sidelines as spectators and the Body of Christ suffers immeasurably, because there is no healthy spiritual life among them. They defraud and mislead the public into thinking they are in fact what they purport to be when in reality the best which can be said about them is they are "pious frauds."

You are committed to serve God. The unequalled example and sentiment of Jesus is unmistakable: "Such is the case with the Son of Man, who has come, not be served by others, but to serve, to give his own life as a ransom for many" Matthew 20: 28. For believers in Christ, service is not optional, something to be tacked on or added or inserted into our schedules if we have the spare time. It is, unquestionably and unmistakably the very heart of the Christian life. Jesus came "to serve" and "to give" and these two verbs should define your life on earth as well. Serving and giving sums up one of the vital purposes of your life. Holy living consists in doing God's work with a smile.

Jesus taught that spiritual maturity is never an end in itself, it must be maturity for serviee to Christ through the needs of our fellow human beings. We grow up in order to give. It is not enough to keep learning more and more about Christ. We must act on what we learn and know; it must be translated into living, loving, serving activity for God's glory. We must practice what we claim to believe. Impression without expression causes depression. Not doing what we ought to be doing as believers is what causes severe problems in our lives beeause our lifestyle is a contradiction of our spiritual and religious life profession. Study without service leads to spiritual stagnation, inevitably to spiritual death. The old comparison between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea is still true. Galilee is a lake full of life because it takes in water, but even so, gives it out. In contrast, nothing lives in the Dead Sea because, with no outflow, the lake stagnates perpetually. It takes, it receives, but never enlivens, shares or gives.

The last thing some believers need today is to go to another study class. They already know far more than they are putting into practice. What they need are serving experiences and serving opportunities in which they can exercise spiritual muscles, which unfortunately in so many instances, have atrophied.

Serving is the opposite of our natural inelination. Most of the time we are more interested in serve us rather than service. We say, "I'm looking for a church that meets my needs and blesses me," not "I'm looking for a ehurch in whieh I can serve and beeome a blessing to others." We expect others to serve us, not vice versa. But as we mature in Jesus Christ, the focus of our lives should increasingly shift into living a life of service, to sharing and giving to others. The mature follower of Jesus Christ stops asking, "Who's going to meet my needs?" and immediately shifts to begin asking, "Whose needs can I meet?" Do you ever ask that question? More importantly, do you ever answer it honestly?

Preparing For Eternity

At the end of your life on earth you will stand before God, and He is going to evaluate how well you served others with your life. We have been taught, "Each of us will have to give an account of himself before God" Romans 14: 12. Think seriously and long about the implieations of that truth. One day our heavenly Father will compare how much time and energy we spend, even waste on ourselves compared with what we invested in serving the needs of others for the glory of God.

At that point all our exeuses for self-eenteredness will sound somewhat hollow: "I was just too busy" Or "I had my own more important goals" or "I was preoccupied with working, having fun, or preparing for retirement." Some will even naively say "It was not included in my vocation to do those kinds of things. To all these so silly and superficial excuses our God will respond, "Sorry, wrong answer. I created, saved, called and commanded you to live a life of service. What part did you not understand?" We have been warned, "Do you suppose then, that you will escape his judgment? Or do you presume on his kindness and forbearance? Do you not know God's kindnesses are an invitation for you to repent? In spite of this, your hard and impenitent heart is storing up retribution for that day of wrath when the just judgment of God will be revealed, when He will repay every man for what he has done: eternal life for those who strive for glory, honor and immortality by patiently doing right; wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth and submit to the eunning depravity of wickedness ... affliction and anguish will come upon every man who has done evil ... for... with God there is no favoritism" Romans 2: 3 - 7, 9, 11.

We are only fully alive when we are helping strengthen and affirm others. The Lord taught us, if you insist on saving your life, you will lose it. Only those who throw away their lives for his sake and for the sake of the Good News of salvation will ever know what it means to aetually live. "Whoever will preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will preserve it' Mark 8: 35; "He who seeks only himself brings himself to ruin, whereas he who brings himself to naught for me discovers who he is" Matthew 10: 39, "Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" Matthew 16: 25; "Whoever will save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will save it" Luke 9: 24; Whoever tries to preserve his life will lose it; whoever loses it will keep it" Luke 17: 33.

This truth is so vitally important it is revisited and repeated five times in the gospel narratives! If you are not serving the needs of others besides those in your own family, you just exist because life is meant to be a ministry of service. There is no question but that our God desires you learn to love and to serve others unselfishly.

Service And Significance

You are going to give your life for something. What will it be, a career, a sport, a hobby, fame, wealth? None of these will have lasting significance. Service is the only pathway to real significance in the sight of our God. It is through service ministry that we discover the meaning of our lives. Seripture emphasizes, "We have gifts that differ according to the favor bestowed on each of us" Romans 115. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a vital part of His Body, the Church. As we serve together in God's family, our lives take on eternal importance and dimension. St. Paul remarks, "Now the body is not one member, it is many...There are indeed many different members but one body. 1 Corinthians 12: 14, 20. Because we are a part of the Body of Christ, His Church, it makes us more significant and important, not less, simply because we belong to Christ our Saviour and God!

God wants to use you to make a difference in his world. He wants to work through you. What matters is not the duration or length of your life, but the donation of it, not how long you live, but how you live.

If you are not involved in any service or ministry in your parish church, what excuse have you been using? Abraham was old, Jacob was insecure, Leah was unattractive, Joseph was abused, Moses stuttered, Gideon was poor, Samson was codependent, Rahab was immoral, David had an affair and all kinds of family problems, Elias was suicidal, Jeremiah was depressed, Jonah was reluctant, Naomi was a widow, John the Baptist was eccentric, to say the least; Peter was impulsive and hot-tempered, Martha worried a lot about the wrong things, the Samaritan Woman had a large number of failed marriages, Zacchaeus was wildly unpopular, Thomas had doubts, Paul had poor health, and Timothy was timid. That is quite a variety of misfits, but God still called them, wanted them. God used each of them in their own particular way to serve before the throne of heaven and its cause. He will use you, too, if you but stop making excuses. Be convinced He is the Doer and the Doing; you are simply the earthly instrument of His grace and glory. The question to forever consider is: "What is holding me back from accepting God's call to serve him?" "We are truly his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to lead the life of good deeds which God prepared for us in advance" Ephesians 2:10.

Shaped To Serve God

Your hands shaped me and made me
Job 10: 8;

The people whom I formed for myself
that they might announce my praise
Isaiah 42: 21.

You were created and shaped to serve God.

God formed every creature on this planet with a special area of expertise. Some animals run, some hop, some swim, some burrow, and some fly. Each has a particular role to play, based on the way they are shaped by God. The same is true with human beings. Each of us was uniquely designed or shaped to do certain things.

Before architects design any new building they first ask, "What will be its purpose? How will it be used?" The intended funetion always determines the form of the building. Before God created you, He decided what role He wanted you to play on earth. He planned exactly how He wanted you to serve him, and then He shaped you for those tasks. You are the way you are because you were made for a specific ministry or service. "We are truly his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to lead the life of good works which God prepared for us in advance" Ephesians 2: 10. The English word poem comes from the Greek word translated workmanship. You are God's handcrafted work of art. You are not an assembly line product, mass produced without thought. You are a custom designed, one-of-a-kind, original masterpiece, not a second-rate plastic duplicate.

Our God deliberately shaped and formed you to serve him in a way that makes your ministry of service unique and distinct. He carefully mixed the DNA eocktail that created you. David praised God for this incredible personal attention to detail: "Truly you have formed my innermost parts; you knit me in my mother's womb. I give thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works. My soul also you knew full well; nor was my frame unknown to you when I was made in secret, when I was fashioned in the depths of the earth" Psalms 139: 13 - 15. God's workmanship is marvelous because He does not make junk! Man is a beautifully wrought complex being.

Not only did God shape you before your birth, He planned every day of your life to support his shaping process. David once again offers insight: "Your eyes have seen my actions; in your book they are all written; my days were limited before one of them existed. How weighty are your designs 0 God; how vast the sum of them" Psalms 139: 16, 17. This means that nothing which happens in your life is insignificant. God uses all of it to mold you for your ministry of service and shapes you for your service to him.

Our heavenly Father never wastes anything. He would not give you abilities, interests, talents, gifts, personality, and life experiences unless He intended to use them for his glory. By identifying and understanding these factors you can discover God's will for your life.

Man is a combination of many different factors. To help you remember, the simple acrostic is recalled: SHAPE. Whenever God gives us an assignment, He always equips us with what we need to accomplish it. This custom combination of capabilities is called your SHAPE:

Spiritual gifts Heart

Abilities Personality Experience

Unwrapping Your Spiritual Gifts

Our heavenly Father imparts to every believer spiritual gifts to be used in service ministry. "Just as each of us has one body with many members, and not all the members have the same function, so too we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually members one of another. We all have gifts that differ according to the favor bestowed on each of us. One's gift may be prophecy; its use should be in proportion to his faith. It may be the gift of ministry; it should be used for service. One who is a teacher should use his gift for teaching; one with the power of exhortation should exhort. He who gives alms should do so generously; he who rules should exercise his authority with care; he who performs works of mercy should do so cheerfully" Romans 12: 6 - 8; "Each of us has received God's favor in the measure in which Christ bestows it. Thus you find Scripture saying: `When he ascended on high, he took a host of captives and gave gifts to men ... He who ascended is the very one who ascended high above the heavens that he might fill men with his gifts. It is he who gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in roles of service to the faithful to build up the body of Christ until we become one in faith and in the knowledge of God's Son, and form that perfect man who is Christ come to full stature ... Through him the whole body grows and with the pro-per functioning of the members joined firmly together by each supporting ligament, builds itself up in love" Ephesians 4: 8, 10- 13, 14, 16; "Still, each one has his own gift from God, one this and another that" 1 Corinthians 7: 7. These are all God-empowered abilities for serving him that are given only to believers. His revelation to us teaches, "The natural man does not accept what is taught by the Spirit of God. For him that is absurdity. He cannot come to know such teaching because it must be appraised in a spiritual way. The spiritual man, on the other hand, can appraise everything, though he himself can be appraised by no one. For, `Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?' But we have the mind of Christ" 1 Corinthians 2: 14 - 16. In other words, only those who have the spirit of God can receive the gifts of God.

You cannot earn your spiritual gifts or deserve them; it is precisely for this reason they are called gifts. They are a manifestation and expression of God's gifts to you, "...who is over all and works through all, and is in all" Ephesians 4: 7. Neither do you get to choose what gifts you would like to have; our God determines that. St. Paul explains, "To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good ... But it is one and the same Spirit who produces all these gifts, distributing them to each as he wills" I Corinthians 12: 7, 11. Our loving Father matches up his heavenly gifts with our human abilities which enable us then to do ordinary things in an extraordinary way.

Because God loves variety and wants us to be uniquely special, no single gift is given to every one. "Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles or have the gift of healing? Do all speak in tongues; all have the gift of interpretation of tongues? Set your heart on the greater gifts" I Corinthians 12: 29. These are all God-empowered abilities for serving him that are given only to eager and faithful believers. Importantly it is vital to understand no individual reeeives all the gifts. If you had them all, you would have no need of anyone else, and that would defeat one of God's purposes, to teach and put into practice love for and dependence on each other.

Just as it is true no priest of God is priest for himself alone, but for the spiritual benefit and service of others entrusted to his care, your spiritual gifts were not bestowed for your own benefit but for the benefit of others, just as other people were given gifts for your benefit, or as St. Paul expresses it, "...for the common good" 1 Corinthians 12: 7. Each spiritual gift is given as a means of helping the entire Church. God planned it this way so we would genuinely need each other and respect each other's blessings. When we use our gifts together, we all benefit. If others do not use their gifts, you get cheated, and if you do not use your gifts, they get cheated out of what belongs to them by God's generosity. That is why we are commanded to discover and develop our spiritual gifts. Have you taken the time to discover your spiritual gifts? Do not forget, an unopened gift is worthless.

Whenever you ever forget these basic truths about heaven's gifts, it always causes trouble in the Church of Christ. Two common problems are "gift-envy" and "gift projection. " The first occurs when we compare our gifts with those received by others, when we feel dissatisfied with what God gives us and become resentful or jealous of how God uses others. The second problem happens when we expect everyone else to have our gifts, do what we are called to do, and feel as passionate about it as we do. The Bible says, "...there are different works, but the same God who accomplishes all of them in everyone. To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good" I Corinthians 12: 6, 7.

Sometimes spiritual gifts are over emphasized to the neglect of other factors God uses to shape you for proper and acceptable and effeetive service. Your gifts reveal one key to discovering God's will for your ministry of service, but your spiritual gifts are not the total picture. God has shaped you in other ways, too.

Listening to Your Heart

Scripture uses the term heart to describe the bundle of desires, hopes, interests, ambitions, dreams, and affections you possess. Your heart represents the souree of all your motivations, what you like to do and what you most care about. Even today we still use the word in this way when we say "I love you with all my heart. " God's wisdom teaches us that as a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the person. "As one face differs from another, so does one human heart from another The nether world and the abyss are never satisfied, so too the eyes of men" Proverbs 27: 19, 20. Your heart reveals the real you, what you truly are, not what others think you are or what cireumstances force you to become. Your heart determines why you say the things you do why you feel the way you do, and why you act the way you do. "The mouth speaks whatever fills the mind. A good man produces good from his store of goodness; and an evil man produces evil from his evil store" Matthew 12: 34, 35; "With closest custody, guard your heart, for in it are the sourees of life" Proverbs 4: 23.

Physically, each of us has a unique heartbeat. Just as we each have unique thumb prints, eye prints, and voice prints, our hearts beat in slightly different patterns. It is amazing that out of all the billions of people who have ever lived, no one has had a heart beat exactly like yours! In the same way, God has given each of us a unique emotional heartbeat that races when we think about the subjects, activities, or circumstances that particularly interest us. We instinctively care about some things and not about others. These are clues to where you should be serving.

Another word for heart is passion. There are certain subjects you feel passionate about and others you eouldn't care less about. Some experiences turn you on and capture your attention while others turn you off or bore you to tears. These reveal the nature of your heart.

When you were growing up, you may have discovered that you were intensely interested in some subjects that no one else in your family cared for. Where did these interests come from? They came from our Creator God who had a specific purpose in imparting those inborn interests. Your emotional heartbeat is the second key to understanding your shape for service. Do not ignore your interests. Consider how they might be used for God's glory. There is a naturally good reason that you love to do these things.

Repeatedly, Scripture says "...serve the Lord with all your heart..." Deuteronomy 11: 13; 1 Samuel 12: 20; Romans 1: 9; Ephesians 6: 6. Our God desires our passionate service, not a dutiful response. People rarely excel at tasks they do not enjoy or feel passionate about doing. Our Creator God wants you to use your natural interests to serve him and others. Listening for inner promptings can point to the ministry of service our God intends for you to become preoccupied with.

How do you know when you are serving God from your heart? The first tell tale sign is enthusiasm. When you are doing what you love to do, no one has to motivate you or challenge you or eheck up on your progress. You do it for sheer enjoyment and fulfillment and completion. You do not need rewards or applause or payment or recognition, because you very simply love serving in this way. The opposite is also true. When you do not have a heart for what your are doing, you are always very easily discouraged. You need some sort of seeming recognition from outside to affirm your inadequaey and make you feel like you are successful in your efforts and perhaps turn their appearance around and make it right and aceeptable in the eyes of others.

The second eharacteristie of serving God from your heart is effectiveness. Whenever you do what God wired you to love to do, you get good at it, you become proficient. Passion drives perfection. If you do not care about a task, it is unlikely that you will excel at it. In contrast, the highest achievers in any field are those who do it because of their passion for it, not because of duty or profit or superficial recognition or renumeration!

We have all heard people say, "I took a job I hate in order to make a lot of money, so some day I can quit it and do what I love to do." That is a profoundly big mistake. Do not waste your life in a job that does not express the love of your heart. Remember the greatest values in life are not things. Meaningful significance is far more important than money. The richest man in the` world since it was created, once said, "A simple life in the fear-of-God is better than a rich life with a ton of headaches" Proverbs 15: 16.

The genuine believer cannot simply settle for just achieving "the good life," because the good life is not good enough. Ultimately it does not satisfy. You can have a lot to live on and still have nothing to live for. Aim instead for the "better life, the superior life, the fulfilling life" serving God in a way that expresses your heart. Figure out what you love to do - what God gave you a heart to do - and then do it for his glory. Do not hesitate to pray about, to consult with your spiritual father who will gladly provide insightful guidance.

UNDERSTANDING YOUR SHAPE

Truly you formed my innermost being;
you knit me in my mother's womb.
I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made
Psalms 139: 13, 14.

Only you can be you.

God designed each of us so there would be no duplication in the world. No one has the exact same mix of factors that make you unique. That means no one else on earth will ever be able to play the role God planned for you. If you do not make your unique contribution to the Body of Christ, it will not be made and the Church will forever feel that missing void and you will miss the opportunity for salvation. He teaches us, "There are different gifts, but the same Spirit; there are different ministries but the same Lord; there are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in everyone. To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good" 1 Corinthians 12: 4 - 7.

What every faith community needs is the valuable contribution in prayer, in spiritual life, in service ministry of each of its eommunicants so that all are embraced and spiritually direeted to the common and distinctive service of souls.

Applying Your Abilities

Your abilities are the natural talents with which you were born. Some people have a natural ability with words; they almost literally come out of the womb talking! Other people have natural athletic abilities, excelling in physical coordination. Still others are good at mathematics, or music, or mechanics Myriad, indeed, are the blessings imparted and shared with man by our Creator God!

When God wanted to create the Tabernacle in the traveling time of the emergence of the Chosen People from Egypt along with all the utensils for worship, He provided artists and craftsmen who were shaped with "...a divine spirit of skill and understanding and knowledge in every craft; in the production of embroidery, in the making things of gold, silver and bronze, in cutting and mounting precious stones, in carving wood, and in every other craft ...I have also endowed all the experts with the necessary skill to make all the things I have ordered you to make: the meeting tent, the ark of the commandments with the propitiatory top of it, all the furnishings of the tent, the table with its appurtenances, the pure gold lamp stand with all its appurtenances, the altar of incense, the altar of holoeausts with all its appurtenances, the laver with its base, the service cloths, the sacred vestments ... the anointing oil and the fragrant incenses for the sanetuary. All these things they shall make just as I have commanded you" Exodus 31: 3 - 11. He granted them the skill, the ability, the knowledge in all kinds of crafts and specialties to make artistic designs and to execute them and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship. Today God continues to bestow these self-same abilities and thousands of necessary others so people can continue to nobly serve him.

All of our abilities come from God. Even the abilities we use to sin with are God-given; they are just abused, misused or misdireeted. "We have gifts that differ aecording to the favor bestowed on each of us" Romans 12: 6. We have been given the ability to do eertain things well, -even very well. Since your natural abilities are from God and He is their Source, they are just as important and as "spiritual" as your spiritual gifts of soul and body. The only difference is that you were given them at birth; they were not aequired by the development and growth of your spiritual life.

One of the most common excuses people give for not serving is "I just do not have any abilities to offer." This is pathetically ludicrous because it is self-serving self-deception. Wrong on both counts; in error twice in succession! You have, in fact, dozens, probably hundreds, of untapped, unrecognized, and unused abilities that are lying dormant inside you, Many meaningful and significant studies have revealed that the average person possesses from 500 to 700 different skills and abilities; far more than you realize, perhaps even recognize. The question arises: how many is each individual even aware of?

For instance, your brain powerhouse ean store some 100 trillion facts. Your mind can handle 15,000 decisions a second, as is the case when your digestive system is working. You nose can smell up to 10,000 different odors. Your touch can detect an item 1/25,000 of an inch thick, and your tongue can taste one part of quinine in 2 million parts of water. You are an imposingly huge bundle of incredible abilities, an amazing creation of our God. One part of the Church's responsibility is to identify, encourage and affirm and release your abilities for serving God.

Every gifted ability can be used for God's glory. St. Paul said, "Whatever you do, do all for the glory of God" 1 Corinthians 10: 31. God's revelation to us in Scripture is filled with example of different abilities, gift and talents that God uses for his glory. Here are but some of the few sifted from and mentioned in writing: artistic ability, architectural ability, administering, baking, boat-making, candy-making, debating, designing, decorating, embalming, embroidering, engraving, farming, fishing, gardening, leading others, managing, masonry working, making music, making weapons, needle work, painting, planting, philosophizing, machine ability, inventing, carpentry, sailing, selling, being a soldier, tailoring, teaching, writing literature and poetry. He teaches us, "There are different abilities to perform service, but the same God gives ability to all for their particular service" I Corinthians 12: 6. God has a place in His Body, the Church where your specialties can shine and you can make a difference. It is up to you to find that place to serve with distinction.

Our heavenly Father gives some people the gifted ability to make a lot of money. Moses told the Israelites, "Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produee wealth" Deuteronomy 8: 18. People with this ability are good at building a business, making deals or sales, and reaping a profit. If you have this business acumen and ability, you should be using it for God's glory. How? First, realize your ability and giftedness comes from God and initially gladly give him eredit and show him appreciation. Second, use your business to serve a need of others and to share your faith with unbelievers. Thirdly, return a tithe of the profit to God as an act of worship. "Each year you shall tithe all the produce that grows in the fields you have sown" Deuteronomy 14: 22; "Dare a man rob God? Yet you rob me! And you say, `How do we rob you?' In tithes and offerings! Malachi 3: 8. Finally, make it your personal goal to be a builder of the kingdom of God rather than just an earthly wealth builder.

What you are able to do is what God wants you to do. You are the only person on earth who ean use your abilities. No one can play your role because they do not have the unique shape that God has given you. We are taught that our God equips us "...with all that is good that you may do his will" Hebrews 13: 21. To discover God's will for you life you should seriously examine what you are good at doing and what you are not proficient at.

If God has not given you the ability to carry a tune, He is not going to expect you to be an opera singer. God will never ask you to dedicate your life to a task for which you have no talent. On the other hand, the abilities you do have are a strong indication of what God wants and expects you to do with your life. They are clues to knowing God's will for you. If you are good at designing or recruiting or organizing, it is a safe assumption that God's plan for your life includes those skills in their proper place. God does not waste abilities; He matches your calling and your capabilities.

It is obvious that God loves variety; simply look around you! He created each of us with a unique combination of personality traits. God made introverts and extroverts. He made people who love routine and those who love variety. He made some people thinkers and others feelers. Some people work best when given an individual assignment while others work better with a team. The Lord says, "God works through different people in different ways, but it is the same Go who achieves his purpose through them all" 1 Corinthians 12: 6.

We are given plenty of proof that God uses all types of personalities. St. Peter was sanguine and St. Paul was choleric. Jeremiah was melancholic. When you look at personality differences in the twelve disciples, it is easy to see why they sometimes had interpersonal conflicts.

There is no right or wrong temperament for ministry or service. We need all kinds of personalities to balance the Church and give it a compelling flavor. The world would be a very boring place if we were all plain vanilla. Fortunately, people come in more than thirty-one flavors. Your personality will affect how and where you use your spiritual gifts and abilities. But if one is introverted and another is extroverted, that gift will be expressed in different ways.

Woodworkers know that it is easier to work with the grain than against it. In the same way, when you are forced to serve in a manner that is out of character for your temperament, it creates tension and discomfort, requires extra effort and energy, and produces less than best results. This is why mimicking someone else's ministry of service never works. You do not have their personality. Besides, God made you to be you! You can learn from the example of others, but you must filter what you learn through your own shape. Personal study and introspection along with guidance from a spiritual father will certainly go a long way in assisting you to determine how to be of use to God.

Like stained glass, our personalities reflect God's light in many colors and varied patterns. This blesses the family of God with depth and variety. It also blesses us personally. It feels good to do what God made you to do. When you serve in a manner consistent with the personality God gave you, you experience fulfilling totality, satisfaction and fruitfulness.

Employing Your Experiences

You have been shared and formed by your experiences in life, most of which were beyond your control. God allowed them for the purpose of molding and sculpturing you. "We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who have been ealled according to his decree. Those who he fore knew he predestined to share in the image of his Son, that the Son might be the first-born of many brothers" Romans 8: 28, 29. In determining your shape for serving God, you should examine at least six kinds of experiences from your past:

·       Family experiences; what did you learn growing up in your family?

·       Educational experiences: What were your favorite subjects in school?

·       Vocational experiences: What jobs have you been most effective in and enjoyed most?

·       Spiritual experiences: What have been your most meaningful times with God?

·       Painful experiences: What problems, hurts, thorns, and trials have you learned from?

It is particularly in this last category that our heavenly Father uses the most to prepare you for service. God never wastes a hurt. In fact, many times the greatest and most intense serviee is in response to your greatest hurt. Who can better serve the need of parents of a Downs syndrome child than another couple who have a child in the same way? Who can better help an alcoholic recover than someone who fought that demon and found freedom? Who can better comfort a wife whose husband has left her side for an affair than a woman who went through the same agony herself? Who can better make whole and help heal a hurt heart or soul than he who has been wounded himself and successfully recovered?

Our heavenly Father intentionally allows you to go through painful experiences to equip you for the ministry of serviee to others. "He comforts us in all our afflictions and thus enables us to comfort those who are in trouble, with the same consolation we have received from him. As we have shared much in the suffering of Christ, so through Christ do we share abundantly in his consolation. If we are afflicted it is for your encouragement and salvation, and when we are consoled, it is for your consolation, so that you may endure patiently the same sufferings we endure. Our hope for you is firm because we know that just as you share in the sufferings, so you will share in the eonsolation" 2 Corinthians 1:5-7.

If you really desire to be used by God, you must come to understand a powerful truth: the very experiences that you resented or regretted most of your life, the ones you have wanted to hide and forget, are the very experiences God wants you to use to help others. They are your ministry of service to others because of your experience with them in endurance and overcoming their limitations.

For our heavenly Father to use your painful experiences, you must be willing to share them and the triumph of his victory in overcoming them. You have to stop covering them up and you must honestly admit your faults, your failures, and your fears and apprehensions. Diseuss this in prayer and depth and sincerity and seriousness with your spiritual Father. Doing this will probably be your most effective form of serviee to others. People are always more encouraged when we show how God's grace has helped us in weakness than when we brag about our strengths and the things we have overcome.

St. Paul understood this fundamental truth very quickly in his preaching. He was honest about his bouts with depression. He admitted, "Brothers, we do not wish to leave you in the dark about the trouble we had in Asia; we were crushed beyond our strength, even to the point of despairing of life. We were left to feel like men condemned to death so that we might trust, not in ourselves, but in God, who raises the dead. He rescued us from the danger of death and will continue to do so. We have put our hope in him which will never cease to deliver us" 2 Corinthians 1: 8 - 10.

If St. Paul had kept his experiences of doubt and depression a secret, millions of people would never have benefited from it. Only shared experiences can help others. Experienee is not just what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you. What will you do with what you have been through in life? Do not waste your pain or hide it; use it to help others!

As we have looked at varied ways God has shaped you for service, we should be brought to a deeper appreciation for God's sovereignty and a clearer idea of how He has prepared you for the purpose of serving him. Using your particular shape and personality configuration is the secret of both fruitfulness and fulfillment in the ministry of service. You will be most effective when you use your spiritual gifts and your talents and abilities in the area of your heart's desire, and in a way that best expresses your personality and experiences. 'The better the fit, the more successful you will be. "As generous distributors of God's manifold grace, put your gifts at the service of one another each in the measure he has received ... for the one who serves is to do it with the strength provided by God" I Peter 4: 10, 11.

Using What God Gives You

Since we find ourselves fashioned into
all these excellently formed and marvelously
functioning parts in Christ's body, let us just
go ahead and be what we were made to be
Romans 12: 5.

What you are is God's gift to you; what you do with yourself is your gift to God.

He shaped you for a purpose and He expects you to make the most of what you have been given. He does not want you to worry about or covet abilities you do not have. Instead He wants you to focus on talents He gives you to use.

When you attempt to serve God in ways you are not shaped or equipped to serve, it feels like forcing a square peg into a round hole. It is frustrating and produees limited results. It also wastes your time, your talent, and your energy. The best use of your life is to serve God out of your shape. To do this you must discover your shape, learn to accept and enjoy it, and then develop it to its fullest and best potential.

Scripture reveals to us, "Do not continue in ignorance, but try to discern the will of the Lord" Ephesians 5: 17. Do not let another day go by without starting to find out and clarifying what God intends for you to be and to do.

Begin by assessing your gifts and abilities. Take a long, honest look. at what you are good at and what you are not proficient in. St. Paul advises in these circumstances, "Thus in virtue of the favor given me, I warn each of you not to think more highly of himself than he ought. Let him estimate himself soberly, in keeping with the measure of faith that God has apportioned him" Romans 12: 3. Seek from your spiritual Father his candid opinion. Ask fellow believers whose judgment you trust for their truthful assessment, nor should you be fishing for a compliment. Spiritual gifts and natural abilities are always affirmed and confirmed by others. If you think you are gifted to be a teacher or a singer, and no one else agrees, guess what? If you want to know if you have a gift of leadership, just look over your shoulder! If no one follows you, you cannot conclude you are a gifted leader! Do not forget before you can lead, you must gladly and eagerly follow! Assuredly, you will agree, God deserves your best.

Thus the serious soul asks itself, "Where have I seen fruit in my life that other people confirmed? What does my spiritual Father discern and detect of my talents and abilities? Where have I already been suecessful? Spiritual gift tests and ability inventories can have some value, but they are limited in their usefulness. In the first place, they are standardized so they do not take into aecount your particular uniqueness. Secondly, there are no definitions of the spiritual gifts as enumerated in God's revelation to us in Scripture, so they by their own definitions are arbitrary as they do not coincide with those in God's revelation. And of course, they can very easily represent denominational and skewed biases. Another problem is that the more mature you become, the more likely you do not manifest the characteristics of a number of gifts. You may be serving or teaching or giving generously out of abundance or maturity rather than because it is your actual spiritual gift.

The best way to discover your gifted abilities is to experiment with different areas of service. If you do not do it, how will you discover your giftedness in that particular area? It is only after you try to discover your gifts seriously and sincerely that, upon seeing the results, you can realize, "God has gifted me to do this!"

Many books get the discovery process backwards. They say, "Discover your spiritual gifts and then you will know what service you are supposed to pursue." It actually works the exact opposite way. Just start serving, experimenting, responding to a particular need around you with different service ministries and they will discover your gifts. Until you have actually been involved in serving, you are not going to know what you are good at.

Each believer has dozens of hidden abilities and gifts you may never have reeognized because you did not try them before. So each seeker is encouraged to try some things you have never done before. No matter how old you are, never stop experimenting. Many people because of eagerness to serve discover new hidden talents in their seventies and eighties.

Do not try to figure out your gift before volunteering to serve somewhere. Just begin to give of yourself, just begin serving, responding to needs made known in your parish. You discover your natural gifts by becoming involved in service ministry. Try teaching or leading or organizing or playing an instrument or working with teenagers. You will never know what you are good at until you try. When it does not work out, call it an experiment," not a failure. You will eventually learn what you are good at.

Consider your heart and your personality. St. Paul provides an insight: "If anyone thinks he amounts to something, when in fact he is nothing, he is only deceiving himself. Each man should look to his conduct; if he has reason to boast of anything, it will be because the achievement is his and not another's. Everyone should bear his own responsibility" Ephesians 6: 3 - 5. It is best to receive feedback from those who are genuinely interested in your spiritual growth and development. Ask yourself, "What do I enjoy doing the most? When do I feel the most fully alive? What am I doing when I lose track of time? Do I like routine or variety? Do I prefer serving with a term or by myself? Am I more introverted or extroverted? Am I more a thinker or a feeler? Which do I enjoy more, competing or cooperating?"

Examine your experiences and extract the lessons you have learned. Review your life and think about how it has shaped you. Moses told the Israelites, "It is to your children, who have not known it from experience, but you yourselves who must now understand the discipline of the Lord, your God, his majesty, his strong hand, and outstretched arm, the signs and deeds he wrought among the Egyptians, on Pharoah, king of Egypt and on all his land ... and what he did for you in the desert until you arrived in this place" Deuteronomy 11: 2, 3, 5. Remember what you have learned about the Lord through your experiences with him. Forgotten experiences are worthless and that is a good reason to keep a spiritual journal. St. Paul worried that believers in Galatia would waste the pain they had been through. "Any of you who seek your justification in the law have severed yourselves from Christ and fallen from God's favor" Galatians 5: 4. In other words, Were all your experiences wasted? I hope not!"

We rarely see God's good purpose in pain or failure or embarrassment while it is happening. When Jesus washed Peter's feet, He said, "You do not realize what I am doing, but later you will understand" John 13: 7. Only in hindsight do we understand how God intends for problems in our lives to be used for good.

Extracting the lesson from your experienees takes time. It is recommended that you take an entire week-end for a life-review private retreat, where you pause to see how God has worked in the various defining moments of your life and consider how He wants you to use those lessons to help others.

Accept And Enjoy Your Shape

Since God knows what is best for you, you should gratefully accept the way He has fashioned you. Scripture enlightens us, "What right have you, a human being, to eross examine God? The pot has no right to say to the potter, `Why did you make me this shape?' Surely a potter can do what he likes with the clay" Romans 9: 20, 21.

Your shape was sovereignly determined by our heavenly Father for his purpose, so you should not resent it or reject it, but enjoy the pleasure it brings you. Instead of trying to reshape yourself to be like someone else, you should celebrate the shape God has given only to you. "Each of us has received God's favor in the measure in which Christ bestows it" Ephesians 4: 7. Christ has given each of us special abilities, what He wants us to have out of the rich storehouse of his gifts.

Part of accepting your shape is recognizing your limitations. Nobody is good at everything, and no one is called to be good at everything. We all have defined roles. St. Paul understood that his calling was not to accomplish everything or please everyone but to focus only on the particular ministry God shaped him for. "...that in the ages to come he might display the great wealth of his favor, manifested by his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. I repeat, it is owing to his favor that salvation is yours through faith. This is not your own doing; it is God's gift, neither is it a reward for anything you have accomplished, so let no one pride himself on it" Ephesians 2: 7 - 9. So our goal is to stay within the boundaries of God's plan for us.

The word boundaries refers to the fact that unquestionably God assigns each of us a field or sphere of service. Your shape determines your specialty. When we try to overcome or overextend our service ministry reach beyond what God has shaped for us, we experience stress. Just as eaeh runner in a race is given a different lane to run in, we must individually ":       persevere in running the race that lies ahead; let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who inspires and perfects our faith" Hebrews 12: 1, 2. Do not be envious of the runner in the lane next to you; just focus on finishing your race.

There is no question our God wishes you enjoy the shape He has gifted you with. He teaches us, "Everyone should bear his own responsibility" Ephesians 6: 4. Satan will try to steal the joy of serviee from you in a eouple of ways: by tempting you to compare your ministry with that of others and by tempting you to conform your service ministry to the expectation of others. Both can be deadly traps that can distract you from serving in the way God intended and your superiors, namely your pastor or spiritual Father expect of you. Whenever you lode joy in you service ministry, start by considering if either one of these temptations is the aetual cause.

We are warned never to compare ourselves to others; we ought compete against ourselves alone. "Each man should look to his own conduct; if he has reason to boast of anything, it will be because the achievement is his and not another's" Ephesians 6: 4. There are a number of reasons we should not compare our shape, our service ministry, or the results of your vocational intention with anyone else. First, you will always be able to find someone who seems to be doing a better job than you and you will become discouraged. Or you will always be able to find someone who does not seem as effective as you and you will be filled with pride. Either attitude will take you out of service and rob you of your joy.

St. Paul emphasizes how foolish it is to compare ourselves with others. "We are not so bold, of eourse, as to classify or compare ourselves with certain people who reeommend themselves. Since people like that are their own appraisers, comparing themselves to one another, they only demonstrate their ignorance. When we make claims we will no go over the mark but will stay within the bounds that the God of moderation has set for us" 2 Corinthians 10: 12, 13. In all this comparing and grading, they eompletely miss the point.

You will also recognize and understand that people who do not understand your shape for service ministry will criticize you and try to get you to eonform to what they think you should be doing. Emphatically ignore them. St. Paul often had to deal with critics who misunderstood and maligned his service. His response was always the same: Avoid comparisons, resist exaggerations, do not make promises you eannot keep, and seek only God's commendation. "For all these reasons let anyone who thinks he stands upright watch out, lest he fall" I Corinthians 10: 12.

One of the reasons St. Paul was used so richly by our heavenly Father was that he refused to be distracted by criticism or by comparing his service to the Lord with others or by being drawn into fruitless debates about his ministry. St. Paul knew if his life was fruitless, it does not matter who praises him or recognizes his supposed suecesses, but if his life is fruitful, it also does not matter who criticizes him.

Keep Developing Your Shape

Jesus' parable of the talents illustrates that God expect us to make the most of what He gives us. We are to cultivate our gifts and abilities, keep our hearts aflame, grow in character and personality, and broaden our experiences so we will be increasingly more effect in our service apostolate. St. Paul told his parishioners in Philippi; "...keep on growing in your knowledge and understanding..." Philippians 1: 9. He also reminded St. Timothy, his beloved disciple, "For this reason I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God bestowed when my hands were laid on you" 2 Timothy 1: 6. He wants you, too, to kindle afresh the gifts which God placed in you.

If you do not exercise your muscles, they weaken and atrophy. In the same way, if you do not utilize the abilities and skills God has given you, you will lose them. Jesus taught the parable of the talents to emphasize this truth. Referring to the servant who failed to use his one singular talent, the Master said, "Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten talents" Matthew 5: 28. If you fail to use effectively what has been given you, you will lose it and forfeit it to others who know what to do with it. Use the ability you have received and God will increase it for you. Did not St. Paul remind St. Timothy, "Be sure to use the abilities God has given you ... put these abilities to work" 1 Timothy 4: 14, 15. Whatever gifts you have been given can be enlarged and developed through practice and use. For instance, no one gets the gift of teaching fully developed. But with study, feed back, and practice, a "good" teacher can become a better teacher and with time, grow to be a master teacher. Do not settle for a half-developed gift. Stretch yourself and learn all you can. If you learn much, desire to learn even more about the Lord. Never be happy or satisfied with all you already know and make your own. "Try hard to make yourself worthy of God's approval, a workman who has not cause to be ashamed, following a straight course in preaching the truth. Avoid worldly, idle talk, for those who indulge in it become more and more godless, and the influence of their talk will spread like the plague" 2 Timothy 2: 15 - 17. Take advantage of every training opportunity, each homily you hear, each liturgical service you participate in, the literature in your parish library, each parish bulletin you read to develop your shape and sharpen your serving skills.

In heaven we will serve and reign with our God forever. Right now, we can prepare for that eternal service by living on earth like we are already there, we can anticipate our presence at the feet of the Father. Like athletes preparing for the Olympics, we keep training for the big day, for the big time: "They do this to win a crown of leaves that withers, but we a crown that is imperishable" I Corinthians 9: 25. In our life of service, we prepare for and get ready for eternal responsibilities and rewards.

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