Friday, November 25, 2005

JC: A Gift Unshelved

She trembled in the shadows clutching the vase to her chest. Should she do it? She wanted to, but it wasn’t easy for her to walk out there in front of everyone. What would they say? Maybe now wasn’t the right time. She could do it later when there weren’t so many people around.

Somewhere deep inside herself the woman tapped a vein of courage. Without a word she carried the vase into the middle of the party, mindful that everyone was looking at her. She knelt before Jesus, broke the vase, and anointed his feet with oil.

You know the story. You’ve probably taught it in Bible study. The woman was at the home of Simon, the leper. (Actually—compliments of Jesus—Simon was a former leper. We know he was a former leper because if he was still a leper nobody would have come to his party.)

The contents in the woman’s vase were pure nard imported from India at great expense. The jar was alabaster, a costly vessel uniquely suited to preserve the fragrance of the perfume.

Together, the two items were probably the most expensive possessions Mary owned.

You also know what happened next. The woman’s worst nightmare played out just as she feared it would. The disciples’ reaction was swift and critical.

How typical. So typical, in fact, that based on this text and a lifetime of service in churches I have formulated a maxim: No good work goes uncriticized.

And finally, you remember Jesus’ response. He chastened the disciples for criticizing the woman.

Then, he said something rather curious. He said, “Leave her alone. She did what she could.”

She did what she could.

Does that sound anti-climatic to you? It’s not exactly a phrase worthy of a T-shirt or inclusion on a quote of the day calendar, is it? Do what you can!

To a world that eats amazing tales and superhuman stories for breakfast, doing what you can is about as exciting as taking out the garbage. She did what she could. So what?

But look at Jesus’ reaction. He’s ecstatic. Maybe we’re missing something.

Literally, Jesus said, “That which she possessed, she used.” Hmm. Still not something that would sell a lot of T-shirts. Alright…how about looking at it a different way? What were her alternatives?

That which she possessed, she withheld. That’s certainly a possibility. Nobody forced her to do what she did.

Or, how about this—That which she wished she possessed, she wished she could use. This is the empty boast, “Imagine what we could do for the Lord if we had fifty million dollars!” Which usually calls attention away from the fifty dollars we do have and aren’t using.

She did what she could. Is this all it takes to get Jesus excited? To use what we have? In a word—Yes.

God never expects us to do what we cannot do. First, he equips us with a gift and an opportunity. Then, he waits to see what we’ll do with them.

All right, writers…you can see one this coming a mile away. But it’s too late to duck now.
God has given you a gift. He didn’t have to give it to you. He chose to give it to you. The question is…what are you going to do with it? Might I suggest the following…

1. Give your gift priority.

How easy it is to let your gift get buried under a landslide of e-mail and a to-do list posted magnetically on the refrigerator door that stretches down to the floor. In other words—shelved.

The only gift worthy of the Master is a gift unshelved.

2. Ignore the critics.

The gathering at Simon’s home was not a vase-breaking party. The woman took a risk doing what she did. The critics shot her down. The Lord lifted her up.

President Teddy Roosevelt was dead on target when he said, “It is not the critic who counts. Not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of good deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…who, if we wins, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

3. Do the best with what you have.

Stop comparing yourself to Dickens or Twain or Cavanaugh. (Ha! Couldn’t help myself.) The Master reserves his praise for those who serve him with what they have. Somebody ought to make a T-shirt: Do what you can with what you have.

Today, take your gift down off the shelf.

Dust it off.

Bring it to Jesus.

Ignore the critics.

Break the jar.

Spill its contents.

And may the sweet fragrance of your act fill the room.

Jack Cavanaugh is as sweet in person as he is in his blog posts. Check out his books at your favorite bookstore (--Ed).


At 8:57 AM, Blogger Donna-Jean Breckenridge said...

Thank you for a very important post.

At 11:33 AM, Blogger C.J. Darlington said...

This post was a great encouragement to me, Jack. Thanks.

At 12:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful post, Jack. Thanks for a timely reminder.

At 2:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You touched on something God has been whispering to me for a long while; a whisper that helps me take each baby step of my journey. Pastor Tommy Barnett put it this way, "It's in the house." God gives what we need. Instead of looking outside of ourselves (and starting to envy those we hold as leaders and mentors), look inward to what He has given and the direction He offers. It's in the house because He's already provided what we need for when we need it. Thanks for the eloquent reminder.

At 12:21 PM, Blogger ~ Brandilyn Collins said...

What a great post, Jack. I needed it today. Thank you.

All of your posts are so delightful--in different ways. I always look forward to reading them.

Lotsa love,

~ Brandilyn

At 8:17 PM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

What a great post. Thanks for your wisdom and encouragement. I love this verse: "A man's gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men" (Proverbs 18:16).
Thanks again. Kristy Dykes

At 12:54 AM, Blogger Illuminating Fiction said...

I'd have to dust first just to find where I left my gift.

Thank you, Jack. After two emotionly draining weeks and no writing, it is time to pull myself together and get back on track.

Thank you for the timely reminder.

At 9:13 AM, Blogger Cara Putman said...

Wow. I just read this, but thank you. It contains incredible truth that I needed to read right now. Thank you.

At 11:56 PM, Blogger Lynette Sowell said...

Thanks for sharing. Like Nike said, "Just do it."

At 8:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was very much what I needed to hear. Thanks for taking the time and effort to say it.


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