It was the summer of 1975. Kris and I were in Belgium at a huge Christian event called EuroFest. I was sitting at a panel discussion and someone I admired, a British pastor and minister to college students all over the world, John Stott, was one of the panelists. A long-haired young man to my right asked John Stott a question we were all facing and that we all face: How can I discern the Lord’s will for my life?
John Stott made an observation that clarified my dream for me, and I’ve pondered his answer over and over in my life. I’ve used his answer in countless talks and conversations. Here are his words as I recall them: “Here’s how to determine God’s will for your life: Go wherever your gifts will be exploited the most.”
My oldest three children attended a Bible study for some time. They settled in, began to make connections. As they did so, the leadership did something that seemed curious and counter-intuitive to me.
Rather than observing and allowing the young people to serve as they were gifted, the leadership placed certain individuals in roles for which they neither felt particularly called nor enjoyed. One son was kept from serving and worshiping according to his passion (music) - he was not allowed to serve at all, actually. One girl was placed into a role in which she felt uncomfortable. The leader felt that he knew better than the kids (and their parents) as to the gifts they carried within. It was a symphony all out of tune, because the kids were not operating according to the things which made their hearts sing. They were defeated and discouraged, not equipped to serve the Lord.
Now, I share this to say that I agree with Dr. Stott's assessment of determining God's will for ones' life. (I take his meaning on the word "exploited" to be "used to the fullest." ) This is how I've home educated over these years. I'm not raising a herd, I'm raising individuals. This is why I would never insist that all of my children play the same musical instrument nor follow the same educational course. As individuals, each one is unique, and each one has been given particular gifts and talents from the Lord. These gifts and talents are to be used for the furtherance and development of the kingdom of God.
Part of our role as parents is to help our children discover their "bent," their passions. We are to help them develop their areas of giftedness. Loving leadership (whether the parent or pastor or Bible study leader) never ties up or restricts a young person from using their gifts in God's service.
- If the talent lies in computer programming - then program for the glory of God!
- If the giftedness shows up in songwriting and strumming, then help that kid find a guitar and let 'em sing!
- If the passion is revealed thru photography and the written word, let the pictures and the words tell a thousand stories about the Lord of love. (That's Emily's photograph above...)
- If the gifting is a more subtle trait such as compassion or mercy or organization - these may take a bit more insight to discover, but they too are valuable gifts that can be directed into serving God. We need much more compassion and mercy in this world, and I am not above praying for a child to be organizationally gifted. :)
- Every person, even those who face severe challenges, has a purpose and a gift for his/her family and in the Body of Christ..
My oldest three stopped attending the Bible study. They intuitively knew that something was not right. They knew that there was more, and really, why waste time on something that does not help you become who you are meant to be in Christ? Youth is the time to grow and develop and use your talents!
Love always empowers, it never belittles nor subsumes. Love sets people free, it never binds them. Love builds up. Love encourages. Love seeks out the specialty and says, "I see your gift. How may I help you grow and how may I help equip you for service according to your gifting?"
As parents, there is no greater joy than to see our children walking in God's truth; but there is also deep satisfaction received by watching as they grow and discover the gifted threads God has woven into the very fabric of who they are. There is great fulfillment in helping them develop their talents, and in coming along side them as they discern where God can use them best.