Sowing Talents: Stewardship of Our Gifts

God’s call is not a trumpet blast followed by silence. God’s call is like a birdsong — a gentle and constant companion on our journey.

Willem de Poorter, “The Parable of the Talents or Minas,” 17th century
Willem de Poorter, “The Parable of the Talents or Minas,” 17th century (photo: Public Domain)

Let’s be honest. It feels safer sometimes — maybe even most of the time — to play small and stay small. Our “lizard” brain is hardwired to keep us safe. It evaluates risk based on survival metrics, not rational probabilities — and it most certainly does not operate on faith. The animal that “stands out” from the herd is the biggest target for predators. To that primitive self, it’s best to take no risks and play it safe. That’s how you get by. That’s how you survive. But I can’t think of a single place in Scripture where God calls us to elevate security over courage, and where he calls us to be mediocre, average and just “one of the herd.” Can you?

That’s why the Parable of the Talents is one of my favorite Scripture passages. In the story, the lord of a household leaves on a journey and entrusts his fortune to his servants. To one, he gives five talents, and to another two talents, and to a third a single talent, “every one according to his proper ability” (Matthew 25:16). The first two servants turn their shares into profit, but the third buries his talent. When the lord returns and calls them to account, he rebukes the servant who buried the money for his fearfulness and sloth. The premise of this story speaks deeply of God’s abundant love, but it also carries an underlying warning. The point or moral of the story, we might say, concerns our cooperation with that love: our responsibility to properly steward the gifts which God has given us. 

Do we take those precious gifts and squander them, wasting our time, our resources and our talents? Do we bury those talents because we’re afraid to “make waves” or “stand out” or field criticism? Or do we offer them freely, abundantly and with a kind of reckless trust that God will work it all out?

Jesus calls us to give generously of ourselves in St. Matthew’s Gospel: “For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? Do not even the publicans do this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? Do not also the heathens do this? Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:46-48).

The Book of Proverbs instructs us not to follow the wide and easy path, but to choose the better way. The Proverbs 31 woman is rare and praiseworthy for her great virtue; she “stands out” because she has used the gifts of God with wisdom and justice.

We aren’t just called to wander through this life with our heads down. St. John Henry Newman says that each of us was created with a purpose, and that no one can do the work that God has intended for us. We can’t do the work we are meant to do if we bury our talents in the sand.

In my “Living the Quest” podcast interview with Katie Prejean McGrady, we discuss the dynamic flow of our lives, as we move through seasons of change and growth and take the adventure that God sends us each day. Katie’s story of her own journey reminds us that we don’t always know at first where God is leading us or what singular work he has in mind for us to accomplish. Sometimes we start down one path, stepping out in faith and trust, and God opens doors for us that lead us to something even better — better not because of the money or the status or the title on the nameplate. Better because it is where God wants us at this moment. 

And sometimes God calls us to do something for which we feel we have no natural talent or ability — and in these circumstances, the deeper call is to trust radically in his grace to see the work through to completion. We might think of Moses, being asked to lead God’s people out of Egypt to the Promised Land, or Jeremiah, who protests that he is only a child when God calls him to be his prophet. Each and every one of the disciples has a million reasons to reject Jesus’s invitation to leave all they have and follow him.

We might also think of Frodo Baggins, who takes on a task so much bigger than his size might warrant — but he trusts that inner voice that tells him to take up the quest of the Ring. And it is through stepping out in faith and through the hardship of his journey that Frodo discovers his true talents: his perseverance, his faithfulness, his resilience, his humility, his simplicity of heart. Living our deepest purpose unearths the riches of our souls and brings them out into the light, where, with the help of God’s grace, they will yield a hundredfold.

God’s call is not a single horn blast and then total silence. It’s not a lightning bolt and then darkness. 

God’s call is like birdsong — a gentle and constant companion in the tangled woods we must travel through. His call is like the beacon of a lighthouse, shining through the dark and summoning us always “further up and further in,” as C.S. Lewis says. It doesn’t fade away or vanish when the path changes; it doesn’t stop when the seas become rough. And it doesn’t weaken because we’re afraid. We need only open our ears and open our eyes — and trust that, as St. Paul says, “he who has begun a good work in you, will perfect it unto the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:9).