The line I hear most frequently goes something like this: "God has given me all this talent, and He just wants me to live up to my potential." Then, to help me understand the great godly principle at work here, he or she will add something along the lines of, "Why else would He have given me this talent for _______?" (Fill in the blank with whatever you think you're especially good at.)
Really? Is that what God wants of us? To take the business world by storm, or create the most arresting paintings or provide the most effective caregiving or grow the prettiest garden in the neighborhood? Or (getting a little personal here) to write the Great American Novel?
How do we reconcile this thinking with what we read in Luke 9?
"If anyone desires to come after Me," Jesus is quoted as saying in verses 23-26, "let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels."
Call me crazy, but this doesn't sound like a command to live out our earthly dreams. It doesn't sound like an invitation to be the best we can be in whatever disciplines we seem to excel in. It doesn't even sound like we're supposed to go for the gusto, or chase after our personal happiness.
Instead, the Lord has commanded a different sort of life for His children -- those who have repented and trusted in Christ. We are to ignore our own desires, to bear whatever burden He has allowed in our lives, and to obey Him.
That's a tall order, one that we'll never fulfill perfectly in this life. I don't suppose most of us will ever even come close for more than a few minutes at a crack.
But if we take His words to heart, at least we can stop fooling ourselves into believing that we're pursuing our personal ambitions for His sake. And then we can set out on the journey that He does want us to take -- to "be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding," as the apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 1:9-10, "that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God."
This is the potential He wants us to pursue. And He has laid out the who, what, where, when, how and why of it, in exquisite detail and in language anyone can understand, in the Bible.