Using Your Talent: A Quint of Quotes

Fellow travelers,

Here is another “Quint of Quotes,” or five somewhat related sayings, from my collection.  These follow up yesterday’s Sunday Share from Kevin DeYoung, where he wrote that even Jesus “did not try to do it all. And yet, he did everything God asked him to do.”  I hope you find them interesting and thought-provoking.  Enjoy!

Photo by Tom Bradley on Unsplash

“Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best” – Henry Van Dyke

“We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa

“It is not your business to succeed, but to do right. When you have done so the rest lies with God.” – C. S. Lewis

“All God’s giants have been weak men, who did great things for God because they reckoned on His being with them.” – James Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission

“No one can do everything, but everyone can do something” – Max Lucado

Politics Didn’t Keep King David Up at Night

In the United States, we just had midterm elections, those falling between the presidential elections that happen every 4 years.  The end result of government divided between Democrats and Republicans likely has many wishing their preferred side had more power.  This post is a slightly edited version of one from this April, when anxiety about these elections began to heat up.  While in Psalm 2, God declares “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill,” where He laughs at the kings and rulers of the world who stand against Him, that declaration may be harder to take when events don’t appear to go our way.  Psalm 3, “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son,” follows, and I don’t think it’s an accident because it records God’s king at the time, David, lamenting about being chased from power by his own son.  The story may provide comfort when things don’t look to be going God’s way here on earth.

Absalom’s Rebellion
The story of King David in the Bible is a very condensed version of his life but does not shy away from David’s serious failures and flaws.  The story of his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba is not swept under the rug, and eventually, Absalom’s rebellion against his father David was justified in his mind by those flaws.  Absalom harbored resentment for years after David’s lack of punishment for Absalom’s brother Amnon, who raped his sister Tamar.  One can imagine Absalom thinking about his father: “You’re the king of Israel, so why didn’t you protect Tamar, or at least punish Amnon?  If my sister and I don’t get justice, you don’t deserve to be king!”

David, on the other hand, was quite aware of the limits of being king.  In Psalm 131:1, David wrote:

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
            my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
            too great and too marvelous for me.

Even while writing as divinely selected king of Israel, David knew many things were “too great and too marvelous” even for him.  Instead, David focused his heart on the God-given task before him, which did not include achieving perfection in this world.  That task belonged elsewhere.  Later, Psalm 131 was included in the Psalms (or Songs) of Ascent[1], which served as a liturgy for pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem for the three annual festivals.  In those Psalms are reminders of God’s provision for things the world can’t provide, including salvation for our souls and a way to perfect righteousness.  The pilgrims did not go to Jerusalem to worship the earthly king, but to encounter God, and including Psalm 131 in that liturgy would always be a reminder that our worldly aims should always be rooted in humility.

When Absalom raised several hundred supporters and entered Jerusalem to violently overthrow his father David, “a messenger came to David, saying, ‘The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom.’ Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, ‘Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.’”  (2 Samuel 15:13-14)

David’s Response
After surrendering the throne and fleeing, David wrote Psalm 3, “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son,” which says in full:

“O LORD, how many are my foes!
            Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
            “There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah
But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
            my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
            and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
I lay down and slept;
            I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
            who have set themselves against me all around.
Arise, O LORD!
            Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
            you break the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the LORD;
            your blessing be on your people! Selah”

Knowing the background of this Psalm and its placement after Psalm 2 make it far more interesting.  David had suffered a massive political defeat, being humiliated and tossed out of Jerusalem by his own son.  Instead of despairing, he turned to God for his salvation because he knew even the king of Israel could not save the people.  He was only a temporary and provincial authority.  Even though God had promised David the throne, God was able to save David, and Israel, without David on the throne.  With the murderous and vengeful Absalom on the throne, was God defeated?  No, instead we have this Psalm as a reminder of God’s presence and provision of salvation in spite of whatever situation we find ourselves in.

David, having cultivated over years an awareness of his own limitations as king of Israel, and the limitless power of God, “lay down and slept,” then “woke again, for the LORD sustained me.”  Surrounded by foes and removed from his throne, David slept soundly!  In contrast, Absalom broods upon every imperfection, plotting ways to force justice as he sees it on others, even if he must dishonor God.  You could say he is driven by a belief in a government that can solve all of our problems and shouldn’t rest until it does.

Conclusion
Jesus was not our midterm ballots, but flawed candidates of many types were.  Some more like David, and some more like Absalom.  A lesson from Psalm 3 is that we should be able to sleep at night in good conscience because no matter what the world looks like, God says “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Psalm 2:6) even when king David was on the run for his life.

The success of God’s plan does not rely on our political success. “Salvation belongs to the LORD” and He deserves our vote every time.


[1] I’m currently writing about those Psalms in a series, which began here.

Help! There’s a Log in My Eye! (Part 1)

Until we get to heaven, none of us can fully understand what God is telling us in the Bible, but I believe one particularly tricky passage is this one: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:3-5

For some, the lesson is about how to identify a hypocrite.  For others, the lesson may be that people should mind their own business.  Some might think it has applications for the church’s role toward the sinners of the world.

While there might be good points to be made about those lessons, here I want to focus on what Jesus told those listening to actually do: 1) “take the log out of your own eye,” and 2) “take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”  Jesus is definitely not saying His people should always ignore every speck and log.  His mission is to make His church holy, and we participate in that work.  Christians are supposed to help each other move closer to God.  However, there are right ways, and very wrong ways, to remove specks and logs.  He says do (1), then only do (2) afterward.

When saying “first take the log out of your own eye,” I think Jesus is offering two bits of advice.  First, be more concerned about your own sin first before dealing with the sin of others.  Second, take what you learn about overcoming your own logs of sin and apply it to ministering to others with their specks.  The cure for hypocrisy here is not to do nothing about the brother’s speck.  It is to remove our own log first, so we “will see clearly.”

This is a huge topic, but today’s post will briefly cover the first point, and tomorrows will cover the second point.  There’s definitely a lot more that has been, and can be, said.

Me First
By focusing on our own problems first, we might avoid three problems, the first being putting ourselves through endless anxiety about the sins of the world.  Psalm 37:1 advises “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!”  When God chose to love the world, He did so knowing that the world contained nothing but evildoers, and therefore advises not to fret about evil.  He has a plan, and that plan is not that we need to address or fix every problem.

Later in the same Psalm, verse 8 advises: “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”  This means that fretting over the sins of others leads us to wrong emotions and motives, particularly envy and wrath.  Referring back to verse 1, “be not envious of wrongdoers”, because we may be tempted to participate in their wrongdoing.  If we think they’ve done well by sinning, and that there was no negative consequence, we might persuade ourselves to join in out of envy for their “success”.  So, we add the speck in their eye to the log in our own, and everyone is worse off.

Third, if we see that wrongdoers are not punished, and are frustrated by it, we can be tempted to take it into our own hands to “correct” their situation by removing their speck.  In this case, we’re motivated by wrath, instead of a loving desire to do the best for our brother.  Also, others might see that we did this, got away with it, and be tempted to join in (envy again?), and so these 2nd and 3rd points can become a vicious cultural cycle within a community of believers.

In another post, The Desires He Delights to Give, I wrote about verses 4-6 of Psalm 37 and it would a good read for context here, but the summary is that when we seek to please God, we will learn to be less anxious about evildoers, and also feel less envy and wrath.

So, Jesus’ first advice before removing a speck from someone else’s eye seems to be to make sure we have the right motive – love.  Tomorrow, part 2 will briefly talk about how hard it is to remove the real logs in our own eyes.

Being a Master at Washing Feet

English author Samuel Johnson said, “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”  I recently read The Residence, a book of real stories about White House staff over the years.  In a chapter on how staff often go unnoticed comes this humiliating negative example:

President [Lyndon] Johnson often undressed in front of staffers and was famous for rattling off orders while he was sitting on the toilet.  Once, reporter Frank Cormier was shocked to see Air Force One Steward Sergeant and Valet Paul Glynn kneel before the president while they were in midair and wash his feet – all the more so because Johnson never once acknowledged Glynn.

“Talking all the while, Johnson paid no heed except to cross his legs in the opposite direction when it was time for Glynn to attend to the other foot,” Cormier observed.[1]

When looking for an example of a servant being humiliated, author Kate Andersen Brower chose the washing of feet.  Worse than having someone undressing in front of you and worse than being bossed around from a toilet.

Photo by Felicia Montenegro on Unsplash

Jesus, looking for an example of how his disciples should serve and love each other, chose the same act, but from a different perspective and with a different attitude:

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” – John 13:3-5

Jesus does not need anything from us, we cannot provide anything He cannot provide for Himself, but He showed us how much He cares by washing His disciples’ feet.  He was willing to experience humiliation for His people, and He asks us to care in the same way:

“For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” – John 13:15-16

“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”

Ask Him to give us compassion for those with dirty feet, and to give us the strength to serve as He did.  Because He has washed our dirty feet again and again.


[1] Brower, Kate Andersen.  The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House.  (2015).  P. 88.

Jesus Does Not Judge a Book By Its Cover

Beginning today, Sunday posts on Driving Toward Morning will focus on guest content.  I didn’t write the fictional letter below, which is attributed at the end.


To: Jesus, Son of Joseph, Woodcrafter Carpenter Shop, Nazareth

From: Jordan Management Consultants, Jerusalem

Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for management positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

It is the staff’s opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in the background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, sons of Zebedee, place personal interests above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale.

We feel it is our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.

Sincerely yours,

Jordan Management Consultants


I found this made-up letter in the introduction to Warren Wiersbe’s book on 1 Corinthians, Be Wise: Discern The Difference Between Man’s Knowledge and God’s Wisdom.  Ken Baugh, who wrote the introduction, says “Even though this is a humorous account, it drives home the radical difference between human and divine wisdom.”  Baugh found it “on the internet,” where it is often attributed to Eating Problems for Breakfast by Tim Hansel, Word Publishing, 1988, pp. 194-195