We have recently summarized our purpose at Yellowstone Theological Institute with a fresh three-word by-line: “Insight. Discovery. Adventure.” As I was considering the aspect of “discovery,” this story of discovering an unexpected gift came to mind.
In 2004, after a thirteen-year pastorate, I resigned, and we moved from Arkansas to Chicago, where I enrolled in a seminary. A few years later, we returned to Siloam Springs, Ark., for a brief visit and attended our former church. And I recall entering the sanctuary on that Sunday morning felt like a family reunion! We were overwhelmed with tight hugs and warm greetings from a church family we loved and missed. It was good to be “home”!
Later, we went to our favorite local restaurant. After enjoying the meal, I reached for my wallet to pay. Then to my surprise, I discovered someone at church had slipped a twenty-dollar bill into my back pocket. I’d received an unexpected gift. It was a mysterious case of reverse pickpocketing! Then a thought quickly came to mind. I would have ordered dessert if I’d known about the money!
Discovering Our Gifts
This story illustrates a truth: You can have something and not know it, but if you know it, you live differently because of it. And that’s true spiritually. In Christ, as God’s children, we can have gifts from God but not know it. But when we discover them, we live differently because of them.
And along these lines, it’s interesting to note that in Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, he prayed for their insight. He asked that their “…love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight” (Phil. 1:9). The fresh insight leads to a newfound discovery. In Paul’s words, they would “discern what is best” (Phil. 1:10). And they would live differently because of it. They would be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:11).
“Insight. Discovery. Adventure.” On reflection I realized that, intuitively, those three elements were already integrated into the curriculum of my pastoral ministry classes. First, the students gain insight into the ministry’s biblical, theological, and historical foundations. Secondly, they enter the discovery stage of learning how to do pastoral ministry. Sometimes, they discover previously undiscovered gifts and talents God had given them. Lastly, the students experience the adventure of doing the “good works, which God prepared in advance” for them to do (Ephesians 2:10).
Increasing Knowledge, Decreasing Anxiety
For example, I recently I taught our Introduction to Preaching and Teaching course to three students. Since the class was smaller, we grew closer, and students felt safe sharing their concerns. From the beginning, they acknowledged moderate feelings of glossophobia, the fear of public speaking. Experiencing this anxiety is not abnormal. In fact, “Surveys suggest that approximately 75 percent of all people experience this fear, which means we fear speaking in public more than we even fear death.” The comedian Jerry Seinfeld humorously observes, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy!”
So, while the students weren’t deathly afraid, they were anxious about preaching. As the class progressed, they gained insight into how to study Scripture when preparing a sermon. They learned about biblical exegesis, cultural hermeneutics, and the skills of developing and delivering a biblical sermon. Over the weeks, I observed their knowledge increase and their anxiety decrease. They slowly began to realize they could deliver a sermon.
The Apostle Paul urged his protégé Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you” (2 Tim 1:6). As their teacher, I was overjoyed as they fanned into “flame” God’s gift within them. So, on the final day of class, they embarked on the adventure of delivering their first sermon! And preaching their sermons illustrated the truth: You can have something and not know it, but if you know it, you live differently because of it.