Have you ever read “The Parable of the Bags of Gold,” as it is called in the NIV version of the Bible? That parable suddenly came to mind the other day. With a revelatory jolt, I suddenly realized that you and I have something of substance to learn from the servant who buried his talent rather than using it. The potential danger of ending up like him is more feasible than I’d ever considered.
Now, I tend to prefer to identify trouble ahead of time whenever possible, as to avoid it; rather than to race blindly into it. A bit of foresight and purposeful choice making can do a lot to steer us around pit falls, away from dead ends and toward a prosperous result in our lives. Right now, let’s learn an important lesson from the servant who did NOT prosper in the end. Let’s examine our ways and position ourselves for joy rather than for regret on that all important day of reckoning, shall we?
Day of Reckoning
There will come a day when we believers stand before the LORD and hear his assessment of the way we chose to live our lives. Really? Oh, yes! And this will be a good thing. It gives us accountability and the potentiality of receiving a reward. It shows us that we matter to the Lord, demonstrates God is fair, and brings about closure to our experiences in this earth-life. We will understand ourselves and God better on the exit side of that appointment, after having examined our lives together with him and hearing his perspective on the things we thought and did.
The parable we’re discussing assumes a day like this is going to happen. We’ll make the same assumption. Such a day is coming. How do we position ourselves for a positive outcome? What can we do to align now with that future appointment? How do we experience the best possible outcome for ourselves and avoid pitfalls leading to the worst case scenario for Christians; that of having no reward whatsoever in the end?
Buried or Utilized Talents?
Are you familiar with the Parable of the Bags of Gold? Here’s a quick summary: The Master deposits varying amounts of wealth with each of his servants before going on a long trip. One servant doesn’t do anything productive with what he was given; he hides his talents underground. The reason he gives is a compound one. He says he knows the Master is “a hard man,” and he says “I was afraid.” Jesus calls this particular servant “evil and lazy.” Click this link to read the pertinent parable, as told in as told in Matthew 25 in the New International Version.
Did you notice all the servants who took action to invest their talents got some sort of good return and were rewarded? Happy for them! That’s the sort of outcome we want. Did you notice the servant that did not invest got a sorry result? Sad for him! He choked. We don’t want that to be us. Could it be? Let’s not be too quick to dismiss the possibility. According to this parable, the result depended on the servants’ follow through.
Fears and Misconceptions
Follow through was a result of choices each servant made and the subsequent actions each one took. What’s behind the passivity of the servant who acted to bury what he received? According to the parable it wasn’t just one problem but rather a few combined. The troubled servant seems to have misread the risks involved in stepping out and he had misconceptions about the character of the Master. Then there was a deeper problem. Underneath it all, he seems to have been emotionally paralyzed by plaguing fear. Apparently he never did overcome this fear even though he had lots of time to do so.
We understand that fear was a compelling reason for this servant’s decision to hide his talents and waste his time, because in the story he said, “I was afraid….” He also believed a lie about the character of the Master. When did this slip into his heart? And how is it that he never questioned his rude assumption but rather used it as an excuse? It appears the servant’s wrong belief got more and more solidified within him throughout his life. He justified his actions with his wrong belief. Though he had time to change his ways he did not utilize that time well because he failed to see his faults. He couldn’t change what he wouldn’t see. He did nothing to invest what he’d been given, even though much time had passed and he’d had plenty of opportunity. How sad! His emotions, beliefs and actions became a self-reinforcing cycle that just got worse and became an ingrained habit with time.
That Sorry Blame Game
This decision not-to-act took root in his life. He probably made excuses for his actions because nobody likes to be wrong. He settled on that fallen and sad practice of blame shifting. (Blame shifting began in the Garden of Eden when Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent for her decision to eat the forbidden fruit. Blame shifting continues to this day.) The servant clearly did not know the Master very well and suspected him of being hard and difficult. This suspicion became a convenient excuse for justifying his ungodly reticence.
The servant adopted a twisted personal perception of the Master’s character rather than combat and overcome the fear that plagued his own heart. Over time he became so convinced he was right in his assessment of the Master that he didn’t hesitate to spew out his distorted perception of the Master’s character right in the Master’s face on his day of reckoning. On that day he stated the accusation he had swallowed as if it were an established fact, “‘I knew that you are a hard man… and I was afraid…” (from Matt 25:24&25 NIV). This erroneous and sad reasoning process is as old as Adam and Eve. It’s all too easy to get into denial, then blame shift. Then and now, it produces destructive results.
Frozen by Fear
Originally the servant may have been afraid. He may have felt insecure, unworthy, inadequate, or unqualified. He could have feared the opinions of the people around him, or persecution, or failure, or loss, or disapproval. He may have feared losing income, or freedom, or health, or any number of things. Fear has as many possible focal points as there are things in this world to be afraid of. Do you have fears that get in your way when you could be stepping out and doing something? Do I? What are they? This is a call to take a look, to engage, to exercise faith; let’s overcome fear rather than allow fear to rule us.
This servant may also have had laziness as a tendency in his family line. Laziness is an easy go-to strategy when fear is crippling. But none of this was the Master’s fault. He didn’t make the servant’s choices for him. And if the man had stopped, looked, and seen what was in his own heart; if he would have engaged faith to overcome; God would have given him grace for victory. That’s the way the Master is. He is good and kind. He helps us with our weaknesses when we ask for that help. He is not hardhearted or unobservant.
Consider that the Master was well aware of this servant’s weaknesses and so he may have purposefully given him only one talent rather than starting him out with a bunch. The Master could always increase the amount later, when the servant proved himself successful. For having a bunch of talents at the get-go would have just made the job of investing more stressful for a servant already struggling with the fear of stepping out.
Back to the point: Do you see how this servant’s initial fear-based decision got reinforced by faulty reasoning and became an ingrained mindset, which got entrenched within? Do you understand how he failed to watch over his heart? Self-deception solidified and he never recovered. He could have changed his ways if he would have been more mindful of what was going on within.
Since he never noticed what he was allowing himself to believe, he began losing whatever true and accurate understanding he’d had of who his Master really was. Sadly his initial decision to believe a lie became a pattern he never dealt with. This sorry state of entrapment continued on until he was called on the carpet. Rather than being on the alert and watching, he went to sleep in the midst of his deception. Rather than positioning himself for reward he had unwittingly positioned himself for rebuke. His fears became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sorrow for him and sorrow for the Lord! All this waste, all this disappointment.
Facing Truth and Stepping Out
Look what happened because this servant didn’t keep watch over the thoughts and emotions of his heart. He refused to face truth and overcome. Burying the talents he had been given, he let fear win. It doesn’t have to be that way for you and for me. We can step out. We can overcome fear. We can do what needs to be done even when we do feel some fear. In the stepping out process we overcome it.
This servant undermined his own destiny. He lost whatever sight he may have had concerning what the Master is really like and might even have begun bad-mouthing him to others. He sat on his hands, doing nothing with what he’d been given. Potentially, by example, he may have led others into the same sort of disobedience. Oh, how I do not want to be anything like this sorry servant. Fear attacked him. He froze. Self-deception locked his choice in place when he embraced wrong beliefs. He never looked deeply enough inside his own heart to recognize what had happened and make a course correction. He didn’t identify the lies he’s believed. He didn’t compare what the Bible teaches us about God’s character with his own misconceptions. He made no course corrections over a very long time period.
Recognizing Patterns that Entrap
Can fear make inaction, self-justification, and avoidance look like the best way to proceed? Can wanting to be right push people even further away from facing the real problem? Do people refuse to step out because of having various kinds of emotional resistance within our hearts? And do those strong emotions compel us towards buying into wrong beliefs in our heads to justify our actions? Could disobedient actions become a patterns of behavior, a pattern of shrinking back? And if we continue in such patterns, do we also have the capability getting trapped in them and thereby living unfruitful lives? It’s all too possible. Oh, may it never be!
Do we understand the seriousness of this matter? Our lives, our time, our resources, and our talents are an investment of God in us. What are we doing with God’s investment? Are we stepping out or are we holding back in fear? Are we making excuses for our fear? Do our choices sharpen our perception of the true character of God, or distort what little understanding we have? Do we compare what we believe with what the scriptures say is true? Are we making the most of what we’ve been given? These are important questions for sure.
Watching Over Our Hearts
It is my ambition to walk in the more-than-a-conqueror ability God has given to all his kids. It’s part of our inheritance as believers. How about you? Are you determined to watch over your heart and deal with whatever impediments to a vibrant faith-walk you find? Who are you living for? Do you know what your calling is? Have you discovered what the Lord has sent you here to do? On that day when we stand before the Master, what will he say to me and you? Let’s think this through.
Let’s choose to live by faith with focus on the LORD, alert for the ploys that would sidetrack us, so we’re ready for that day. Let the counsel of our own hearts be to live boldly by the grace of God; to value God’s opinion over any other and to follow his leading regardless of whatever fear assails us. Let’s look deeply at our personal motives, dismissing any guilt or shame that would ambush us, and press in with humble, true hearts.
A Better Outcome
We all will meet the face of our Lord in eternity. We can meet him after having co-operated with him in this life. He will remove whatever junk in us needs to go, if we’ll just let him do that good work. When our shortcomings are under the blood of Jesus, they’re gone as far as he’s concerned. We can position ourselves to face the Lord with confidence by watching over our beings now with sincere vigilance, cleaning up whatever needs to go. We need to be awake, alert and watchful to discover and root out whatever hampers us so that what is left is beautiful to him, pure gold.
The day I approach God’s throne, I do not want to discover that the Son of God is ashamed of me and that it’s my fault because I was ashamed of him first. I do not want all my earthly activity to burn with fire and to discover I have done nothing of everlasting value in him. Scripture says if we honor the LORD Jesus here on earth, then he will honor us before the Father. Let’s look ahead to that day and live like that day is coming soon because this is so. I want a better outcome for my life than the unfaithful servant experienced. I want to be more than a conqueror, a mighty warrior, a person of great faith. I want to change from glory to glory and be transformed to look like him. How about you?
Wanting is a good starting place. It’s not the end game. We need to put feet on our resolve and take action to watch over our lives in a sustained ongoing manner, empowered by the grace of God. If we take no action toward what we say we care about, we are deceiving ourselves as to our heart’s true intent. Let’s be genuine through and through. People of faith live in obedience to God, compelled by a love filled heart in real relationship with the Father.
Positioned for Blessing
Let’s take a fresh look at the way we’re living our lives. Let’s take a good long look at the way we’re spending our time and what has captivated our hearts. Let’s be honest with ourselves about where our understanding of the LORD has taken a detour off of the path of truth, according to what the Bible teaches about who God is and what his character is like. Let’s make whatever adjustments are needful in this hour to position ourselves for blessing. Let’s be awake and alert, watchful now and always; engaging in the process necessary to purify ourselves, receive truth, believe and act on it. That gets us in line for the best possible future outcome. “The people who know their God shall be strong and carry out great exploits.”
If we love the LORD passionately it will be easy for us to maintain a watch over our hearts and minds so we can please him with our lives. Whether we need to make a small course correction or a big one, by all means let’s get at it. There is still time to live a yielded, sold-out, unstoppable life from a clean heart. Conquer fear! The LORD rewards his people without partiality. It’s a reward that cannot be stolen, kept safe in heavenly places. May you and I receive a big one!