My heart hammered in my chest as butterflies danced in my belly. Although my only physical activity was the darting of my eyes and the nervous shaking of my knee, I was exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. I’d spent the past four days waking up several hours before dawn, driving long distances to remote locations and nursing an aching back from sitting on hard, metal bleachers. It was the tenth and final game of my son’s biggest water polo tournament of the year. And although I was only a spectator as the drama unfolded in the pool each day, it often felt like a full body experience. The last game kept the crowd in suspense until the final moments. In the end, my son’s team clawed its way from behind to claim a hard fought victory.
As the teams lined up on the pool deck to shake hands, I asked myself why my family willingly submitted to such a costly experience. Were the “bronze” medals my son’s team wore worth all of the effort? We’d spent a fair amount of money on travel, food, tournament fees, and accommodations. Beyond that, we’d spent our precious vacation time cramming into stands to cheer for our son’s team as it battled for victory in the pool. With each game we experienced a range of emotions from disappointment and frustration to pride and jubilation. Watching the gleeful team celebrate its third-place medal was satisfying, but not the real motivation behind our effort.
My husband and I viewed the time we took and the financial and emotional costs associated with the tournament (and the whole sport for that matter) as an investment in our son. It’s not that we have grand illusions that he’ll get a full ride to college or earn a spot on the Olympic team—it’s more about the life experience and opportunities for character development. Over the years, he’s learned much more than how to play the game of water polo. He’s discovered how to show respect for his coaches and the officials, how to work with a team, how to win graciously and how to handle disappointment maturely. He’s learned a lot about discipline, commitment and hard work. He’s had fun making friends but has also learned how to deal with difficult people and situations. The dollars, time and emotions we’ve spent have been an investment in his character and in his growth toward manhood.
There’s a big difference between spending and investing. Once something is spent, it’s gone for good: like spending money on something that will eventually lose its value or become obsolete. Investing, on the other hand, gives a return. When we invest in things that are worthwhile, they return greater rewards.
Jesus told this story about the value of investing wisely:
14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (Matthew 25:14-30, NIV)
The bags of gold (translated as “talents” in other versions) represent the many resources God gives us to use during our lives. Every day we have a choice to invest them wisely, to squander them thoughtlessly or to keep them to ourselves, as the “wicked, lazy” servant did in the parable.
Thinking about the resources God has entrusted to me causes me to do a bit of soul-searching. It’s good to stop and consider if I’m as intentional with other areas as I’ve have been with my son’s involvement in sports. I try to ask myself periodically if I’m making worthwhile investments with the things listed below:
-My time (Am I following my own agenda? Am I generous or stingy with my time? Am I intentional about managing it wisely?)
-My relationships (Am I reaching out to people who need love and encouragement or focusing only on people who are part of my usual circle?)
-My finances (Am I generous? Do I tithe? Do I give sacrificially?)
-My natural abilities (Do I use them for my own benefit or to bless others and honor God?)
-My spiritual gifts (Do I know what they are? Am I using them regularly?)
-My intellect (What kinds of things do I put into my brain? Am I developing my mind and continually stretching myself to learn new things? Am I using what I know to bless and benefit others?)
-My body (Am I exercising and sleeping enough so I can stay healthy? Do I put too much emphasis on my appearance? Do I have habits with food, alcohol or other substances that are unhealthy?)
-My tangible resources (Am I willing to open my home? Am I willing to help people with needs such as making meals, babysitting, doing extra carpool duty?)
-My spiritual life (Am I committed to growing in my relationship with God and my knowledge of His Word? Can I see signs of growth as I look back over the last few years?)
If one of the categories or questions causes you to stop and think, take some time to pray about it. Ask God to reveal whether or not you are making a wise investment with that particular topic. Let the Holy Spirit guide you and, above all, don’t try to tackle the entire list at once! Invest wisely one step at a time and know that God is saying to you “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
I suspect a few people who read the list above are going to focus on the areas they need to grow and will react by feeling like failures. If you’re tempted to beat yourself up, please don’t. Instead, click on the link below and be encouraged by Casting Crowns’ song “Just Be Held.”