In the opening to his book, Die Empty, author Todd Henry writes about the artist, designer, and urban planner Candy Chang who…
“…transformed an abandoned home in her new Orleans neighborhood into a living work of art. She had recently lost someone she cared for deeply, and was reflecting on the meaning of life and what truly mattered to her. She was curious to know if other people had similar thoughts about living with a sense of urgency and purpose so she created an enormous chalkboard running the height and width of one side of the abandoned home. She then stenciled the words ‘Before I Die…’ at the top of the wall, and created dozens of spaces with the words ‘Before I die, I want to _________’ in grids across the surface. Chang provided the chalk needed to fill in the blanks, and waited in anticipation to see what would happen. Would people participate? Would it be vandalized? Would anyone even notice?
“She didn’t have to wonder for long. The installation was an immediate hit, as neighborhood residents and passersby filled it with their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Some of the contributions were impersonal and matter of fact, and some more deeply personal:
- ‘Before I die I want to… sing for millions.’
- ‘Before I die I want to… write a book.’
- ‘Before I die I want to… understand.’
- ‘Before I die I want to… tell my mother I love her.’
- ‘Before I die I want to… be someone’s cavalry.’
“Word quickly spread, and visitors began showing up from throughout the region to inscribe their dreams and creative aspirations on the wall. It wasn’t long before others were inquiring about creative installations in their own communities. At present, there have been more than 100 ‘Before I die…’ installations in cities around the globe…”
I thought of Todd Henry’s book as I considered Paul’s word to his protégé, the pastor in Ephesus, Timothy:
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:6-7 (ESV)
God had given Timothy a gift, and Paul wanted him to use it, not let it waste away. If you don’t mind me saying so, Paul wanted Timothy to “die empty.” And why would someone let their gift go to waste? Why might you or I let our gift, given to us by the Spirit Himself, go to waste? Here are four reasons:
- Fear: We are afraid to step out in faith, risking failure, risking embarrassment, risking (fill in the blank). So we stay where we are, comfortable…sort of, but not doing what God has gifted us to do.
- Weakness: We reason that we just don’t have the strength, which means, I suppose, that we don’t really think we have the gift.
- Lack of love for others: Ultimately, the Spirit gives us a gift to serve the body of Christ, which is just the loving thing to do. Honestly, I believe that one reason people don’t use their gift is that they don’t care as much as they should about others.
- Lack of discipline: Some gifts especially take self-control and discipline to exercise. In these cases, without self-control, the job will never get done.
But of course, Paul’s answer to Timothy was that not only had he been given a gift by the Spirit, but that he had also been given the Spirit of God Himself, Who was not a Spirit of 1) fear, but of 2) Power, 3) Love and 4) Self-control.
And though you might not want to pay attention to everything he has written, this quote by George Bernard Shaw has always moved me…
“This is the true joy in life – being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one…being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.”
So what is the Almighty One calling you to do? Step out in faith, take your life – your “splendid torch” – and fan your gift into FLAMES for the glory of God.