A few months ago one of the national newspapers, in its online edition, carried an article entitled “How to spot a Stradivarius”. You were then able to click three different recordings of the same piece of music. One was played on a Stradivarius, one on an expensive 19th century German violin and another on a violin from Tesco with an rrp of £49.99. Having listened to each of the three violins you could then make your selection as to which was played on each of the violins.
I took the test. To my surprise I found that I guessed which was the Stradivarius correctly. But I confused the expensive German instrument with the Tescovarius.
I am not completely convinced that the accuracy of my correct guess of the Stradivarius was down to anything more than the fact that it was the last of the clips that I heard and was nothing more than just that – an accurate guess. I can’t believe it was due to my ear for music, though I do think the Stradivarius sounded a little smoother.
Whatever the reality of my choice of the Stardivarius, what surprised me was how little difference there appeared to be between the cheap instrument and its more expensive German counterpart. To the untrained ear, hardly any difference at all.
You’ve probably heard the saying “The good is the enemy of the best”. And that is often true. Sometimes however, the good and even the best can be the enemy of the effective.
When it comes to serving Christ, we sometimes disqualify ourselves because our gifting isn’t “Stradivarius” class. The truth is there are very few who have “Stradivarius” class giftings. If you take preaching, for instance, the Wesleys, Spurgeons, Lloyd-Jones, Jakes and Bonnkes are rare, a handful in every generation. And sometimes not even a handful. Their gifts are way beyond what the vast majority of preachers could ever realistically aspire to.
You could say the same about social action and reform. How many Mother Teresas and Martin Luther-Kings have we had in the last hundred years? Eh..two. The same applies to business. Think Jobs. In fact it applies to many areas of life.
But because I can’t preach like Spurgeon, do social action like Mother Teresa or start a business like Apple, doesn’t mean there is something lacking in the gift that God has given me. And it doesn’t mean that you should quit preaching, doing social action or starting a business!
I think most of us know that, but we’re sometimes left a little overwhelmed by “Stradivarius” level giftings.
Now for the more controversial bit! The Tescovarius level gifting is adequate! What we do, and what I have sometimes done, is spent hours trying to perfect a gifting in the hope that it will become a more effective gifting. Or we think that if we were just a little bit better at something, if we were just a little more 19th century German than £49.99 Tesco, then God could use it.
Whole churches make that mistake. They look at what they aren’t and expend a lot of effort trying to make themselves what they think is just a bit better, but the world doesn’t notice any real difference. If the time that we spent thinking about how we could become better was employed thinking about how we could deploy and use what we have the world would be a happier place.
Am I saying that we shouldn’t seek to excel in the gifts that God has given us? Of course not. All I am saying is that perfecting a gift doesn’t necessarily make it more effective.
Coming back to our violin illustration, if a violinist was sent to a place where a violin concerto had never been heard, armed only with a cheap violin, no-one is going to complain about the violin. Their focus is going to be on the music.
And that my friends is what it’s all about. The music rather than the violin. The power of the Holy Spirit rather than the gift in which it is wrapped.
Let’s keep the music playing, whether our gifting is superstar class or superstore level.