Using Your Gift for God's Purpose: Three Lessons from Writing for the Stage
Do you like VeggieTales? I sure do. And so do my kids. It may be a toss up who enjoys their stories more.... But there is one of their films that stands out to me: a silly, Lord of the Rings spoof called “Lord of the Beans.” The story begins with Toto Baggypants receiving a “bean of power” that can grant wishes. It is an awesome gift, to be sure, but Toto is perplexed. The bean is inscribed with the cautioning words: “use wisely.” Randolf, Toto's wise mentor, gives him this advice: “The bean is your gift, Toto. Every gift is given for a reason. We can't choose which ones we get, only what we do with them.” The Apostle Paul has something similar to say in Romans 12 verses 6-8: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
What is your gift? I know that isn't always an easy question to answer. But there is someone who knows exactly what your gift is, and, if you don't know, all you have to do is ask. Pray. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).
So, you have a gift. What do you do with it? This is the same perplexing question that Toto Baggypants went on a quest to find out. And, though I can't tell you exactly how to use your specific gift, I can share what I've learned on my own journey, my own quest, to find how to use my gift for God's purpose. I hope that these lessons I've learned can help and encourage you to use your gift wisely.
Lesson 1: Let God Lead
I'm a writer. I love writing. I love stories. And I love, love, love the performing arts. So, naturally, I've aspired to write stage plays for some time. And when I received an opportunity to write for the stage, I jumped at it. I've now written three plays for LifeHouse Theater in Redlands, California. LifeHouse is a unique theater: they only produce plays with a Judeo-Christian focus. At LifeHouse, I have had the privilege of not only writing fun stories, but writing fun stories with a purpose. Let me tell you about this last one I wrote: “The Snow Queen.”
When I wrote my first draft, just for fun, and sent it to LifeHouse's Executive Producer, I didn't expect much. The adapted story in those pages needed a lot of work, but the ideas it held made me smile. I sent it off and thought, perhaps, it wouldn't even be read. But to my surprise, the Executive Producer not only read it, but called me personally to talk about it. The theater was already considering “The Snow Queen” for the next season, but... not mine. My script was not what they were looking for. Was I disappointed? Of course. But receiving that call meant a lot, too. My script needed to be rejected, but I was still appreciated as a writer. I couldn't have been let down with more gentleness, but still, it hurt a little.
Rejection and criticism, cruel though they can sometimes be, are necessary evils in the world of entertainment as well as the world of art in general. We seek to use our gifts for God's glory, and step out of our comfort zone to share those talents with everyone, anyone, but... But sometimes the door is slammed in our face. Sometimes, we're turned down, shown out, told: “sorry, maybe next time,” or even feel like giving up.
Don't give up.
Let God lead.
When the setbacks come (and they will, trust me), don't stop. Pray. Always pray. And trust God to put you where you need to be. God knows exactly where and how your gift is needed. And He will open that door. Just keep knocking, keep seeking, keep asking. But do remember this one thing: where God will lead you may not be the direction you expected to go. You may be led somewhere else entirely, but be assured of one thing: God's plans for you are better than your plans for yourself. “'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'” (Jeremiah 29:11).
So, for me, that new direction went like this: another phone call, nearly a year later. The General Manager for LifeHouse had written an outline for a new “Snow Queen” script, the right script, the one that LifeHouse needed, but he didn't have time to write it. He asked me to.
Now, what he was asking, that required something of me. I had to let go of my old idea and accept a new one from someone else. I had a different vision for this show, and, now, I had to set that aside. That wasn't easy. But, the more I worked on the new ideas, the more I loved them and saw how my own brand new ideas could compliment them. God had started to work on my heart, and I didn't know it. Trust and faith were the first steps. More steps were to follow as I started to let God lead.
Lesson 2: You Are Not Alone
Oh, and, by the way, I only had about a month to write the script....
By the time my flurry of writing was over, I hoped I had something worth staging on those pages. I didn't feel very confident. Part of me wanted to curl up and hide as the cast read through the script for the first time. But, God was faithful to me. He gave me a task, and He didn't leave me to complete it alone. He gave me what I needed to write that script in a month, and then He gave me something else.
A script is a unique piece of writing. When you write a novel, your work will be edited, but it stays mostly the same, and you are in control of pretty much every word on those pages. When you write a script, it's more like creating a blueprint that others will now take and build a show out of.
You can react to this information in one of two ways. One: “It's mine, I tell you! It's mine! -- My precious!” Yes, that's from Veggie Tales, too-- “The Lord of the Beans.” As Toto goes on his journey, he meets “Ahem” who only wants to use the bean of power for himself. I can be that way. You can perform my script, sure, but change it? My precious?! Every piece of art is deeply personal. You put something of yourself, your beliefs, your dreams, your thoughts, your heart into that expression that springs from within you. But when you share that art with others, they will have their own impressions, interpretations, and feelings, some you may not have intended at all. And that is one of the greatest things about art. But it is not the easiest hurdle to jump when you are putting together a stage play.... Other people will have other ideas for your play. They will interpret it in their own unique way. But this is not a bad thing. Let me repeat that. This is not a bad thing. I may have wanted to control everything that happened on that stage and make sure my script was represented my way.... But, instead of opting for option one, I went with option two: let's work together to make this the best it can be. And I (tried to) let go of my pride.
A phenomenal thing happened when I accepted other ideas and advice instead of planting myself firmly in my own vision of the play. My gift started working in tandem with everyone else's gifts. I may be alright when it comes to writing a script, but I'm not the best actor; others have that gift though, and can delve into the hearts of their characters where I just scratched the surface. My idea for a set was rudimentary; someone with the gift of set building took that to the next level. I had certain scenes set a certain way in my mind, but the one with the gift of directing and placing people on stage had a better idea. Some of my technical ideas were rejected outright, but the Tech Crew painted that stage with light and created effects that were beyond what I could have hoped for. And that's not to mention the orchestrator, choreographer, costumer, make-up artist, artistic director, and more! Over and over, my gift became a tool for others to use their gifts. And, the more I stepped back and let those with those particular gifts do their own work, the better the show became.
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. -- Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. -- Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12: 4-5, 12, 27). As each member of the production team and cast worked toward the common goal of making that incredible show happen, I could see the body of Christ in action. Each part using their gift for God's purpose. Each part supporting the others. Each gift being shared. No one grabbing the glory for themselves, but allowing others to step into the limelight with them. I was blown away. As I let my own gift become a springboard instead of cement, and I learned from the selflessness of the other Christians I was working alongside, it happened. And like the pieces of a puzzle locking into place, each one just right, each one a part of the whole, the picture became complete. This show had become more special than any one person could have made it.
In words that I may never forget, the Executive Producer called “The Snow Queen” a “smash hit.” We did it. We did it – together.
Lesson 3: Remember Who This Is For
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Whether you are writing, or acting, or directing, or sewing costumes, or teaching, or leading, or learning, or – you fill in the blank, do it ALL for the glory of God.
Using our gifts wisely means simply this: using them for the glory of God.
When we give over our gifts to God, when we praise Him through all we do, our lives become a living testimony of His love. Our gifts come from Him, and we find their true purpose when He shines through them.
I had the privilege of writing a stage play for a Christian theater. Before every show, we prayed. We sought for every word, every dance, every song, every scene, every light cue, everything to praise God. Our message rang out loud and clear from that stage: “God loves you! Love God! Love others!” But, not everyone has that same privilege of being in such a positive Christian environment.
Whatever you are writing. Whatever art you create. Whatever you do for work. Maybe you stay home with your kids. Whatever your gift is. Do it for the glory of God. You never know who may be watching; you never know who's heart could be touched, what seed could be planted. Let God be glorified with your life. That's using your gift for God's purpose.
Be led by God, work together as a body, and give God the glory.
When Toto Baggypants comes to the end of his journey, he learns that his gift is for helping others, not himself. He didn't horde his gift. He didn't bury it like the man in the parable of the talents (check that out in Matthew 25:14-30). He went where God was leading him, even when that path was difficult and not what he expected. He didn't make that journey alone, but worked in fellowship with his friends to complete his quest. He shared his gift with others, for their benefit, and not his own.
One final thought, from a man who was by no means perfect, but ultimately lived his life for God's purpose, the Apostle Peter: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11).