Right Resource, Right PurposeBlog / Produced by The High Calling
“Without physical resources and knowing how to use them,” claims resource specialist Sam Van Eman, “it isn’t possible to do God’s good work in the world.” In this article from our series Defining Purpose, Sam reminds us to make right uses of useful stuff.
We huddled under the tarp in the middle of Allegheny National Forest, all ten or twelve of us hiding from the rain and wondering how to pass the time. We were supposed to be hiking. I reached beyond the drip-edge of our plastic roof for an odd-looking stick. “What is this?” I asked the group of college students, holding it in front of them. “Uh, Sam, it’s a stick. Should we be concerned about you?” “No, no,” I laughed, “I mean, tell me what it is, but you can’t say ‘stick.’” A woman suggested, “It could be used as a mini tripod for cameras.” I handed the mini tripod to the guy next to her, and said, “Okay, now it’s your turn, and you can’t say ‘mini tripod.’ If you can’t think of anything, you’re out. We’ll keep passing it around until there’s a winner.”
If I remember correctly, that stick made it nearly three times around the circle before we ran out of viable guesses. I was amazed. That’s the nature of certain items. Their characteristics offer broad application. They serve multiple purposes.
A stick makes a rather poor tripod in real life, though. Better materials exist. Better technology exists. Better durability exists. Better flexibility exists. Better portability exists. Could it work? In a pinch, yes. But the stick has so many uses that we tend to depreciate its value.
Clipless road bike shoes, on the other hand, have an unmistakable value in the world. They collect gold medals. They win Ironman competitions. They take average Joes and Janes to the next level by shedding every broad application until one purpose remains: providing secure, efficient pedaling for serious riders. In a way, they are far less useful than the stick. With a protruding cleat on the sole, you can’t really walk in them. They clog easily with dirt and stones. You wouldn’t wear them to work. You can’t play tennis in them. It’s road biking or nothing. But this highly specialized purpose is exactly what gives them value. They are so unique that it requires practice to learn how to use them, something I discovered the hard way when I entered a triathlon with a friend and a borrowed bike. As he tagged me after his run, I lost balance and couldn’t free my shoe from the pedal. I fell hard on the pavement in front of the crowd.
There are sticks and there are tripods. There are sneakers and there are clipless road bike pedal systems. And there are people who use them. This may be a bold statement, but without physical resources and the intellectual capacity to know how and when and where and why to use them, it is not possible to do God’s good work in the world. Defining the right purposes of every resource—from the most generic to the most specific—helps us live out our own right purposes.
Right Resource, Wrong Purpose
Consider what happens when we neglect this task. Christina sat down at the computer and started to play the game Minesweeper. Lots of the students in the room could clear a board without igniting the bomb squares, but Christina decoded the field almost as fast as she could click her mouse button. I tried to predict what selections she would make, but it was impossible to keep up. Her processing speed floored us.
“Are you guessing?” I asked.
“Well, then, how on earth are you knocking them out so quickly, and while having a conversation?!”
“It’s common sense,” she said, not sounding at all arrogant. “The clues tell you where the bombs are.”
“I know how to play it,” I said, defensively, “it’s just that I don’t understand how you’re doing it so fast.”
Like the stick on our camping trip, high processing speed can be used for many things, even to enjoy playing Minesweeper. But imagine if Christina only applied it to this simple video game. Imagine that she honed her skill solely for the purpose of reaching the highest score in the shortest amount of time. Who would it help? No one.
Living out our own right purposes requires that we see work as a great act of stewardship. What if Christina understood her role in this way—as a keeper, a manager, a caretaker? What if she understood that having meaningful purpose in the world meant using her intellectual gift to cultivate physical resources for the spiritual benefit of others?
Right Resource, Right Purpose
Christine might graduate and become like Jon and Justin, who handle chaos well. Many people handle chaos well, but these two have turned a general attribute into valuable service as emergency room doctors.
Or she might graduate and become like Dan, who possesses a strong sense of how things ought to be. Perfectionism can disrupt life if it has no useful outlet, but he has cultivated this attentiveness into valuable service as an insurance adjuster.
Or she might graduate and become like Marianne and Cherie, who grasp the power of freedom. These women have converted their insights into valuable service as financial planners. They could have simply enjoyed freedom or taught about the concept of freedom, but they chose instead to give freedom to those suffering under the crush of debt.
Every person has access to his or her version of sticks, clipless shoes, and Minesweeper intelligence. The trick is finding the right use for them for the right reason. That’s the blessing of stewardship. That’s the blessing of offering who we are and what we possess to the service of God and neighbor. It doesn’t really matter what tools we have to work with or what awards we acquire due to our clever use of them (or what historical obscurity we might endure despite our use of them) or how few or many or plain or specific they are. Jesus simply said, “Go and do likewise.” That’s enough purpose for any of us to get started.