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Meet the author:
Cure for the Common Life
Cure for the Common Life: Living in Your Sweet Spot
By Max Lucado
Your Sweet Spot
“Sweet spot.” Golfers understand the term. So do tennis players. Ever swung a baseball bat or paddled a Ping-Pong ball? If so, you know the oh so- nice feel of the sweet spot. Connect with these prime inches of real estate and kapow! The collective technologies of the universe after burn the ball into orbit, leaving you Frisbee eyed and strutting. Your arm doesn’t tingle, and the ball doesn’t ricochet. Your boyfriend remembers birthdays, the tax refund comes early, and the flight attendant bumps you up to first class. Life in the sweet spot rolls like the downhill side of a downwind bike ride.
But you don’t have to swing a bat or a club to know this. What engineers give sports equipment, God gave you. A zone, a region, a life precinct in which you were made to dwell. He tailored the curves of your life to fit an empty space in his jigsaw puzzle. And life makes sweet sense when you find your spot. But how do you? Where do you go? What pills do you order, class do you take, or infomercial do you watch? None of the above. Simply quarry . . .your uniqueness.
Da Vinci painted one Mona Lisa. Beethoven composed one Fifth Symphony. And God made one version of you. He custom designed you for a one-of-a-kind assignment. Mine like a gold digger the unique-to-you nuggets from your life.
When I was six years old, my father built us a house. Architectural Digest didn’t notice, but my mom sure did. Dad constructed it, board by board, every day after work. My youth didn’t deter him from giving me a job. He tied an empty nail apron around my waist, placed a magnet in my hands, and sent me on daily patrols around the building site, carrying my magnet only inches off the ground.
One look at my tools and you could guess my job. Stray-nail collector. One look at yours and the same can be said. Brick by brick, life by life, God is creating a kingdom, a “spiritual house” (1 Pet. 2:5 CEV). He entrusted you with a key task in the project.
Examine your tools and discover it. Your ability unveils your destiny. “If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 4:11). When God gives an assignment, he also gives the skill.
Study your skills, then, to reveal your assignment.
Look at you. Your uncanny ease with numbers. Your quenchless curiosity about chemistry.
Others stare at blueprints and yawn; you read them and drool. “I was made to do this,” you say.
Heed that inner music. No one else hears it the way you do.
At this very moment in another section of the church building in which I write, little kids explore their tools. Preschool classrooms may sound like a cacophony to you and me, but God hears a symphony.
A five-year-old sits at a crayon-strewn table. He seldom talks. Classmates have long since set aside their papers, but he ponders his. The colors compel him. He marvels at the gallery of kelly green and navy blue and royal purple. Masterpiece in hand, he’ll race to Mom and Dad, eager to show them his kindergarten Picasso.
His sister, however, forgets her drawing. She won’t consume the home commute with tales of painted pictures. She’ll tell tales of tales. “The teacher told us a new story today!” And the girl will need no prodding to repeat it. Another boy cares less about the story and the drawings and more about the other kids. He spends the day wearing a “Hey, listen to me!” expression, lingering at the front of the class, testing the patience of the teacher. He relishes attention, evokes reactions. His theme seems to be “Do it this way. Come with me. Let’s try this.”
Meaningless activities at an insignificant age? Or subtle hints of hidden strengths? I opt for the latter. The quiet boy with the color fascination may someday brighten city walls with murals. His sister may pen a screenplay or teach literature to curious coeds. And the kid who recruits followers today might eventually do the same on behalf of a product, the poor, or even his church.
What about you? Our Maker gives assignments to people, “to each according to each one’s unique ability” (Matt. 25:15). As he calls, he equips. Look back over your life. What have you consistently done well? What have you loved to do? Stand at the intersection of your affections and successes and find your uniqueness.
You have one. A divine spark. An uncommon call to an uncommon life. “The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others” (1 Cor. 12:7 CEV). So much for the excuse “I don’t have anything to offer.” Did the apostle Paul say, “The Spirit has given some of us .. .”? Or, “The Spirit has given a few of us . . .”? No. “The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others.” Enough of this self-deprecating “I can’t do anything.” And enough of its arrogant opposite: “I have to do everything.” No, you don’t! You’re not God’s solution to society, but a solution in society. Imitate Paul, who said, “Our goal is to stay within the boundaries of God’s plan for us” (2 Cor. 10:13 NLT). Clarify your contribution.
Don’t worry about skills you don’t have. Don’t covet strengths others do have. Just extract your uniqueness. “Kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you” (2 Tim. 1:6 NASB). And do so to . . . make a big deal out of God.
“Everything comes from God alone. Everything lives by his power, and everything is for his glory” (Rom. 11:36 TLB). The breath you just took? God gave that. The blood that just pulsed through your heart? Credit God. The light by which you read and the brain with which you process? He gave both. Everything comes from him . . . and exists for him. We exist to exhibit God, to display his glory. We serve as canvases for his brush stroke, papers for his pen, soil for his seeds, glimpses of his image.
Texas A&M’s T-shirted football fans model our role. In the aftermath of September 11, many Americans sought an opportunity to demonstrate patriotism and solidarity. Five students set the pace. They designated the next home football game as Red, White, and Blue Out and sold T-shirts to each of the seventy thousand fans. Kyle Field morphed into a human flag as those seated in the third deck wore red, the second deck wore white, and the lower deck wore blue. Newspapers across America splashed the picture on front pages.
Newsworthy indeed! How often do thousands of people billboard a singular, powerful message?
God fashioned us to do so for him. “Each person is given something to do that shows who God is” (1 Cor. 12:7 MSG). He distributes, not shirts, but strengths. He sends people, not to bleacher seats, but to life assignments: “Go to your place. Dispatch your abilities, and unfurl my goodness.”
Most refuse. Few cooperate. We accept the present, but neglect its purpose. We accept the gift, thank you, but ignore the Giver and promote self. Why, some of us have been known to parade up and down the aisles, shouting, “Hey, look at me!”
Need an explanation for the anarchy in the world? You just read it. When you center-stage your gifts and I pump my image and no one gives a lick about honoring God, dare we expect anything short of chaos?
God endows us with gifts so we can make him known. Period. God endues the Olympian with speed, the salesman with savvy, the surgeon with skill. Why? For gold medals, closed sales, or healed bodies? Only partially.
The big answer is to make a big to-do out of God. Brandish him. Herald him. “God has given gifts to each of you from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Manage them well. . . . Then God will be given glory” (1 Pet. 4:10–11 NLT).
Live so that “he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes!” (1 Pet. 4:11 MSG). Exhibit God with your uniqueness. When you magnify your Maker with your strengths, when your contribution enriches God’s reputation, your days grow suddenly sweet. And to really dulcify your world, use your uniqueness to make a big deal about God . . . every day of your life
Heaven’s calendar has seven Sundays a week. God sanctifies each day. He conducts holy business at all hours and in all places. He uncommons the common by turning kitchen sinks into shrines, cafés into convents, and nine-to-five workdays into spiritual adventures.
Workdays? Yes, workdays. He ordained your work as something good. Before he gave Adam a wife or a child, even before he gave Adam britches, God gave Adam a job. “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15 NASB). Innocence, not indolence, characterized the first family. God views work worthy of its own engraved commandment: “You shall work six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest” (Exod. 34:21 NASB). We like the second half of that verse. But emphasis on the day of rest might cause us to miss the command to work: “You shall work six days.” Whether you work at home or in the marketplace, your work matters to God
And your work matters to society. We need you! Cities need plumbers. Nations need soldiers. Stoplights break. Bones break. We need people to repair the first and set the second. Someone has to raise kids, raise cane, and manage the kids who raise Cain.
Whether you log on or lace up for the day, you imitate God. Jehovah himself worked for the first six days of creation. Jesus said, “My Father never stops working, and so I keep working, too” (John 5:17 NCV). Your career consumes half of your lifetime. Shouldn’t it broadcast God? Don’t those forty to sixty hours a week belong to him as well?
The Bible never promotes workaholism or an addiction to employment as pain medication.
But God unilaterally calls all the physically able to till the gardens he gives. God honors work. So honor God in your work. “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good” (Eccles. 2:24 NASB).
I just heard a groan.
“But, Max,” someone objects, “my work is simply that—work! It pays my bills, but numbs my soul.” (You’re only a few pages from some help.)
“Job satisfaction? How about job survival? How do I survive a job misfit?” (I have some ideas.)
“I have no clue how to find my skill.” (By the end of the book you will.) “Honor God? After the mess I’ve made of my life?” (Don’t miss the chapter on mercy.)
For now, here is the big idea:
Use your uniqueness (what you do) to make a big deal out of God (why you do it)every day of your life (where you do it).
At the convergence of all three, you’ll find the cure for the common life: your sweet spot. Sweet spot. You have one, you know. Your life has a plot; your years have a theme. You can do something in a manner that no one else can. And when you find it and do it, another sweet spot is discovered. Let’s find yours.
Unpack Your Bag
You were born prepacked. God looked at your entire life, determined your assignment, and gave you the tools to do the job.
Before traveling, you do something similar. You consider the demands of the journey and pack accordingly. Cold weather? Bring a jacket. Business meeting? Carry the laptop. Time with grandchildren? Better take some sneakers and pain medication.
God did the same with you. Joe will research animals . . . install curiosity. Meagan will lead a private school . . . an extra dose of management. I need Eric to comfort the sick . . . include a healthy share of compassion. Denalyn will marry Max . . . instill a double portion of patience.
“Each of us is an original” (Gal. 5:26 MSG). God packed you on purpose for a purpose. Is this news to you? If so, you may be living out of the wrong bag. I once grabbed the wrong bag at the airport. The luggage looked like mine. Same size. Same material. Same color. Thrilled that it had emerged early from the baggage catacombs, I yanked it off the carousel and headed to the hotel. One glance inside, however, and I knew I’d made a mistake. Wrong size, style, and gender. (Besides, my pants would be too short with stiletto heels.) What would you do in such a case? You could make do with what you have. Cram your body into the tight clothes, deck out in other-gender jewelry, and head out for your appointments.
But would you? Only at risk of job loss and jail time.
No, you’d hunt down your own bag. Issue an all-points bulletin. Call the airport. Call the airlines.
The taxi service. The FBI. Hire bloodhounds and private investigators. You’d try every possible way to find the person who can’t find her suitcase and is wondering what gooney bird failed to check the nametag.
No one wants to live out of someone else’s bag.
Then why do we? Odds are, someone has urged a force fit into clothes not packed for you.
Parents do. The dad puts an arm around his young son. “Your great-granddad was a farmer.
Your granddad was a farmer. I’m a farmer. And you, my son, will someday inherit the farm.”
A teacher might. She warns the young girl who wants to be a stay-at-home mom, “Don’t squander your skills. With your gifts you could make it to the top. The professional world is the way to go.”
Church leaders assign luggage from the pulpit. “God seeks world-changing, globetrotting missionaries. Jesus was a missionary. Do you want to please your Maker? Follow him into the holy vocation. Spend your life on foreign soil.” Sound counsel or poor advice? That depends on what God packed in the person’s bag. A bequeathed farm blesses the individualist and physically active. But what if God fashioned the farmer’s son with a passion for literature or medicine?
Work outside the home might be a great choice for some, but what if God gave the girl a singular passion for kids and homemaking?
Those wired to learn languages and blaze trails should listen up to sermons promoting missionary service. But if foreign cultures frustrate you while predictability invigorates you, would you be happy as a missionary?
No, but you would contribute to these mind-numbing statistics:
Unhappiness on the job affects one-fourth of the American work force. One-fourth of employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives. Seven out of ten people are neither motivated nor competent to perform the basics of their job. Forty-three percent of employees feel anger toward their employers often or very often as a result of feeling overworked. Forty-five percent of all U.S. workers said they would change their careers if they could.
Feel the force of these figures. You wonder why workbound commuters seem so cranky?
“Fully 70 percent of us go to work without much enthusiasm or passion.” Most wage earners spend forty of their eighty waking weekday hours trudging through the streets of Dullsville.
Such misery can’t help but sour families, populate bars, and pay the salaries of therapists. If 70 percent of us dread Mondays, dream of Fridays, and slug through the rest of the week, won’t our relationships suffer? Won’t our work suffer? Won’t our health suffer? One study states, “Problems at work are more strongly associated with health complaints than any other life stressor—more so than even financial problems or family problems.”
Such numbers qualify as an epidemic. An epidemic of commonness. Someone sucked the sparkle out of our days. A stale fog has settled over our society. Week after week of energy sapping sameness. Walls painted gray with routine. Commuters dragging their dread to the office. Buildings packed with people working to live rather than living to work. Boredom.
The cure? God’s prescription begins with unpacking your bags. You exited the womb uniquely equipped. David states it this way: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Ps. 139:15–16 NIV).
Spelunk these verses with me. David emphasizes the pronoun “you” as if to say “you, God, and you alone.” “The secret place” suggests a hidden and safe place, concealed from intruders and evil. Just as an artist takes a canvas into a locked studio, so God took you into his hidden chamber where you were “woven together.” Moses used the same word to describe the needlework of the tabernacle’s inner curtains—stitched together by skillful hands for the highest purpose (see Exod. 26:1; 36:8; 38:9). The Master Weaver selected your temperament threads, your character texture, the yarn of your personality—all before you were born. God did not drop you into the world utterly defenseless and empty-handed. You arrived fully equipped. “All the days ordained . . .” Day of birth and day of death. Days of difficulty and victory. What motivates you, what exhausts you . . . God authored— and authors—it all.
Other translations employ equally intriguing verbs: You . . . knit me together. (v. 13 NLT)
I was woven together in the dark of the womb. (v. 15 NLT)
I was . . . intricately and curiously wrought [as if embroidered with various colors]. (v. 15 AMP)
My hands have never embroidered a stitch, but my mom’s have. In predishwasher days when mothers drafted young sons into kitchen duty to dry dishes, I grew too acquainted with her set of embroidered dishtowels. She had embellished sturdy white cloth with colorful threads: seven towels, each bearing the name of a different day. Her artisan skills rendered common towels uncommonly unique.
God did the same with you! How would you answer this multiple-choice question?
_______ a coincidental collision of particles.
_______ an accidental evolution of molecules.
_______ soulless flotsam in the universe.
_______ “fearfully and wonderfully made” (v. 14), “skillfully wrought” (v. 15).
Don’t dull your life by missing this point: You are more than statistical chance, more than a marriage of heredity and society, more than a confluence of inherited chromosomes and childhood trauma. More than a walking weather vane whipped about by the cold winds of fate. Thanks to God, you have been “sculpted from nothing into something” (v. 15 MSG).
Envision Rodin carving The Thinker out of a rock. The sculptor chisels away a chunk of stone, shapes the curve of a kneecap, sands the forehead . . . Now envision God doing the same: sculpting the way you are before you even were, engraving you with . . .
an eye for organization,
an ear for fine music,
a heart that beats for justice and fairness,
a mind that understands quantum physics,
the tender fingers of a caregiver, or
the strong legs of a runner.
He made you you-nique.
Secular thinking, as a whole, doesn’t buy this. Secular society sees no author behind the book, no architect behind the house, no purpose behind or beyond life. Society sees no bag and certainly never urges you to unpack one.
It simply says, “You can be anything you want to be.”
Be a butcher if you want to, a sales rep if you like. Be an ambassador if you really care. You can be anything you want to be. If you work hard enough. But can you? If God didn’t pack within you the meat sense of a butcher, the people skills of a salesperson, or the world vision of an ambassador, can you be one? An unhappy, dissatisfied one perhaps. But a fulfilled one? No. Can an acorn become a rose, a whale fly like a bird, or lead become gold? Absolutely not. You cannot be anything you want to be. But you can be everything God wants you to be.
Søren Kierkegaard echoed the teaching of Scripture when he wrote, “At each man’s birth there comes into being an eternal vocation for him, expressly for him. To be true to himself in relation to this eternal vocation is the highest thing a man can practice.”
God never prefabs or mass-produces people. No slapdash shaping. “I make all things new,” he declares (Rev. 21:5). He didn’t hand you your granddad’s bag or your aunt’s life; he personally and deliberately packed you.
When you live out of the bag God gave, you discover an uncommon joy. Haven’t you seen examples of this?
I recently flew to St. Louis on a commercial airline. The attendant was so grumpy I thought she’d had lemons for breakfast. She made her instructions clear: sit down, buckle up, and shut up! I dared not request anything lest she push the eject button.
Perhaps I caught her on the wrong day, or maybe she caught herself in the wrong career.
Two weeks later I took another flight. This attendant had been imported from heaven. She introduced herself to each passenger, had us greet each other, and then sang a song over the intercom! I had to ask her, “Do you like your work?” “I love it!” she beamed. “For years I taught elementary school and relished each day. But then they promoted me. I went from a class of kids to an office of papers. Miserable! I resigned, took some months to study myself, found this opportunity, and snagged it. Now I can’t wait to come to work!”
Too few people can say what she said. Few people do what she did. One job-placement firm suggests only 1 percent of its clients have made a serious study of their skills.
Don’t imitate their mistake. “Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants” (Eph. 5:17 MSG). You can do something no one else can do in a fashion no one else can do it. Exploring and extracting your uniqueness excites you, honors God, and expands his kingdom. So “make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that”
(Gal. 6:4 MSG).
Discover and deploy your knacks.
Charlie Steinmetz did. He designed the generators that powered Henry Ford’s first assembly lines in Dearborn, Michigan. Sometime after he retired, the generators stalled out, bringing the entire plant to a halt. Ford’s engineers couldn’t find the problem, so he called his old friend Charlie. Steinmetz fiddled with this gauge, jiggled that lever, tried this button, played with a few wires, and after a few hours threw the master switch. The motors kicked on, and the system returned to normal. Some days later Ford received a bill from Steinmetz for $10,000. Ford found the charge excessive and wrote his friend a note: “Charlie: It seems awfully steep, this $10,000, for a man who for just a little while tinkered around with a few motors.” Steinmetz wrote a new bill and sent it back to Mr. Ford. “Henry: For tinkering around with motors, $10; for knowing where to tinker, $9,990.”
You tinker unlike anyone else. Explore and extract your tinker talent. A gift far greater than $10,000 awaits you. “Remember that the Lord will give a reward to everyone . . . for doing good” (Eph. 6:8 NCV).
When you do the most what you do the best, you put a smile on God’s face. What could be better than that?