Jump directly to the Content

Spiritual gifts

Missing genius

Now there are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but it is the same Holy Spirit who is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service in the church, but it is the same Lord we are serving.
1 Corinthians 12:4-5

The computation of the sum total of IQs in Rockefeller Chapel was far beyond my mathematical abilities. This huge sanctuary was filled to overflowing with the educated elite that the world-class University of Chicago welcomes. Unamplified, a voice from the balcony behind us introduced the beautiful but extensive program, J. S. Bach's The Passion according to Saint John. Then he paused and added, "This evening, above all, is to give thanks to God for the indisputable genius of Johann Sebastian Bach and his gift to Christ's church."

It was a far cry from what the local city council recorded when Bach died. "Master Bach was a good organist," they wrote, "but certainly no math teacher."

J. S. Bach was born into a gifted musical family. He studied at his father's knee, but both of his parents died before he was ten, so he was sent to live with an older brother. By fifteen he was earning his own living as a chorister but soon took on a position as church organist. By age eighteen he was well known as a concert organist and harpsichord player. Until his last year of life, people who heard him play would note, "I never thought anyone could play like that!"

When Bach's wife of thirteen years died in 1720, Bach was a musician in the court of Prince Leopold. Within the next three years he had remarried and moved his growing family (twenty children eventually) from the secular court to Saint Thomas Church in Leipzig.

Although the town council hired him to teach Latin and math, they allowed him to be organist and chapel master. That assignment required that he compose Christian music around the church year, producing worship pieces each Sunday. He wrote 295 sacred cantatas, yet he was criticized as lacking contemporary musical insight, as being too old fashioned and too religious. Only nine or ten of his compositions were published in his lifetime. He and the town council perpetually squabbled over his contract and fulfillment of his duties, especially teaching math to boys.

When he died at age sixty-five, his library contained more books on theology and faith than on music, Latin, or mathematics. We already know how the town council eulogized him.

Bach was not fully appreciated for his gifts in his day, but we of later generations are thankful that he kept using those gifts while trying to carry on the other duties life demanded of him. Our gifts may not be at a genius level, but we still need to practice them if we are to do what God calls us to do with our lives.

Mary C. Miller

Is there a gift I'm not fully using because of demands on my schedule or because people just wouldn't understand?

Lord, give me the wisdom to discern my gifts and the courage to use them while life still beats within me.

"If you have a talent, use it in every which way possible. Don't hoard it. Don't dole it out like a miser. Spend it lavishly like a millionaire intent on going broke."

—Brendan Francis

Support Our Work

Subscribe to CT for less than $4.25/month

Homepage Subscription Panel

Read These Next

From the Magazine
Who Will Pay Africa’s Medical Bills?
Who Will Pay Africa’s Medical Bills?
Locals are increasingly running African mission hospitals. The next challenge: keeping foreign donors.
Editor's Pick
When Churches Put Love at the Center
When Churches Put Love at the Center
How "beloved community" helps us envision tangible ways to embody kingdom values.