By Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson
If you’ve ever played golf, you are probably familiar with the concept of the sweet spot. The sweet spot is that place on the club that wastes the least amount of energy when it comes in contact with the ball. When you hit the ball close to the sweet spot, the club transfers more energy to the ball—resulting in a ball that goes long and straight.
If the ball connects too far to the inside of the clubface, you hook the ball. If the ball connects with the outside of the clubface, you slice the ball. If the connection point is near the bottom of the clubface, you top the ball, driving it into the ground. And if you connect with the top of the clubface, it sends the ball skyward.
To connect at the sweet spot is poetry in motion and appears nearly effortless. Golfer Tiger Woods knows how to find that sweet spot.
Where is your sweet spot? It is at the intersection of two things:
1. Your passion—the way God de-signed you.
2. God’s purpose—the good works he prepared in advance for you to do.
The first component of the sweet spot is your passion—the way God designed you. You have been fashioned by God as a unique individual. There is no one like you. The artist Pablo Picasso, though not known for his faith, understood this concept of unique design very well. “My mother said to me, ‘If you become a soldier, you’ll be a general; if you become a monk, you’ll end up as the pope.’ Instead, I became a painter and wound up as Picasso.”1
You have talents, abilities, passions, experiences, and relationships that are uniquely yours. The psalmist says, “You created my inmost being [inner qualities of talent, strength, and disposition]; you knit me together [your outward body] in my mother’s womb.” Then he bursts out, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13, 14).
In 2001 Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton released a book entitled Now, Discover Your Strengths. The book is based on interviews conducted by The Gallup Organization with more than 2 million of the best “doctors and salespeople and lawyers . . . and professional basketball players and stockbrokers and accountants and hotel housekeepers and leaders and soldiers and nurses and pastors and systems engineers and chief executives.”2
The focus of their interviews was discovering what made these people so good at what they did. In the course of the research, patterns began to emerge that led to defining 34 strength patterns of human talent. The authors note that the 34 patterns, or themes, are as complete as the 88 keys on the piano. In the right combination, anything can be played. The point of the book is to learn to identify and capitalize on your strengths, not to try to fix your weaknesses.
The authors define strengths as “consistent near perfect performance in an activity.”3 Strengths are made up of three components:
1. Knowledge—both factual knowledge and experiential knowledge
2. Skills—the defining steps of an activity
3. Talent—”any recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied”4
The authors point out, “Skills determine if you can do something, whereas talents reveal . . . how well and how often you do it.”5 “Your talents are innate . . . whereas skills and knowledge can be acquired through learning and practice.”6
What strengths do you bring to the table? What is your combination of knowledge, skills, and talents? How has God uniquely fashioned you to contribute to what he is about in this world? It is good to remember that most skills have a neutral moral quality to them. G. K. Chesterton said, “If a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of 500 yards, I would call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man.”
The second ingredient of the sweet spot is God’s purpose—the good works that God prepared in advance for you to do. Remember, because they are prepared for you, they are yours to discover, not invent. God’s creating you and his preparation of these good works for you go together.
In the New Testament book of Acts, Peter says about the life of Christ, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and . . . he went around doing good” (Acts 10:38). Since Jesus’ life was defined by doing good, his life can serve as a guide. So what were some of the good works of Jesus?
• He cared for the physical needs of people.
• He fed people who were hungry.
• He helped at a wedding.
• He alleviated suffering.
• He served others.
• He restored people to wholeness.
• He prepared people for eternity.
• He did anything that advanced the will of God in the lives of others.
We give hands and feet to the words of Jesus when we engage in doing good to others. Sometimes that service comes in unlikely packages.
Clay loves chain saws. You might say that Clay’s passion is chain saws. As a concert pianist’s hands are blessed with long fingers to reach all of the keys, Clay’s hands are made to hold a chain saw. Since he’s a contractor by occupation, chain saws are part of his vocation. To hold a humming, air-injected, nonvibrating, Model 340 Husqvarna chain saw is a dream come true.
So when a call went out for people capable of running chain saws to cut up fallen trees after Hurricane Katrina, Clay’s palms started sweating. These words were music to Clay’s ears: “And if the chain saw breaks, we’ll have another for you. We’ve got chain saws . . . we need people to run them.” The thought of being on the working end of a chain saw for an 18-hour stretch absolutely invigorated him. His passion intersected with God’s purpose.
I once heard John Eldredge say, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come fully alive.” Clay is fully alive and feels God’s pleasure as he works the chain saw.
Take a look at your life story. There is never anything wasted in God’s economy. Your story was not thrown together without a plan. Signing up for a life on loan from God means you understand your money and things are on loan, that your time and talents are on loan, and that your life experiences are on loan—all to be used to further his plan in the world.
You may have to “test drive” several opportunities before you find your sweet spot. But don’t give up. Just get started. A friend noted that service, ministry toward others, has always been part of the Christian’s DNA, but most of the time it is a recessive gene in the gene pool! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were a dominant gene?
You are never too old to make an impact for Jesus. We like to think that the best years are still ahead of us. It’s true, you know. As a follower of Christ, you can live with the conviction that the best years are still ahead of you, up to and including the day you die.
Benjamin Franklin, who (among other things) brokered France’s help in our Revolutionary War at the age of 76, went to France with the expectation of accomplishing something great. He felt that life, like a play, should end with the best act. An author and business guru once asked Peter Drucker (recognized as the “father of modern management”) which of his 26 books he was most proud of. The 85-year-old Drucker responded, “The next one.”7
Drucker gives us a challenge in our quest for leaving our mark: “The critical question is not, ‘How can I achieve?’ but ‘What can I contribute?’”8 What will your contribution be? What were you saved for? Go do it!
2 Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Now, Discover Your Strengths (New York: The Free Press, 2001), 11.
3 Ibid., 25.
4 Ibid., 48.
5 Ibid., 58.
6 Ibid., 30.
7 Peter F. Drucker, interview by Jim Collins, The Daily Drucker (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), viii.
8 Jim Collins, reflecting on his interview with Peter F. Drucker, The Daily Drucker (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), vii.
Rick Rusaw is Senior Minister at LifeBridge Christian Church, Longmont, Colorado. Eric Swanson is Leadership Community Director for Externally Focused Churches, Leadership Network. This article is an excerpt from their new book, Living a Life on Loan.